The sun was spreading its rays across the desert in southern Israel last Saturday morning when sirens wailed and rockets thudded. But at an all-night festival at a kibbutz near the Gaza border, the sounds blended with the music and the people danced on.
A few miles to the west, hundreds of Hamas forces had breached the hi-tech security fence that surrounds Gaza, a narrow strip of land blockaded by land, sea and air where 2.3 million Palestinians live mostly in misery and hardship.In unbelievable and deeply shocking scenes, armed men poured into Israel on motorbikes, trucks, bicycles and paragliders. Thousands of rockets were fired at towns and communities in southern Israel and as far away as the major cities of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
Israeli families – parents, grandparents, teenagers and toddlers – rushed to bomb shelters and safe rooms. At the Supernova festival at Kibbutz Re’im, panic took hold as people realised Hamas gunmen were in their midst.Over the next few hours there was chaos, confusion, terror, disbelief and horrific bloodshed as hundreds of Israelis were slaughtered in a terrorist attack that shocked the world. And since what US president Joe Biden described as “the deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust”, Palestinians in Gaza have also faced violence, destruction and a humanitarian catastrophe on an unprecedented scale.
It came from the air in the form of at least 2,500 rockets, and on the ground as hundreds of Hamas forces invaded Israel. The attack caught Israeli security forces and intelligence agencies, politicians and the public off guard.Video shot by Hamas showed a detonation at Erez, the high-security crossing at the northern end of the Gaza Strip. Members of Hamas’s special forces – Nukhba – gained control of the complex and the access gate used by the Israeli military to enter Gaza during incursions.
In dozens of places, Hamas forces bulldozed the long barrier around Gaza – supposedly one of the most impenetrable and closely watched frontiers on the planet – allowing their men to cross and begin a day of carnage.It was the most audacious attack in Hamas’s history.
Founded in 1987 as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, the group is dedicated to extinguishing the state of Israel and reclaiming all of historic Palestine using force against soldiers and civilians. It is proscribed as a terrorist organisation by countries including the US and the UK.
It won elections in Gaza in 2006, and seized full control of the strip the following year. Whether it continues to command support among the people of Gaza is unclear: there have been no elections for 17 years, and Hamas brutally represses signs of dissent.
As its forces were massacring Israeli citizens last Saturday, Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’s political leader, who lives outside Gaza, restated the organisation’s goals in unambiguous and chilling terms.“Our objective is clear: we want to liberate our land, our holy sites, our Al-Aqsa mosque, our prisoners. We have no hesitation about this. This is the goal that is worthy of this battle, worthy of this heroism, worthy of this courage,” he said in a speech.
To “the enemy”, he concluded: “We have only one thing to say to you: get out of our land. Get out of our sight. Get out of our city of Al-Quds [Jerusalem] and our al-Aqsa mosque. We no longer wish to see you on this land. This land is ours, Al-Quds is ours, everything [here] is ours. You are strangers in this pure and blessed land. There is no place of safety for you.”
Saturday’s attack was planned by around half a dozen top commanders in Gaza and even the group’s closest allies were not informed in advance about the timing, according to Ali Barakeh, a member of Hamas’s exiled leadership. “Only a handful of Hamas commanders knew about the zero hour,” he said.
Armed men appeared on the streets and in the homes of 20 towns and communities in southern Israel, many of them peaceful kibbutzim just a few miles from the border with Gaza. Some Israeli citizens were killed immediately in their houses, on the streets or in their cars.