It was 7 a.m. when the “peace rave” outside of Re’im was reaching its peak. Outside the kibbutz, five miles from the Gaza border, the participants of the dance festival were “coming up” at just the moment that the terrorists of Hamas started to come down.
They arrived on motorized paragliders, with machine-guns in position, like something from Mad Max. They came by motorcycle and in trucks bearing the marks of Hamas. Rockets had already started firing across Israel from Gaza, but here the twenty- and thirty-something rave attendees were soon running in every direction across the Negev desert — hunted down. At the time of writing, 260 bodies have been recovered from the site. This is just one of the many simultaneous massacres across Israel in the areas nearest to Gaza. It is Israel’s worst security breach in fifty years, and the biggest hit to the perception of Israeli invulnerability in two generations.
Before looking at cause and consequence, we should dwell on what actually happened to those hundreds of young Israelis. Some who survived have described the scene first-hand. The terrorists seemed to make a special target of the young women. One witness said that women were raped on the site of the rave next to their friends’ dead bodies. In a scene that no Israeli in a generation could have believed possible, some of the women were kidnapped and driven into Gaza. Many seemed to have been murdered already, others were only just alive. Videos online show Hamas parading some of these women through the streets of Gaza, blood visibly trailing from between their legs. The naked and desecrated bodies of others are spat on by the Gazans.
Israel is the only country which is expected to accept with equanimity the mutilation of its citizenry
I cite these details because so many people have already moved past these unimaginable scenes and on to the reaction. On to the blame games, the “what-ifs” and the phase where everybody claims the attacks can be explained by whatever their own political views already were. Pro-Palestinian groups and leftists are already blaming the rape, murder and parading of these women as being caused by the “Israeli occupation” (Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005). Opponents of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent judicial reforms are claiming that these took his eye off the security ball. Those who oppose President Joe Biden will say he caused this through recently giving another $6 billion in ransom money to Iran — which backs Hamas and appears to be behind the attack.
But amid all of this, the human horror of what happened at the weekend cannot be skipped over. Yes, there are huge questions to be asked. About why the Erez border crossing seemed all but abandoned; and about why it took so long (partly because it was a Jewish religious holiday) for the Israel Defense Forces to rescue Israelis held hostage in their own homes on Israeli land.
I have been in many of these streets myself. Some years ago, slightly strangely, I opened a children’s park in Sderot on behalf of a British Jewish charity. I have sat in the bomb shelters of that border town, with its citizens, while the sirens wailed above. They came to expect rockets. But never could anyone have imagined the Islamist militia of Hamas moving ISIS-like through the town, shooting old-age pensioners in the head at the local bus stop and going door to door, sometimes murdering the old and stealing the young, sometimes the other way around. A five-year-old boy and an eighth-four-year-old great-grandmother, the widow of a Kindertransport survivor — both snatched and taken into the Gaza.
Not just Sderot, but all of Israel is used to being hit by rocket fire. It has become far too normal since the “land for peace” disengagement of 2005. But sights like these — of defenseless Jews sheltering from their hunters, being sought out and massacred, and nobody coming to their aid — is something of a different magnitude. It is something that stabs at the heart of every Israeli, and should hit the conscience of the world. To date, the death toll from that one day in Israel is around 1,200. As Israeli towns and other areas have been liberated more atrocities have come to light, including Jewish babies beheaded by Hamas. Jews have not been massacred in such numbers since 1945.
Naturally, the calls for “restraint,” “de-escalation” and more poured in from the moment that the attacks became known. For Israel is the only country in the world which is expected to accept with equanimity the mutilation of its citizenry. All the people who think that there is a two-state solution on the table which could come about if only the Israelis tried a bit harder are back at it, apparently without knowing that they are singing a dead song. There is no two-state solution possible. Especially not now. Israel gave Gaza to the Palestinians and the Palestinians gave Israel Hamas and war. If anyone thinks the West Bank should be given similar autonomy then they are simply dreaming of the destruction of Israel.
Plenty of people in the United Kingdom do. Look at the immediate celebrations across London, Manchester and other cities in support of the Palestinians. Within hours of the slaughter, people in London were driving around flying Palestinian flags and blaring their horns in celebration of the massacre. In Manchester the president of the local “Friends of Palestine,” Dana Abuqamar, told Sky News, “We’re really full of joy, full of pride at what has happened.” At a Free Palestine rally in Brighton one speaker who claimed she was a Palestinian said: “Yesterday was a victory.” She described the massacres in Israel as “so beautiful and inspiring to see.” The crowd applauded.
Within hours of the slaughter, cars in London were driving around flying Palestinian flags and blaring horns
Similar support occurred in cities across Europe and the United States. One video online shows recent illegal migrants (“asylum seekers”) at a Greek refugee camp cheering the success of Hamas. In Sydney, Australia, a pro-Hamas mob outside the Opera House chanted “gas the Jews.”
For everyone outside Israel, these are the most telling details of all.
The Israelis will respond as they see fit — it isn’t for non-Israelis to give them advice. Maybe Israel will cut off Gaza and starve Hamas out. Maybe they will have a full-scale military operation to rescue the Israeli captives. Or maybe they will finally put an end to this insoluble nightmare, raze Hamas to the ground, or clear all the Palestinians from that benighted strip. A strip which Egypt owned but nobody wants.
It could be a good time to do it. Very few countries in the Middle East still pretend to care about the Palestinians. Few ever did. If the Jordanians cared, they’d have taken in all the Palestinians from the West Bank when they lost the last war. The same goes for the Egyptians. Why should the Palestinians forever be Israel’s problem?
Of course the geopolitical repercussions of this — never mind of a much wider war — could be huge. And the fact that Tehran has orchestrated this is not surprising. Ever since Donald Trump signed the Abraham Accords, peace between Israel and the Arab world has been gathering pace, with more and more countries signing up to “normalize” relations with Israel. It has been a brilliant process, breaking the Palestinian authority’s deadlock on peace talks, and showing that peace can be achieved by going around the Palestinians, not giving them perpetual veto powers. And the greatest prize of all was in sight. As Netanyahu told me just a couple of weeks ago when we met in New York, “every day we are getting closer” to a deal with Saudi Arabia.
That would have caused one of the most important pieces of progress in the region in decades. It could also be a nightmare for Iran, for it would see a Sunni-Israeli, anti-Iranian revolutionary government coalition formally unite. No wonder Tehran has decided that this is the time to provoke the Israelis and scare the Sunni states off.
This, though, is the problem for the region. There are two problems in the meantime which are so big that they haven’t even been addressed. Perhaps they now should be. The first is the situation of the Palestinians within Israel. For years they have had a disputed status. They have full legal rights. Some are loyal citizens of the state, even serving in the army and the Knesset (parliament). But many others are not. Sources I have spoken to say that it is already known that Palestinians inside Israel did much of the scouting work and gun-running that made this weekend’s attacks possible. Perhaps some of that was performed by Palestinian Gazans, perhaps by Palestinian Israelis. Just a week before these attacks Israel reopened the Erez crossing — under international pressure — allowing Palestinian workers into Israel. A week later, Hamas flowed through those same gates.
Expressing support for Hamas is expressing support for a terrorist group
If the massacre was solely co-ordinated by Palestinians from Gaza then that is serious for Gaza. But if it was done by any number of Hamas sympathizers among the Palestinians of Israel then it is a disaster. It will not be possible for Israel to cohere as a society if it becomes clear that any significant proportion of the country’s Palestinians are — as the most hard-line Israelis have often said — some kind of “fifth column.” The consequences of that conclusion are catastrophic for all sides.
The other point that must be made is a domestic one. I don’t believe it is for the British government or any other western government to tell the Israelis how to act. If Britain or the United States had just suffered what the citizens of Israel have, I doubt we would be in the mood to listen to calls for “restraint.” The Israelis should do whatever the Israelis have to do.
But the West also has a job to do. In the hours after the Hamas attacks, streets were quickly filled with people rallying to show their support for the terror, and this is very much our business. It is Britain that has harbored Iranian Revolutionaries, Hamas supporters and others for decades. It is Britain who in the name of liberal democracy and “tolerance” have given these people rights they would never give us in return. It is Britain who have been played for fools. Hamas is a proscribed terror organisation in this country. Expressing support for Hamas is expressing support for a terrorist group —- a crime in the UK.
So I have a challenge for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Suella Braverman, Keir Starmer and the rest of them. Don’t just say you stand against terror — show it. Don’t just say you stand beside Israel — show it. Treat these people as we did the supporters of ISIS. Take their passports, strip their citizenship, forcibly remove them from this country. Britain and the West writ large neither want nor need them. They can take their chances in Gaza. The “peace rave” is over.
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