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Hamas attack: October 7, a day of hell on earth in Israel

Yifat Ben Shoshan woke up early on October 7. It wasn’t even 6:30 am. Her husband, standing next to her, said: “I should have gotten up earlier, to go to the gym.” She said: “Come on, have a coffee with me.” It was a special day – Simchat Torah, which concludes the Jewish holiday of Sukkot.

The 53-year-old woman lives in Netiv Haasara. This moshav – a farming community – of 900 inhabitants is located 400 meters from the Gaza Strip. It’s right up against the barrier that encloses the enclave. It’s so close that every morning, when she gets up, she says, “Good morning, Beit Lahia.” Just 400 meters away, after sandy fields and food crops, the first low-rise houses, topped with minarets, can be seen in the northernmost town in the Palestinian territory.

But on the morning of October 7, Ben Shoshan didn’t even have time to walk around the bed when she saw rockets climbing into the sky. She cried out, “Take cover!” as the first sirens sounded. She and her husband and son took cover in the shelter of their brand-new house, which had only been completed two years ago. This was no mere salvo. It was a barrage of thousands of projectiles being sent from Gaza all over Israeli territory, including Jerusalem. Her phone received a few alerts from a specialized application. Then the following message appeared: “Lock yourself in your shelters, there are terrorists in Netiv Haasara.” Shortly afterward, the electricity and cellular network were cut off. Without power, it was impossible to close the metal shutters.

The most ambitious attack in Hamas history began. The Palestinian militant group neutralized the automatic machine guns and surveillance antennae that lined the Gaza fence, using explosives dropped from small, slow-flying, hard-to-detect drones. In recent years, Israel has developed an underground defense system to prevent Hamas from digging tunnels under the fence. Hamas was now going over the top.

In the kibbutz of Kfar Aza, the body of a resident, covered with a tarpaulin, on October 10. ANDREW MCCONNELL FOR LE MONDE In a military base in southern Israel, the military equipment and ammunition used by Hamas assailants in the October 7 attack, October 20, 2023. VIRGINIE NGUYEN HOANG FOR LE MONDE

In a matter of minutes, the Israeli army had been deafened and blinded on one of its most dangerous flanks. The Gaza Strip, subjected to a double Israeli-Egyptian blockade since Hamas seized the enclave in 2007, is a suffocated territory, one of the densest in the world, with unemployment rates approaching 50%. The Palestinian organization – considered terrorist by Israel, the European Union and the United States – rules the territory with an iron fist.

But its position is as precarious as ever. The era of the Arab revolutions, which had seemed to benefit the Muslim Brotherhood, from which Hamas emerged, is over. Hamas had resolved to rejoin the Iranian-led “axis of resistance,” alongside Syria and Hezbollah. The negotiations toward normalizing relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, in which the Palestinian Authority was taking part, were further isolating it. Hamas was the absolute master of Gaza. But it couldn’t get out – except by force.

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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, US President Joe Biden, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Benny Gantz, part of the new national emergency government, at a meeting in Tel Aviv, Israel, October 18, 2023. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, US President Joe Biden, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Benny Gantz, part of the new national emergency government, at a meeting in Tel Aviv, Israel, October 18, 2023. MIRIAM ALSTER / POOL / EPA

Who will manage Gaza, its ruins, its mourning and distressed population, when the guns fall silent? Thinking about the “day after” during a time of war is an exercise that is both futile and essential. It is difficult to plan for reconstruction when the scale of the destruction is not yet definitive. It is difficult to talk about the governance of the post-Hamas territory, knowing that wiping out the Islamist movement, which is Israel’s objective, appears complicated because of its shifting and multi-faceted nature. Nevertheless, this debate is underway, mainly involving the United States and Arab countries. For the moment, it is a vague process. Europe, meanwhile, is not playing any significant role.

The question of the day after was at the heart of the meetings held by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in the Middle East on November 4 and 5. His Arab counterparts, like the Egyptian foreign minister, Sameh Shoukry, considered this reflection “premature.” In their view, the priority remains not a simple “humanitarian pause,” as suggested by Washington, but a ceasefire in Gaza – where Israeli bombings have killed more than 10,000 people according to the Hamas-administered Ministry of Health and “thousands” according to a November 6 Pentagon statement. They suspect that the Americans are talking about the long term in order to gain time and let Israel complete its military operation. For seasoned diplomats in the region, the debate about what comes next also brings back bad memories: the dozens of proposals devised for Syria, which failed to produce any political or even security solution in 12 years of civil war.

For the time being, Israel remains focused on the military operation. Benjamin Netanyahu knows that his own fate hangs on this war. The Israeli prime minister refuses to sketch out the future and is seeking to avoid alienating the firebrand far right to which he has tied his fate. “For the moment, we can’t define either the contours of a military victory or the aftermath,” acknowledged a senior Israeli official. “That’s what’s bothering the United States.”

Militarized buffer zones

Asked by the American TV channel ABC on November 7 who should govern the enclave, Netanyahu sidestepped the question: “Those who don’t want to continue the way of Hamas,” he simply replied, before adding: “I think Israel will, for an indefinite period, have the overall security responsibility [in Gaza] because we’ve seen what happens when we don’t have it.” The Israeli leader did not announce the recolonization of Gaza, which his allies on the extreme religious right have been dreaming of since 2005. But he refused to put a time limit on the military campaign.

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