In the early morning hours of Saturday, under a barrage of rockets fired from Gaza, dozens in the Palestinian militant group Hamas broke out of the blockaded Gaza Strip, breached the security barriers, and stormed into nearby Israeli towns, killing hundreds and holding others hostage in an unprecedented surprise attack.
It was a massive operation, hailed by Hamas as “Al-Aqsa Storm.” Saleh al-Arouri, an exiled Hamas leader, said the operation was a response “to the crimes of the occupation.” Hamas urged all Palestinians to join the battle, declaring: “Today the people are regaining their revolution.”
Israel immediately declared a state of war, launching air attacks on Gaza in retaliation, killing over four hundred Palestinians, most of them civilians. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to “take mighty vengeance” against Palestinians, calling Gaza a “city of evil” and vowing to turn it into “cities of ruins.” Israeli defense minister Yoav Gallant has already approved a sweeping call-up of reservists.
The tragic scenes unfolding in Gaza and Israel are a chilling reminder that occupation and oppression bear a price. For the truth is that when you imprison two million people in 140 square miles, placing them under a merciless siege with no end in sight, with no way in or out, with drones and rockets buzzing overhead night and day, with constant surveillance and harassment, with scant control over their day-to-day lives — ultimately, the dispossessed will rebel.
The violence was not unprovoked, as the mainstream media has depicted it. It has been brewing and festering in every corner of the country.
In the West Bank, the Palestinian town of Jenin is still reeling from the devastation of a recent unsparing Israeli attack, which left the town a razed ghostland. The small town of Huwara has yet to recover from the deadly horrors unleashed by settlers on its residents.
So far this year, Israel’s military forces have killed over two hundred Palestinians in the West Bank.
To make life hell for Palestinians, settler mobs and far-right gangs, backed and emboldened by Israel’s ultranationalist government, have been sowing terror and wreaking havoc among Palestinians, burning villages and houses, lynching and killing civilians with impunity.
In Jerusalem, Israeli soldiers and security forces have allowed the settler mobs to run amok, evicting Palestinian families by force and occupying their homes. During the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, settlers stormed into the Al-Aqsa Mosque complex in Jerusalem, staging provocative tours, harassing and beating worshippers, and spitting on Christians.
Palestinians in Gaza have been languishing under siege. Squeezed in a narrow strip of land known as the world’s largest open-air prison, Gazans have been under a vicious blockade for nearly two decades, subjected to Israel’s repeated air strikes and raids, military operations and collective punishment. The majority of its two million people still scrape by in cramped refugee camps under unlivable conditions. Former Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) military chief Benny Gantz, referring to Israel’s 2014 invasion of Gaza, has boasted of “bombing Gaza back to the Stone Age.” The IDF describes its tactic in Gaza as “mowing the grass.”
For decades, Israel has demanded the unquestioning surrender of its victims and refused to accept defiance in any form. The message has been unequivocal: democratic tactics are futile. Even when Palestinians embraced nonviolent resistance — strikes, demonstrations, etc. — they were met with brutal force by Israel.
The first intifada, a popular Palestinian uprising that broke out in the Jabalya refugee camp in Gaza in 1987, was brutally crushed by Israeli forces, giving birth to Hamas and other militant groups. In September 2000, Gaza became the symbolic battlefield of the second intifada, when twelve-year-old Muhammad al-Dura was shot dead in his father’s arms at crossroads near Bureij refugee camp in Gaza, becoming the iconic image of the uprising. Over five thousand Palestinians were killed by Israel during the first and second intifadas.
In 2018, when Gaza refugees staged the “Great March of Return” to commemorate the annual anniversary of the Nakba (or “catastrophe,” the mass displacement of Palestinians at Israel’s founding), Israeli forces responded by killing over 150 demonstrators and injuring ten thousand others, including children and journalists, over a six-week span. A United Nations report later concluded that Israeli soldiers and leaders committed crimes against humanity and intentionally used live ammunition against civilians.
Israel’s unbridled brutality in Gaza has produced a generation of Palestinians who have lost faith in nonviolent resistance, thus rendering the latest explosion as tragic as it was inevitable. The young Palestinian men who stormed into Israel from Gaza this weekend acted out of desperation, seeing no way out of the yoke of oppression and the inhumanity of the blockade.
The West Bank, too, is on the verge of explosion. Like Gaza, the West Bank is under siege, with more than half a million people living in over 140 Jewish-only settlements built by Israel on Palestinian lands and homes. Some 3.5 million Palestinians reside in segregated cantons behind Israel’s “apartheid wall” and the newly constructed “Apartheid Road” — and in towns and cities penned between Jewish settlement blocks and a network of segregated roads, security barriers, and military installations. For Palestinians who live there, apartheid signifies not merely segregation, but as I’ve written before, “the inhumanity of life under occupation: the beatings, shootings, killings, assassinations, lynchings, curfews, military checkpoints, house demolitions, evictions, deportations, disappearances, uprooting of trees, mass arrests, extended imprisonments, and detentions without trial.”
This weekend’s horrific violence is the ugly reality of Israeli apartheid, the rotten fruit of decades of occupation of a stateless people divested of basic rights and freedoms. Unless the root causes are dismantled — the siege lifted, the apartheid system and occupation ended — violence will continue to tragically haunt Palestinians and Israelis for years to come.