How October 7 has changed us all — and what it signals for our struggle

It can be hard to recognize a historic moment while living through it, but this time in Israel-Palestine, it’s plain for all to see. Here’s what we know, and what we can surmise, one month on.

It has been one month since October 7. The lives of millions of Israelis and Palestinians have been upended by the massacres Hamas committed in Israel that day, and the subsequent and ongoing massacres Israel is committing with its large-scale assault on the Gaza Strip. It can sometimes be difficult to recognize a historic moment as you are living through it, but this time it is plain to see: the power balance has changed between Israelis and Palestinians, and will change the course of events from here on. 

One month into the war is a good time to take stock of what we know has happened to Israelis, to Palestinians, and to the left in this country — and to make some careful assessments about what is to come. 

Hamas’ massacres in Israel

Our lives here, as Israelis, will never be the same after October 7. So much has been said about the atrocities Hamas committed in the Israeli south on that dreadful Saturday, and so many conspiracy theories and fake news have been proliferating, that it is worth reminding ourselves of some basic facts. These facts have been corroborated by multiple independent sources and journalists, including +972 and Local Call team members.

In an unprecedented and meticulous operation, Hamas militants broke out of the besieged Gaza Strip, outsmarting what was considered one of the most powerful and sophisticated armies in the region. After destroying parts of the fence encaging Gaza, as well as launching an attack on the Erez Crossing, thousands of militants took over Israeli military bases, killed or captured hundreds of soldiers, and then went on to attack a music festival and occupy several kibbutzim and towns. They killed around 1,300 people, the majority of whom were civilians. 

The carnage was brutal. Hundreds of unarmed partygoers were slain, including some Palestinian citizens who were there as first responders, drivers, and workers. Entire families were butchered in their homes, with some survivors witnessing the murder of their parents or children. In some communities, as many as one in four residents were either killed or abducted. Thai and Nepali agricultural workers, as well as Filipino care workers, were also targeted, with Hamas militants shooting them and in at least one case throwing grenades into a shack where they were hiding. 

Palestinians take control of an Israeli tank after crossing the fence with Israel from Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, October 7, 2023. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
Palestinians take control of an Israeli tank after breaching the Gaza fence from Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, October 7, 2023. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Around 240 soldiers and civilians of all ages, ranging from 9 months to over 80 years old, were abducted to Gaza, and most of them are still held there as hostages, with no connection to the outside world and with their families having no idea of their condition. All the while, Hamas has continued to indiscriminately fire thousands of rockets from Gaza toward Israeli towns and cities.

These war crimes, while not without context, are entirely unjustifiable. They have rattled so many of us, myself included, to our core. The false notion that Israelis can live in safety while Palestinians are routinely killed under a brutal system of occupation, siege, and apartheid — a notion that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu championed and instilled within us in his long years in power — came crumbling down. 

This feeling has been exacerbated by the winds of regional war and attacks by Hezbollah against Israeli soldiers and civilians in northern Israel, to which Israel has responded with its own artillery and drone strikes in Lebanon, killing combatants and civilians. This additional front has deepened our existential dread and the feeling that we, Israelis and Palestinians, are but pawns in wider regional and global struggles (and not for the first time). 

The collapse of our sense of security came hand in hand with the realization that the entire Israeli state is, in fact, nothing more than a hologram. The army, rescue services, the welfare services, and more have all been dysfunctional. This has left Israeli survivors, the internally displaced, and the families of the hostages without anyone to turn to, pressing civil society to step in to fill the void where the government should have been. Years of political corruption have left us with an empty shell of a state, and with no leadership to speak of. For Israelis, no matter how we come out on the other side of the war, we want to make sure that nothing like October 7 can ever happen again.

Armed Palestinians drive back into the Gaza Strip with people kidnapped from Israel, east of Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, October 7, 2023. (Flash90)
Armed Palestinians drive back into the Gaza Strip with people kidnapped from Israel, east of Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, October 7, 2023. (Flash90)

Israel’s massacres in Gaza

While failing on every other front, and before even regaining control of all the Hamas-occupied areas in the south on October 7, the Israeli army immediately went about doing what it knows best: pummeling Gaza. The justified grief, pain, shock, and anger translated into yet another unjustifiable military assault and campaign of collective punishment against the defenseless 2.3 million residents of the world’s largest open-air prison — the worst we have ever seen.

Along with the first airstrikes, Israel disconnected the entire Palestinian population of Gaza from electricity, water, and fuel, turning an already existing humanitarian crisis to a full-blown catastrophe. Then came the army’s orders to evacuate half of the population — about 1 million people — from the northern Strip to its south, in addition to a second evacuation from the east to the west. 

The relentless aerial bombardment, both in the north and in the supposedly “safe” south, has so far killed over 10,000 Palestinians in just one month — by far the highest rate of deaths that this conflict has ever seen. Most of these are civilians, among them over 4,000 children. Hundreds of families have been wiped out, including those of two past +972 contributors — one of whom was himself killed, another who survived but lost five members of his family. One of our colleagues from “We Beyond the Fence,” a project dedicated to sharing Palestinian stories from Gaza with Israelis and the world, lost 20 family members

This does not include the hundreds or perhaps thousands of bodies, dead or alive, buried under the rubble, which no one can even begin to dig through. Palestinian residents are describing the stench of death taking over what remains of some destroyed neighborhoods. While we Israelis have rocket sirens, Iron Dome interceptors, and shelters, the people of Gaza have none of these, and no way to protect themselves against the rain of bombs dropped on all parts of the besieged enclave.

A ball of fire and smoke rises during Israeli airstrikes in the Gaza Strip, October 9, 2023. (Atia Mohammed/Flash90)
A ball of fire and smoke rises during Israeli airstrikes in the Gaza Strip, October 9, 2023. (Atia Mohammed/Flash90)

According to the UN, over 45 percent of houses in the Gaza Strip have so far been destroyed or severely damaged by Israel’s attacks. Hospitals are running out of supplies, and doctors find themselves performing critical medical procedures without anesthesia and using only phone flashlights to see. Hundreds of thousands do not have safe access to clean water. Since the army’s ground invasion began in late October, Israel occasionally enforces phone and internet blackouts, preventing the injured from calling for help, or people from checking on their loved ones, or paramedics from locating the wounded, or journalists from reporting what’s happening on the ground.

Western governments have so far given Israel a free hand to commit these atrocities, showing a consistent double standard between the value of Israeli lives and Palestinian lives — which is part of what brought us to this situation in the first place. We are seeing no remorse for the role these actors have played in silencing and sidelining Palestinians and their allies over the years, and closing all diplomatic and nonviolent avenues for their liberation — from boycotts, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) to appealing to the UN Security Council for intervention.

While news and images of the destruction and death are there for the world to see, the Israeli public sees and thinks very little of it. Mainstream Israeli media focuses exclusively on the massacres of October 7, and not at all on the ones currently happening in our name. Instead, we keep hearing endless competitions of genocidal rhetoric, with Israeli commentators and politicians discussing “flattening” Gaza, nuking Gaza, ethnically cleansing Gaza, fighting “human animals,” and so on.

The more official line is that Israel is “only” trying to topple Hamas. But we know from experience that there is no military solution to the threat Israelis see in Hamas, and that decades of Israeli attempts to pick and choose a “convenient” Palestinian leadership have always failed. The only way to stop Palestinians from rising up against their oppressors is for Israel to stop that oppression and denial of their rights. It is justice, security, and a decent future for all of us, or for none of us.

Palestinians mourn near bodies of those killed in Israeli air strikes, outside Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, October 12, 2023. (Atia Mohammed/Flash90)
Palestinians mourn near bodies of those killed in Israeli air strikes, outside Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, October 12, 2023. (Atia Mohammed/Flash90)

Expulsions in the West Bank, persecution inside Israel

The war being waged against Palestinians is not limited to Gaza. In the occupied West Bank, settlers, soldiers, and an increasing number of joint militias — where the two become indistinguishable — have significantly increased their campaign of ethnic cleansing in Area C, the 60 percent of the occupied territory where Israeli settlements are located and where the army holds full control. At least 15 Palestinian communities have been entirely uprooted over the past month, and several more are experiencing greater threats with no one to defend them. Settlers and government officials are working to expand the territory directly controlled by settlements, which would mean pushing out even more Palestinians living in those areas.

According to the UN, at least 155 Palestinians have been killed by soldiers or settlers in the West Bank since October 7. Farmers are being prevented from picking their olives in the annual season when they are ready to be harvested, and in some cases even have to watch settlers steal their olives right in front of them. The Israeli army has arrested over 1,000 Palestinians on allegations of connections to Hamas, and thousands of Palestinian laborers from Gaza, who had permits to work in Israel or the West Bank, were put in internment camps under severe conditions before being deported back to Gaza late last week.

Inside Israel and occupied East Jerusalem, meanwhile, Palestinians are being persecuted both by the authorities and by the broader Jewish public. Hundreds of Palestinian citizens and some left-wing Jews have been arrested or detained for long periods of time, suspended or fired from their jobs, removed from the universities they attend as students and faculty, and threatened with having their citizenship revoked. Many of these actions were taken merely because of posts on social media, even those that are entirely benign, including trilingual calls to stop the war, verses from the Qur’an, or showing sympathy and grief over the killing of children in Gaza. 

In Jerusalem, Israeli police are stopping random Palestinians on the street to check their social media feeds for “incitement.” The police also announced they will forbid all protests calling for a ceasefire — a rule it has thus far enforced almost exclusively against Palestinian citizens, and which has been upheld by the High Court in response to a petition. “Anyone who wishes to identify with Gaza is welcome to. I will put him on the buses that are heading there now,” declared Israeli police chief Kobi Shabtai. 

Palestinians protest against Israel in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah, October 18, 2023. (Flash90)
Palestinians protest against Israel in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah, October 18, 2023. (Flash90)

In several Israeli cities, workplaces employing Palestinian citizens have shut down entirely, or told those workers not to show up for work, or placed special guards around the work sites to “protect” the surrounding Jewish community. Violent right-wing mobs attacked Arab students on two campuses and workers in several businesses, as well as the home of the leftist ultra-Orthodox Jewish journalist Israel Frey; only four of the hundreds of assailants in these different incidents have been detained. Meanwhile, the Kahanist National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir has been giving out thousands of assault rifles to newly formed civilian security teams in dozens of cities and settlements, some of them manned by known right-wing extremists.

Altogether, this has created a sense of unprecedented fear among Palestinian citizens of Israel, many of whom are now talking about this period as “the new military regime,” referring to the draconian system imposed on them from 1948-1966. Many have deactivated or stopped using their social media profiles, and many are simply avoiding going to work or walking through Jewish-majority areas. This is in addition to some Palestinian citizens who have also been among those killed in Hamas’ October 7 attack or in the rocket barrages from Gaza that have followed, and while some are still held captive by Hamas in Gaza.

There are some truly inspiring initiatives of Jewish and Palestinian citizens working together, protecting each other, signing shared petitions, or volunteering together for victims — but unfortunately these are small rays of light in an otherwise dark storm.

A shattered left

As if everything happening around us were not bad enough, we are also witnessing a painful moment for the left in Israel-Palestine, leading many around us to feel even more desperate and hopeless. As Noam Shuster wrote on +972 recently, we are seeing the two national communities around us retreat into their separate shells, with rapidly departing narratives of the events of the past month, and declining faith in each other. This is leaving those of us who are committed to shared spaces, shared resistance, and a shared future grounded in equality very much alone. It is, in many ways, a condensed microcosm of the rifts that have emerged within the left globally over the past month as well.

Many Jewish Israelis who have considered themselves to be on the local and global left, and who have been staunch opponents of the occupation and supporters of human rights and equality, were completely shocked by the ferocity of Hamas’ attack. The targeting of so many civilians, many of whom were committed activists against the siege on Gaza and Israeli apartheid more broadly, has not been easy to swallow. 

Israelis hold photographs of abducted and missing family members during a protest outside the Knesset, Jerusalem, November 6, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Israelis hold photographs of abducted and missing family members during a protest outside the Knesset, Jerusalem, November 6, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The initial, understandable shock — which I too share — has been intensified by a feeling of disappointment at what they experienced as a lack of solidarity from Palestinian leaders, friends, and colleagues in the face of this horror. Truly worrying broader trends of either the denial or justification of the massacres in certain Palestinian circles and in the global left, have led some to start demanding that their friends denounce Hamas and pronounce their commitment to the right of Jews to live on this land, as proof of mutual solidarity and allyship.

At the same time, some of those Israelis have been justifying the attack on Gaza. Many are acknowledging that there is no military solution in the long run, and are stressing that they wish no harm to Palestinian civilians, but are insisting that “there is no choice but to topple that regime.” While some may still reject settler attacks in the West Bank, they do not seem concerned with the persecution of Palestinian citizens, which is being justified by the same rationale against former friends and allies.

On the Palestinian side, many are opting for complete silence, in great part out of fear that any statement they make could and likely would be used against them. Any show of grief for the massacres of October 7 is manipulated by Israelis to justify the horrors it is bringing upon Gaza, and any sign of care for Gazans is interpreted by much of the Jewish majority, including by employers and the police, as treason and collusion with the enemy.

Of the Palestinians who are daring to make public statements, some are trying to walk a fine line between recognizing the right of an occupied people to resist with force but centering on state or military targets, thus justifying the “first phase” of the October 7 attack while rejecting the ensuing massacres of civilians. Others are either looking for ways to deny that the massacres took place — for example, by latching onto conspiracy theories about the Israeli army having actually killed civilians while attempting to rescue them or prevent their abduction (which may have happened in some cases, but in far smaller numbers than is being implied) — or are justifying it by saying that decolonization is “messy” and “ugly” because it reverses the original brutal oppression it is fighting.

The scene where Israelis were killed by Hamas militants on a main road near the southern Israeli city of Sderot, October 7, 2023. (Jamal Awad/Flash90)
The scene where Israelis were killed by Hamas militants on a main road near the southern Israeli city of Sderot, October 7, 2023. (Jamal Awad/Flash90)

Palestinian citizens of Israel, for their part, are also looking at some Jewish leaders, colleagues, and friends on the left with a great deal of disappointment. From the failure to stand beside the people of Gaza who are facing the war crimes committed by our government, to the failure to speak up for those being persecuted by an increasingly authoritarian regime, Palestinian citizens feel abandoned and betrayed by many Jewish allies who, up until a month ago, were vehemently protesting on the streets in the name of “democracy.”

These trends flourish in two communities that are caught up in very real grief, fear, and anxiety, both drawing on collective past traumas — the Holocaust and the Nakba — whose memories are being revived by genocidal rhetoric from leaders in Hamas and the Israeli government — and, in the Palestinian case, by actual expulsions and the discussion of plans for even more displacement. Needless to say, by each side retreating to the warmth and protection of its national or ethnic group, they are also unwittingly reaffirming the fears and disappointments of the other, creating a destructive dynamic of escalating mistrust and despair.

Horizons ahead

We do not yet know how this war will end. Israeli leaders are promising us a “very long” campaign that could take “months” or “years.” However, with global public opinion shifting in the face of the carnage and humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza, and with the internal Israeli demand for the release of the over 200 captives held by Hamas, mistrust toward the government, and limited tolerance for the human and economic cost of war, I believe we are more likely to see a ceasefire in a few weeks’ time.

It is also impossible to assess the scope of the new age that will begin after this war. There is no telling who will govern Gaza — Hamas, the Palestinian Authority, an international force, or Israel itself. The magnitude of rehabilitation efforts needed in Gaza is unimaginable. There will also be a need to rebuild the Israeli communities destroyed or evacuated in the south and the north.

A fire rages where a rocket fired from Gaza into southern Israel landed in the city of Ashkelon, October 7, 2023. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
A fire rages where a rocket fired from Gaza into southern Israel landed in the city of Ashkelon, October 7, 2023. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

I will leave important discussions about the Palestinian leadership and struggle, broader regional dynamics, and the role of foreign powers for future analysis, which we will be publishing in the coming weeks and months on +972. For now, I wish to focus on the issue of Jewish-Israeli politics.

Two changes seem very clear to me at this point: the end of the Netanyahu era, and the end of the dominance of the “conflict management” discourse in Israeli society, giving way to a renewed public discussion on the future of Jewish-Arab relations.

Netanyahu is finished. I know this has been said many times before, and this leader has shown incredible survival abilities, but with what has happened in the past month, we are beyond that point. All polls since October 7 show that the vast majority of Israelis, including a considerable majority within his Likud party, believe he is to blame for Israel’s military defeat at the hands of Hamas, and that he has to go. Some of his allies in the media and in government are already turning on him, preparing for the day after.

This is one more reason that Netanyahu is so dangerous right now, believing — rightly, as things stand — that as long as the war goes on, no one will bother with the politics of replacing a prime minister. He may still find that even Israelis have a limit, and either before or after the war ends, in one way or another, he will be ousted.

Much more importantly than Netanyahu himself, though, is the Netanyahu doctrine, which has become the near-consensus of Jewish-Israeli politics. This doctrine held that Israel has beaten the Palestinians, that they are no longer a problem to contend with, that we can “manage” the conflict on a “low flame,” and that we should focus our attention on other matters. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a plenum session in the Israeli Knesset, October 16, 2023. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a plenum session in the Israeli Knesset, October 16, 2023. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Throughout his near-continuous rein since 2009, this perception won the hearts and minds of Israelis, and the question of “what to do with Palestinians” — which used to be the main fault line of Israeli politics — has been removed from the agenda almost entirely, contributing to the hubris that led the army to drop its guard around Gaza. Last month, Hamas decimated that notion for years and maybe decades to come.

In the next Israeli elections, whenever they are held, we are likely to see a reorganizing of the political map, potentially creating three distinct blocs. It is too early to say how much traction each of these camps will have, but here is what they could look like. 

The first is of course the far right, which has already been gaining traction since 2021, and which will try to capitalize on recent events. Led by the likes of Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, probably joined by some from Likud, this camp will say that no matter how this war will end, it just wasn’t enough. Israel, they’ll argue, needs a definitive solution based on large-scale ethnic cleansing, because, in their eyes, the entire land belongs to us and there is no room for the Palestinian people to stay here as a collective.

A second approach, probably led by Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid, will likely center on unilateral steps, such as a “second disengagement” from the West Bank, pulling down settlements east of the separation barrier, annexing the rest, and fortifying the walls encaging Palestinians in both the West Bank and Gaza with more concrete, more tech, and more soldiers than ever before. Part of this approach may also include the “mowing the lawn” strategy — essentially, periodically recurring military campaigns — to prevent Palestinians from developing significant armed capabilities.

Defence Minister Yoav Gallant speaks with Israeli soldiers at a staging area not far from the Gaza fence, October 19, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
Defence Minister Yoav Gallant speaks with Israeli soldiers at a staging area not far from the Gaza fence, October 19, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

The third camp is likely to be a reconfiguration of what used to be Labor, Meretz, and parts of Yesh Atid, in which a key role may be played by the newfound hero of the Zionist center-left: former Meretz MK and army general Yair Golan, who spent October 7 as a volunteer one-man commando unit, going in and out of fighting arenas with his gun and private car, rescuing survivors under fire. This camp will likely propose a return to the two-state separation paradigm, to be achieved through negotiations with the PLO. It may also try to advance some discourse of coexistence within Israel, promoting different forms of Arab-Jewish partnership in civilian life.

The latter two camps will be emboldened by strong anti-settler sentiments that have been growing in the Israeli public, especially since anti-government protesters rightly began identifying the link between the far right’s judicial overhaul and its ideological sources in the religious Zionist movement in the occupied territories. The rejection of settler pogroms, like the one in Huwara last February, has only increased, with many Israelis seeing current settler attacks in the West Bank as provoking a third front in the war. 

Moreover, the knowledge that the Israeli army had redeployed forces from the Gaza fence to guard extremist settlers in remote West Bank outposts in recent months, which may have paved the way for the success of Hamas’ military operation on October 7, has strengthened hatred and resentment of these settlers. That said, Israeli hatred toward Palestinians has skyrocketed far more, and the remote possibility of a one-state or confederate solution being accepted by Israelis has further shrunk. 

Forward into the unknown

This is a grim and trying time for those of us who are committed to opposing apartheid and promoting a solution grounded in justice and equality for all. On the one hand, achievements hard won over decades of shared struggle have been erased by Hamas’ massacres, and will be hard to regain. Our movement is in disarray, and despair abounds. Thousands of lives have been lost, thousands more still may perish, and the collective traumas we carry are intensifying by the day.

Pictures of Israelis abducted by Hamas in Gaza are projected onto the walls of Jerusalem's Old City, November 6, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Pictures of Israelis abducted by Hamas in Gaza are projected onto the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City, November 6, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

On the other hand, once the war is over, there will have to be a reckoning within Israeli society, which could open up new opportunities for us to seize. Much of what we have been fighting for will become ever more relevant, with more people locally and globally willing to recognize that the system we live under is unjust, unsustainable, and offers none of us real security. We must double down on our commitment to promoting a peaceful political process, with the stated goal of ending the siege and the occupation, recognizing the right of return of Palestinian refugees, and finding creative solutions to materialize that right.

But the new reality will require some realignments. Alongside our commitment to the full realization of all Palestinians’ rights, our progressive, anti-apartheid movement will have to be explicit about the collective rights of Jews in this land, and to ensure that their security is guaranteed in whatever solution is found. We will have to contend with Hamas and its place in this new reality, ensuring it can no longer commit such attacks on Israelis, just as we insist on the security of Palestinians and their protection from Israeli military and settler aggression. Without this, it will be impossible to move forward.

Until then, there are two extremely urgent calls upon which to center our efforts right now: freeing civilian hostages, and an immediate ceasefire. Now.