The horrors of the past few days of the Israel-Hamas war in Israel and Gaza have only begun to be revealed. At dawn on Saturday, on Shabbat and the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah, the terrorist group Hamas attacked Israel from air, sea and land in more than 20 sites. Within 24 hours, they had killed 1,000 Israelis and wounded several thousand more.
Atrocities committed by Hamas against women, children, the elderly and disabled have been documented by U.S. and global media and include harrowing accounts of the slaughter of children, beheadings, mass rapes and people — including children — being burned alive.
At 6 a.m., Hamas also attacked the Tribe of Nova music and peace festival in a field outside of Kibbutz Re’im and killed 260 mostly young adult revelers, taking an unknown number hostage in the worst civilian massacre in Israeli history.
Survivors of that attack and families of the missing have been telling their stories to the media.
The government, led by far-right Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was uncharacteristically slow to respond. Residents of Kibbutzim and survivors of other assaults in Southern Israel, which was a locus of the attacks, reported hiding in safe rooms, under houses and in air raid shelters for more than 24 hours before soldiers arrived to rescue them and take out the Hamas fighters. Among the dead are 22 Americans. More than 20 others are missing and could be among the 150 or so hostages that Hamas took into Gaza.
For months, Israelis have protested against Netanyahu’s government en masse: thousands of Israelis objected to Netanyahu’s attempts to wrest control of the judiciary. Military reservists said they would stop reporting for duty if the plan passed, which raised concern that the country’s security interests could be threatened. President Joe Biden urged Netanyahu to scrap the plan.
It was into this massive political flux that the well-planned and well-orchestrated Hamas attack was launched, 50 years to the day of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Saturday’s attack has been described repeatedly in Israeli and foreign media as Israel’s 9/11. But 9/11 was one day and hit only three targets in New York, D.C. and Pennsylvania. The Hamas attack was an infiltration and is ongoing.
By Sunday, the Israeli government was responding to the attack with missiles and ground troops within Israel and Netanyahu had declared that the nation was at war and would retaliate against Hamas, which has unelected political control of Gaza. On Monday, the government began bombing Hamas targets in Gaza City. And with that, the Palestinian death toll started to rise exponentially.
Gaza is one of the most populous places on earth, home to 2.2 million Palestinians in 140 square miles — comparable in density to midtown Manhattan. In 2005, Israel withdrew from Gaza, expelling some 7,000 Israeli settlements and ceding control to the Fatah political group. Fatah recognizes Israel and wants to build a two-state solution along the borders established after the 1967 Six-Day War. This would define the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem as Palestine.
But in 2006, Hamas wrested control of Gaza from Fatah. Hamas does not recognize Israel and is dedicated to eradicating Israel. In 2007, Israel set up a permanent blockade of Gaza with a checkpoint in and out of the territory for those who work outside Gaza or who seek services, like access to hospitals, in Israel.
There are only two exits out of Gaza: one into Israel and one into Egypt. Egypt permanently blocked its border with Gaza in 2007 and will not open it, citing security concerns with Hamas. Due to these blockades of Gaza and the restriction of movement of Gazan Palestinians, Gaza is often described as the world’s largest open air prison. So while Israel’s government rejects the idea that Gaza is an occupied territory, human rights groups and peace activists within both Gaza and Israel disagree. The U.N. considers Israel’s occupation in the enclave ongoing, despite the 2005 disengagement.
An international Palestinian movement to boycott Israel due to the blockade, BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions), was begun to put external economic and other pressure on Israel to end the occupation.
Complicating the Palestinian fight for autonomy is that there is no support for Hamas among the more democratic Arab nations and Gazans have long said they have been abandoned by the Arab league in their plight. The U.N. says more than 80% of Gazans live in poverty, with access to clean water and electricity at crisis levels even before the latest violence. In addition, more than half of Palestinians in Gaza are 19 or under. As the Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem, Fleur Hassan-Nahoum told Anderson Cooper on Tuesday night, “Hamas could have turned Gaza into Dubai. Instead they turned it into Beirut.”
When Netanyahu declared war against Hamas, Gaza City became the focal point. Israel cut access to water, electricity and food on Monday. Hamas has not relinquished power nor asked for mediation, so some in the region argue that they brought this retaliation on Gazans who had no connection to the invasion.
In organized warfare, there are rules of engagement. Among them is protecting civilians. In 1949, after World War II ended, the Geneva Conventions were expanded, in part due to the extreme genocide of the Holocaust. Among those, attacks on civilians and collective punishment are violations — war crimes.
Israel is now responding to the war crimes of Hamas with war crimes against Gaza. There is no international outcry against the attack on Gaza and the restrictions on water, food and electricity, in part because the Hamas attacks have been so indescribably brutal but also because Israel said Gazans could leave the area if they wanted to.
But there is nowhere for them to go. Not one Arab nation will accept them. Nor will Israel. They are trapped — pawns in the Hamas and Israel war. When asked about this in a State Department press briefing on Tuesday, spokesperson Jake Sullivan said that was being discussed between Netanyahu and President Biden. Qatar has suggested it could have a role in negotiations.
For his part, Biden has taken a strong pro-Israel and anti-terrorism stance. In a speech from the White House Tuesday afternoon following more discussions with Netanyahu, Biden said the U.S. stood firmly behind Israel and against terrorism.
Biden also addressed the matter on Twitter.
“Let us be clear: There is no place for hate in America.
“Not against Jews. Not against Muslims.
“What we reject is terrorism. We condemn its indiscriminate evil, just as we have always done.
“That is what America stands for.”
For LGBTQ+ people in the region, there is no question that Israel is the only safe place for queer and trans people. Homosexuality is illegal in Gaza and forced marriage is common for lesbians and gay men.
Rumored honor killings have been rampant for years in the region, as is corrective rape of lesbians.
“‘There’s no honor in honor killing’: the paradox of femicide in Palestinian media” by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism explains how there is no reporting on this violence at all.
Global Gayz states “a handful of LGBT-organizations have arisen to aid LGBT Arabs and Palestinians, all of which are headquartered in Israel: Jerusalem Open House, Black Laundry, Aswat (“Voices”) for women. Same-sex marriages, civil unions or domestic partnerships are not remotely given legal recognition in Gaza or the West Bank. Gay Palestinians frequently seek refuge in Israel fearing for their lives, especially fearing death from members of their own families.”
As the Jerusalem Post reported last June during Pride Month, “Not only are there atrocious laws against LGBTQ+ in the West Bank and Gaza, the social attitudes are an even larger problem.”
The liberal Haaretz newspaper published an in-depth interview with gay and lesbian Gazans “Pride and Prejudice: The Hellish Life of Gaza’s LGBTQ Community” in which four gay men and one lesbian in Gaza City told Haaretz “what life is really like in a ‘homophobic society’ where pretending to be straight is often a matter of survival.” The article’s author had to use a pseudonym for protection.
In October 2022, the severed head and decapitated torso of Ahmad Abu Murkhiyeh, a 25-year-old gay Palestinian, were discovered on the side of a road in the occupied West Bank. Abu Murkhiyeh’s body parts were found near his family’s home — which he had fled from for asylum in Israel.
Graphic videos and photos taken by Palestinian youths found Abu Murkhiyeh’s dismembered body were published on WhatsApp before being taken down. A Palestinian acquaintance of Abu Murkhiyeh was arrested as a suspect in the killing, but there were no details about the motive.
LGBTQ+ Palestinians have little recourse for escape from Gaza. Some, like Abu Murkhiyeh, seek asylum in Israel, but sexual orientation and gender identity are not on the list of reasons for asylum in Israel or in neighboring countries, like Jordan and Egypt. And there are those who argue that Israeli LGBTQ+ people also face discrimination, harassment and violence, and that focusing on anti-LGBTQ+ laws in Gaza and the West Bank is just “pink-washing” — deflecting from the occupation by citing the grim aspects of life for gay and trans people in the Palestinian territories.
Yet that reality exists.
And Hamas’ main funding source, Iran, is among the countries with the death penalty for homosexuality. PGN reported last year how two lesbians were scheduled for execution for “corruption on earth through the promotion of homosexuality.”
Prior to the current crisis, anti-semitism had reached an all-time high in the U.S., fueled in part by the rise in the MAGA-linked white nationalist movement. It is expected to increase now that the U.S. is focused on the Israeli-Hamas conflict.
The U.S. has the largest demographic of Jews in the world outside Israel. But protests since the Hamas invasion have highlighted both anti-Israel and anti-semitic sentiments with pro-Palestinian protesters chanting “gas the Jews” and “F*ck Israel.”
In Philadelphia, video of a march down Walnut Street near Rittenhouse Square Sunday heard protesters chanting “From the river to the sea, Palestine should be free,” largely viewed as a call for the eradication of Israel.
As the conflict rages, so too will anger over the victims caught in the violence, all of which makes it more essential for Americans to separate Jews and Palestinians from their political leadership. But that may get harder and harder to do as the death toll and tales of carnage continue to unfold.