Maureen Clare Murphy
Middle East Eye / October 8, 2023
Israel pounded Gaza overnight Saturday in retaliation for a surprise and unprecedented offensive launched by Hamas fighters in Gaza at dawn on Saturday.
Israeli leaders threatened unprecedented violence against Gaza in retaliation, with a lawmaker in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party calling for an even worse Nakba than the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948.
Two-thirds of Gaza’s population of more than two million are refugees from lands in Israel, including those around the periphery of the Strip, that were purged of their Palestinian residents before, during and in the months following the establishment of the state of Israel.
Israel reported 300 fatalities at the close of the first day of what could be a prolonged battle far bloodier than the numerous cross-boundary confrontations between the Israeli military and resistance groups in Gaza over the past two decades.
Around 230 fatalities were reported as a result of Israeli strikes on Gaza and six Palestinians, including a child, were shot and killed in the West Bank on Saturday.
At least one Israeli brigade commander was reported killed and an Israeli ambulance driver was reportedly shot to death.
Some 1,500 Israelis were hospitalized, with thousands of rockets fired from Gaza reaching as far as Jerusalem. As many as 1,000 Palestinian fighters infiltrated Israel and seized control of communities around the periphery of the coastal enclave.
Israel had yet to wrest control from Palestinian militants in several settlements in Gaza’s periphery by the end of the day. Residents of those communities described scenes of “chaos” and some people were reportedly being held by Palestinian fighters in their homes.
Palestinian fighters stormed at least one military base on Saturday, and Israeli authorities destroyed one of their own police stations in Sderot, an Israeli town near Gaza, believing a militant had barricaded himself inside.
Gaza’s health ministry said that there were around 1,700 injured persons received at hospitals in the territory.
Medical teams were working to treat dozens of seriously and critically injured patients, the health ministry added.
Three Palestinian health workers were reported killed in two separate Israeli strikes on hospitals in northern and southern Gaza. Several ambulances were destroyed and Gaza hospitals were running generators on limited stocks of fuel after Israel cut off its supply of electricity to the territory.
Palestinian journalist Muhammad al-Salhi was reported to have been shot and killed while working along the boundary fence east of Bureij in central Gaza:
Two other journalists – Nidal al-Wahidi and Haithem Abd al-Wahed – were reported missing.
Israel bombed civilian towers in Gaza as it has in other recent military campaigns in the territory.
Netanyahu, who made no public comment in the first several hours of the attack, said late Saturday that the military was combing through towns captured by Hamas fighters earlier in the day.
He warned Palestinian civilians in Gaza that the military would “turn all Hamas hiding places into rubble.”
However, Israel’s ability to maneuver would seem to be limited as Hamas is holding dozens of Israeli captives in the territory.
Saleh al-Arouri, deputy chief of Hamas, said that its fighters had captured enough Israelis to force the occupier to free all Palestinians in its prisons and jails.
“What we have in our hands will release all our prisoners,” Al-Arouri said, adding that “their freedom is looming large.”
Israel is currently jailing more than 5,000 Palestinians, more than a fifth of them held without charge or trial under administrative detention orders.
Little to no Israeli resistance
Daniel Hagari, an Israeli military spokesperson, said that hundreds of thousands of reservists would be called up.
“We’re at war; it’s a situation we haven’t known in many, many years,” Hagari said.
He said on Saturday evening that a “substantial” number of Israeli civilians and soldiers captured earlier in the day were being held in Gaza. Later reports indicated that Nepalese students working in a Gaza-area farm were among those injured and taken into Gaza.
Abu Obeida, the spokesperson for Hamas’ military wing, said on Saturday that the number of killed and captured Israeli soldiers and officers being held in Gaza was much higher than what Netanyahu believes, and warned of any miscalculation in Israel’s reprisal strikes on Gaza.
Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel’s far-right national security minister, declared a national civil emergency on Saturday evening, “granting Israel’s police force significantly enhanced powers,” Israeli media reported.
During Saturday’s raid, Palestinian fighters stormed an Israeli military base and captured several Israeli towns near the Gaza boundary, “apparently with little resistance from Israeli forces,” according to Israeli media.
The Times of Israel reported that hours into the offensive, “Israeli civilians living near the Gaza Strip continued to plead for help,” saying that Palestinian gunmen were opening fire and taking captives with “little or no [Israeli military] presence on the streets.”
Some armed residents reportedly attempted to fight back but were left on their own.
Palestinian gunmen reportedly attacked an all-night outdoor music festival and dozens of the thousands of attendees were reported missing and initial reports indicated multiple fatalities.
One festival-goer told the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz that it took the military five hours to arrive “as party goers hid in bushes together with police officers serving as security.”
The Israeli Navy claimed to have killed dozens of Palestinian fighters attempting to infiltrate Israel from the coast.
Meanwhile, dozens of flights to Tel Aviv were canceled on Saturday, with Air France halting all flights to the city “until further notice.”
The attack by Hamas was condemned by the United Nations secretary-general and many of the Western states that arm Israel and have backed its siege on Gaza that has plunged its population into poverty and despair.
Stéphane Dujarric, spokesperson for Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary-general, said that “violence cannot provide a solution to the conflict, and that only through negotiation leading to a two-state solution can peace be achieved” – despite all evidence pointing to the contrary.
Palestinians killed in West Bank
Meanwhile, six Palestinians, including a child, were reported to have been shot and killed by the Israeli military in the West Bank on Saturday.
Mahmoud Bassem Akhmis, 18, was shot in the chest and killed in Beit Ummar, near the southern West Bank city of Hebron.
Yusif Nadir Suleiman Idris, 19, was killed after being shot in the chest by troops in Hebron.
Ahmad Abd al-Nasr Rabi, 12, was shot in the waist and killed during a protest in support of Gaza in the northern West Bank town of Qalqilya.
Israeli forces shot Amro Yusif Ibrahim Abed in the head, killing him, during confrontations in Al-Bireh, adjacent to Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.
In Jericho in the West Bank’s Jordan Valley, Israeli forces shot Karam Nasser al-Aidi, 22, in the head, killing him.
Muhammad Awad Jarbua, 24, was shot and killed in al-Lubban al-Gharbi, a town near Ramallah.
The Palestine Red Crescent Society said that its ambulance crews treated 80 casualties in the West Bank on Saturday, including 24 people injured by live fire.
Settlers attacked Palestinian communities in the West Bank, attempting to torch homes and reportedly stabbing a young man.
Four Palestinians were shot and killed in the West Bank earlier in the week.
According to WAFA, the official Palestinian news agency, Labib Muhammad Labib Dumeidi, 19, was shot in the chest and killed Friday during a settler attack in Huwara, a town near the northern West Bank city of Nablus.
Another Palestinian was reportedly killed in Huwara that same day after opening fire towards settlers.
Two Palestinian fighters were killed by troops during a raid in Shufa village near the northern West Bank city of Tulkarm on Thursday.
Before Saturday, more than 240 Palestinians had been killed by Israeli police, troops and armed civilians since the beginning of the year, according to The Electronic Intifada’s tracking. That figure includes people who died of injuries sustained during previous years.
Thirty-five people in Israel and Israelis and other nationals in the West Bank were killed in what Israel says were Palestinian attacks during 2023 up until Saturday, or died from previous injuries.
Maureen Clare Murphy is senior editor of The Electronic Intifada