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What’s happening in Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza? The latest and what could come next, explained

(JTA) — Shortly after Hamas invaded Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,400, wounding thousands and taking 200 captive, Israel declared war and vowed to defeat the terror group.

Since then, Israel has conducted punishing airstrikes in Gaza, killing thousands and preparing for a ground invasion as it is still counting bodies and learning of atrocities from Hamas’ incursion. It is also exchanging fire with Hezbollah, the Lebanese terror group, and cracking down in the West Bank. 

The international response has also changed: alongside widespread horror at Hamas’ mass murder, Israel and its supporters are calling for a return of the hostages while its critics are pushing for a ceasefire and humanitarian aid for civilians in Gaza. President Joe Biden has staunchly backed Israel, traveling to the country this week and delivering an Oval Office address calling for aid — a question on which Americans appear split.

“We are fighting for our home, and it will take a long time,” Benny Gantz, a former defense minister and Israeli military chief who recently joined the government, said earlier this week. “The war in the south and, if needed, also in the north or anywhere else will take months, and the rebuilding will take years — and only when that is completed will we win.”

Here’s what is happening in Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza — and what might happen next.  

What is happening right now in Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza?

In the days following Hamas’ invasion, Israel’s leaders made clear that their goal would be to defeat and dismantle the terror group. Since Oct. 7, Israel has been bombing Gaza from the air, destroying Hamas positions and senior commanders, and exacting a heavy death toll. 

Hamas is an Islamist organization that is designated as a terror group by the United States and European Union, and is dedicated to Israel’s destruction. It is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood and has controlled Gaza for more than 15 years.

Israel has killed at least 1,500 Hamas terrorists who invaded the country and, as of Friday, was still finding Gazans in Israel. 

According to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry, more than 4,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since the war began, and footage has shown ruins of whole neighborhoods in the coastal territory. 

Hamas and other terror groups have continued barraging Israel with rockets, and some of the casualties in Gaza have been due to failed rocket launches by those groups. That includes, according to the United States and Israel, a Palestinian rocket that struck a Gaza hospital earlier this week. Hamas has claimed that Israel is responsible for that blast. 

Israel has been preparing for a large-scale invasion of the Gaza Strip, and has called up more than 300,000 military reservists. Last week, it also called on residents of the northern half of the Gaza Strip — more than 1 million people — to evacuate to the territory’s southern half. Hundreds of thousands have reportedly evacuated, though Hamas told residents to stay put. 

“We’ve moved to attack,” Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said on Oct. 12. “I say now to everyone: We will wipe out this thing called Hamas. We will wipe it off the earth. This thing won’t continue to exist.”

A member of the Bedouin community on October 14, 2023, stands next to vehicles destroyed in an rocket attack allegedly fired from the Gaza Strip in the village of Arara in the Negev Desert, that the residents say is constantly hit. In Israel’s southern Negev desert, Bedouins fear the war is coming closer to them after Israel declared war on the Islamist group Hamas on October 8, a day after waves of its fighters broke through the heavily fortified border and killed more than 1,400 people, most of them civilians. (Photo by Yuri CORTEZ / AFP) (Photo by YURI CORTEZ/AFP via Getty Images)

What could happen next? 

How, exactly, Israel could defeat Hamas — and what happens afterward — remains unclear. Israel has fought several rounds of conflict with the Gaza terror group over the past 15 years, but none that promises to be this extensive. 

The most major Israel-Hamas war up to this point took place in 2014, but in some measures it already pales in comparison. More than 2,100 Palestinians and 70 Israelis were killed in that conflict, numbers that have already been dwarfed since Oct. 7. And while that war lasted 50 days, a former senior Israel Defense Forces official estimated that this one could take six to eight months.

On Friday, Gallant said Israel’s war on Hamas would unfold in three stages: a campaign from the air and on the ground; a lower-intensity campaign that will aim to “eliminate pockets of resistance”; and the establishment of a new Palestinian governing entity in Gaza that would remove Israel’s responsibility for running the territory. The operation will reportedly focus on the Hamas stronghold of Gaza City

But who would that be? Right now, no one has the answer. Israel could attempt to install the Palestinian Authority, which governs Palestinian areas of the West Bank, in Gaza — but the P.A. was expelled from the territory in 2007 after a brief civil war with Hamas. On Friday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected a handoff to the P.A. “All talk of decisions to hand over the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian Authority or any other party is a lie,” he said.

Gaza is also home to other terror groups, the largest of which is Islamic Jihad, which also fires rockets at Israel. 

When Israel’s ground invasion will begin is also, as of now, an open question. On Oct. 19, Gallant said it would come “soon.” But former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who is currently out of political office, urged “patience” in a post on social media, saying that it was safer right now for Israel’s air force to “crush, crush, crush” Hamas.

A woman and a girl hold pet carriers and other belongings as they prepare to depart from Kiryat Shmona in northern Israel near the border with Lebanon, Oct. 19, 2023. (Jalaa Marey/AFP via Getty Images)

Could there be a regional war?

Israeli officials appear to be most anxious about a second front opening on Israel’s northern border, where the major Lebanese terror group Hezbollah has shot missiles at Israel and Israel has fired back. Israel fought a month-long war in 2006 with Hezbollah that, until this month, was its bloodiest in decades. 

Hamas and Hezbollah are both funded by Iran, a chief Israeli adversary that warned earlier this week that “other multiple fronts will open and this is inevitable” if Israeli strikes continue. 

On Thursday, the United States intercepted three missiles heading toward Israel that were launched by an Iranian proxy in Yemen. The action was extraordinary in two ways: Israel has not considered the Iranian allies in Yemen to be an immediate threat, and has rarely relied on the American military to defend against attacks aimed at its territory. The United States has moved forces to the region as a warning to regional adversaries of Israel not to get involved in the fight. 

Facing the prospect of escalating fighting, Israel has evacuated tens of thousands of residents on its southern and northern borders. Most of the city of Sderot, with a population of 30,000, has been evacuated, and on Friday, the northern town of Kiryat Shemona, which has 20,000 residents, was evacuated. 

Israel is also cracking down on Palestinians in the West Bank. In overnight raids on Friday, the IDF arrested dozens of Hamas operatives, including the group’s spokesman. Israel has conducted hundreds of arrests in the West Bank since Oct. 7, and 70 Palestinians have been killed, according to Palestinian groups. That toll includes 13 Palestinians and one Israeli who were killed in clashes in the Nur Shams refugee camp Thursday. 

The IDF is also investigating a unit that, according to footage, abused Palestinians and left-wing activists in the West Bank. According to Haaretz, a group of soldiers and settlers beat, stripped and burned cigarettes on the Palestinians, leading to the dismissal of an officer.

U.S. President Joe Biden meets with people affected by this month’s attacks by the terrorist group Hamas on Israel, in Tel Aviv, Oct. 18, 2023. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)

How is the United States involved?

Biden has spoken out multiple times in support of Israel since Oct. 7 and traveled there on Oct. 18 — a rare if not unprecedented trip by a U.S. president to a war theater where American troops aren’t fighting. He also called for humanitarian aid to Palestinians and for Israel to obey the laws of war. The vast majority of Congress also supports Israel’s war effort, though the absence of a speaker of the House means that its members can’t approve an aid package. 

On Thursday night, Biden delivered a rare Oval Office address in which he made the case that aid to Israel’s and Ukraine’s war efforts was vital for protecting American interests across the globe. On Friday, he made his formal aid request: more than $100 billion in total across the globe, including more than $14 million for Israel to bolster its military supplies, including its Iron Dome missile defense system. 

“Hamas and Putin represent different threats,” Biden said in his address, referring to the Russian president who launched an invasion of Ukraine last year. “But they share this in common. They both want to completely annihilate neighboring democracies.”

Pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian rallies have taken place across the country, and a recent poll by CBS and YouGov shows that Americans at large support Israel. More than 50% of Americans sympathize with Israel “a lot,” compared to 28% with the Palestinians. 

When it comes to aiding Israel with weaponry, though, opinions are mixed. On one hand, most Americans approve of Biden’s support for Israel or say he should be more supportive. But on the other hand, only 48% said the United States should send weapons or supplies to Israel. 

Israel supporters hold images of Hamas hostages at a rally demanding their release, in New York City, October 18, 2023. (Luke Tress)

What is happening with the hostages?

Hamas took more than 200 hostages during its invasion of Israel, including citizens of the United States and countries across the globe. Israel confirmed that approximately 30 of the hostages are children and up to 20 are elderly. More than a dozen are American citizens. 

Families of the hostages have embarked on a global campaign, rife with symbolism, to keep the world’s eyes on their captured family members. They have met with world leaders, including Biden and Netanyahu. They have enlisted celebrities such as Gal Gadot and Helen Mirren to advocate for their loved ones’ release. They have set up empty Shabbat dinner tables in public spaces worldwide. And they have wallpapered cities around the world with posters bearing the hostages’ photos and names. 

World leaders including United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres have called for the hostages’ immediate release. Earlier this week, Hamas released a video of one of the hostages, and on Friday, it freed two American hostages — a mother and a daughter reportedly from the Chicago area.

Israel has also led small military incursions into Gaza to recover hostages, though none has yet been rescued alive. 

This is not the first time Hamas has taken hostages. In 2006, it captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was exchanged for 1,000 Palestinian prisoners five years later this month. It is currently holding two Israelis who entered Gaza before this year, as well as the bodies of two soldiers killed in the 2014 war. 

The Al-Abbas Mosque in Gaza City, Oct. 12, 2023. (Momen Faiz/NurPhoto/Getty Images)

What is happening with the Palestinians and humanitarian aid?

Israel has blockaded Gaza since Hamas took control of the territory more than 15 years ago, and days after Hamas’ invasion, Israel initiated a “complete siege” of Gaza. Israel did not let food, water, electricity or fuel into the territory. 

Since then, the humanitarian situation in the territory has become increasingly dire, with reports of residents drinking salty water and medical care scarce and dwindling. Guterres traveled to the Rafah border crossing on Gaza’s border with Egypt in support of humanitarian aid, and while in Israel, Biden negotiated a deal for aid to travel into Gaza via that border crossing. 

It appears, however, that the aid hasn’t yet entered the territory. On Friday, trucks of aid were seen sitting on the Egyptian side of the border, an Egyptian aid worker told CNN.

In addition, Israel has weighed creating “safe zones” for Palestinian civilians in the southern Gaza Strip where they would receive protection from the war, though at this stage, Israel is conducting airstrikes throughout the territory. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, seated third from left, holds a meeting with his security cabinet in Tel Aviv, Oct. 7, 2023. (Haim Zach/GPO/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

How is the war changing Israel’s politics?

Hamas’ attack, the most lethal day for Jews since the Holocaust, appears to have completely taken Israel’s right-wing government by surprise, and in recent days, several military and intelligence officials, and government ministers, have apologized or taken responsibility for failing to prevent the massacre

“We are responsible. I, as a member of the government, am responsible,” Education Minister Yoav Kisch said. “We were dealing with nonsense.”

Days after the invasion, Netanyahu brought Gantz’s centrist National Unity party into the government to form an emergency coalition to prosecute the war. Gantz, Gallant and Netanyahu now form a three-person war cabinet that is in charge of the campaign. All other government legislation, including Netanyahu’s controversial push to weaken the judiciary, has been shelved for now. 

But Netanyahu has yet to publicly take responsibility, something 80% of Israelis want him to do

The post What’s happening in Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza? The latest and what could come next, explained appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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30 Years Later, Justice for Jews and AMIA Bombing Victims in Argentina Remains Elusive

People hold images of the victims of the 1994 bombing attack on the Argentine Israeli Mutual Association (AMIA) community centre, marking the 25th anniversary of the atrocity in Buenos Aires. Photo: Reuters/Agustin Marcarian.

When I arrived in Buenos Aires earlier this month to observe the 30th anniversary of the bombing of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) building, it was a ritual that had become all too familiar.

On July 18, 1994, an explosives-laden van driven by a Hezbollah terrorist linked to the Iranian regime plowed into the AMIA building, killing 85 people and wounding more than 300. It was a severe blow to the institutional heart of the largest Jewish community in Latin America, and remains the worst antisemitic attack outside of Israel since the Holocaust.

I always make observing the anniversary a high priority as both a Latina woman and a Jewish professional. At the time, I was head of political affairs for the Mexican Jewish community, and I remember that tragic date vividly, as we mobilized locally to denounce this heinous act.

Even though it happened thousands of miles away, the bombing was personal, and the pursuit of justice has also become a relentless commitment for the past three decades.

Before 1994, Latin American Jews often viewed violence against Jews and Jewish institutions as something that happened elsewhere. It took AMIA to realize we could be targets anywhere, anytime. AMIA may have been 30 years ago, but it matters to me more than ever.

Make no mistake, though. The wait for justice remains an agonizing source of frustration for me and all the public officials, diplomats, and Jewish leaders who I joined this year for the memorial ceremony in Buenos Aires.

In April, Argentina’s top criminal court ruled that Iran was a terrorist state and a mastermind of the bombing, which was carried out by members of its terror proxy, Hezbollah. Yet, international arrest warrants — and Interpol red alerts — for the senior Iranian officials and Lebanese nationals suspected of playing a role in the bombing have led nowhere.

Argentina was once a nation that wavered about pursuing the AMIA murderers. Attempts at identifying and finding the perpetrators were stymied by multiple episodes of corruption, incompetence, neglect, and outright malfeasance.

It was as if the sting from the tears of the 200,000 Argentines who, shortly after the attack, filled a downtown Buenos Aires plaza to sing the Argentine and Israeli national anthems and chant the mourner’s Kaddish, meant nothing.

Prior Argentinian governments operated in the hope that time would let AMIA fade into distant memory. Of course, the Jewish community in Argentina and many other people who believe in truth, memory, and justice in that country and elsewhere were not going to let that happen. They understood that the only way of preventing future instances of violence was to overcome impunity and ensure that those responsible would be held to account for their savage actions.

AMIA has been at the top of my mind since I started working at American Jewish Committee (AJC) in 2003. Together with former AJC CEO David Harris and our AMIA partners, I spent many years trying to persuade Argentina to unequivocally identify Iran as the culprit, and designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.

That finally happened thanks to the efforts of Special Prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who paid with his life for pointing the finger at Iran and Hezbollah.

In 2019, an Argentine judge and high-ranking officials were among those sentenced to prison terms for concealing and destroying evidence and facilitating the attack.

Those events presaged a sea change in how Argentina viewed its obligations to the Jewish community. In 2020, it adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Working Definition of Antisemitism, and last year became the first Latin American nation to appoint an antisemitism envoy.

Argentine Jews should also be buoyed by their president, Javier Milei, who, since he took office in December, has been an enthusiastic supporter of Israel and Jewish interests.

Milei has blamed Iran’s “fanatical government” for the bombing, and vowed to pursue justice for AMIA. He also said he would propose legislation that would allow the AMIA suspects to be tried in absentia.

I want to feel encouraged by these developments, especially after decades of feeling hopeless. But it isn’t easy. As I stood outside AMIA on July 18, alongside AJC CEO Ted Deutch, I was jolted by the plaintive wail of a memorial siren at 9:53 a.m., the minute the bomb went off in 1994. Ten thousand people clamored for justice while raising the photos of the 85 victims.

We heard the harrowing memories, as vivid as ever, of some of the families of the victims. It was truly one of the most emotional experiences of my life, particularly at a time when the Jewish people and Israel are facing dire existential challenges.

I’ve heard that memorial siren before. But you’re still never ready when it goes off. Its mournful sound commands us to sear that awful day into our collective memory. It is also an urgent call for justice. The AMIA victims and their families have been in search of it for 30 years.

For them, for us all, let’s hope they find it soon.

Dina Siegel Vann is Director of the AJC Arthur and Rochelle Belfer Institute for Latino and Latin American Affairs.

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The Palestinian Authority Gets Its Wish: Unity With Terrorism

Mahmoud al-Aloul, Vice Chairman of the Central Committee of Palestinian organization and political party Fatah, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, and Mussa Abu Marzuk, senior member of the Palestinian terror movement Hamas, attend an event at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing on July 23, 2024. Photo: Pedro Pardo/Pool via REUTERS

Earlier this week, 13 Palestinian factions signed a “unity declaration,” agreeing to “unify the Palestinian position within the framework of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO).” Among the factions were Palestinian Authority (PA) leader Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement, and terror organizations Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Judging from the many calls by PA leaders for unity with Hamas, the new agreement seems like a dream come true for the PA. On the one hand, the PA and Fatah have celebrated and universally defended the October 7 attack and its outcome. On the other, the PA is critical of Hamas because of the results of the war and Hamas bringing “hell” on the Gaza Strip. Another reason for the PA’s anger is that Iran-backed Hamas acted alone, launching October 7 without consulting with the PA, as documented by Palestinian Media Watch.

But at the same time, the PA realizes that Hamas is still far more popular among Palestinians, and therefore has repeatedly called for unity. The PA needs Hamas to partner with it to survive politically and not act against it as a rival.

The following are examples of PA leaders calling on Hamas to join the PLO throughout the war. The statements show: 1) the PA’s desperation facing Hamas’ enormous popularity and the urgency of getting Hamas under PA control within the PLO; 2) the PA’s frustration with Hamas for being concerned only with its own (and Iran’s) “partisan interests”; 3) and of course the emphasis on the common goal to fight and eliminate Israel, which none of the organizations even need to recognize:

Abbas’ advisor: We stand before a holocaust and hope Hamas joins national framework

PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ Advisor on Religious Affairs and Islamic Relations Mahmoud Al-Habbash: “We stand before a holocaust, facing a massacre, facing a human tragedy that is taking place before the eyes of the world, and there are still those, and more precisely the US, who are continuing to give a green light for this aggression to continue claiming more lives… We hope that the Hamas Movement, which we have considered and still consider part of the Palestinian people, will join a Palestinian national framework that will put the supreme national interests above the partisan interests.” [emphasis added]

[PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ Advisor on Religious Affairs and Islamic Relations Mahmoud Al-Habbash, Facebook page, Feb. 24, 2024]

Fatah official: Hamas can join PLO, neither Hamas nor Fatah need to recognize Israel

Fatah Revolutionary Council member Jamal Nazzal: “Now they [Hamas] need to say that the one who can save us is the PLO. The one who can save us is the plan of Palestinian [PA] President [Abbas], the plan of the PLO. This is not a reduction in the value of Hamas… It is only required to say ‘Let’s leave the matter in the PLO’s hands. Let’s leave this matter in the hands of President Mahmoud Abbas. Let’s eliminate Israel’s excuses with which it has convinced the world that Hamas wants to destroy it.” …

Official PA TV host: “Are we close to the moment when the Hamas Movement and Islamic Jihad Movement will join the PLO, as the sole legitimate representative of our people? …

Jamal Nazzal: “We need to eliminate Israel’s excuses and say: ‘Now we are in the framework of the PLO’s plan.’ This does not constitute a call on Hamas to concede on its plan or recognize Israel. There is no prerogative or obligation on Hamas or Fatah to recognize Israel, we just have to honor the PLO’s commitment.” [emphasis added]

[Official PA TV, Topic of the Day, Feb. 25, 2024]

Abbas’ advisor: We won’t exclude Hamas, “a large part of the Palestinian people supports Hamas”

PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ Advisor on Religious Affairs and Islamic Relations Mahmoud Al-Habbash: “Nationally speaking not one of us is talking about excluding Hamas or others…There is a disagreement between us and Hamas, that is true. But this disagreement does not reach the level of exclusion. Hamas is part of the Palestinian people and an important part. And a large part of the Palestinian people supports the Hamas Movement. We do not deny this.” [emphasis added]

[PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ Advisor on Religious Affairs and Islamic Relations Mahmoud Al-Habbash, Facebook page, March 3, 2024]

PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ Advisor on Religious Affairs and Islamic Relations Mahmoud Al-Habbash: “We are not interested in a continuation of the [Fatah-Hamas] rift. We want everything in terms of geography and the civilians to return to be one area – the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Jerusalem, and the entire Palestinian people under one umbrella, which is the umbrella of the PLO and the PA that is its executive branch inside the homeland, so that we will all be freed up far from the internal disagreements in order to deal with the greatest challenge, which is the existence of the Israeli occupation.” [emphasis added]

[PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ Advisor on Religious Affairs and Islamic Relations Mahmoud Al-Habbash, Facebook page, July 5, 2024]

Abbas’ advisor: “We insist on Hamas remaining” part of the PLO

PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ Advisor on Religious Affairs and Islamic Relations Mahmoud Al-Habbash: “We do not accept the uprooting of any Palestinian or any Palestinian organization, including Hamas. We insist on Hamas remaining and all the Palestinian factions remaining, but in the framework of the Palestinian national legitimacy that is represented by the PLO, in the framework of the sole home of the Palestinian people.” [emphasis added]

[PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ Advisor on Religious Affairs and Islamic Relations Mahmoud Al-Habbash, Facebook page,  June 22, 2024]

Abbas’ advisor: Fatah wants Hamas to join “under PLO flag”

PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ Advisor on Religious Affairs and Islamic Relations Mahmoud Al-Habbash: “We don’t want to exclude Hamas from the national arena, and we don’t want to uproot Hamas from the national presence. We want Hamas under the comprehensive national umbrella. We want Hamas with us, and not against us. We want Hamas as part of the Palestinian national project, and not as a tool of destruction of the Palestinian project… We hope that Hamas will comply with the voice of reason, the voice of the national consciousness, and the voice of the national interest… We are members of one people, and Hamas is an inseparable part of the Palestinian national fabric and the Palestinian human and social fabric… Fatah extends its hand to Hamas and wants Hamas to comply. We hope that it will comply and that everyone will be under the flag of the PLO.” [emphasis added]

[PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ Advisor on Religious Affairs and Islamic Relations Mahmoud Al-Habbash, Facebook page, June 23, 2024]

Top PA official: Fatah wants “to reach a united outlook” with Hamas… that will harm” Israel

Fatah Central Committee Secretary Jibril Rajoub: “We [in Fatah] and the brothers in Hamas must agree on political rapprochement, rapprochement in the field of struggle, and organizational rapprochement… Rapprochement in the field of struggle means that we want to reach a united outlook regarding the manner of resistance, a national outlook that will harm the occupation (i.e., Israel).” [emphasis added]

[Fatah Central Committee Secretary Jibril Rajoub, Facebook page, June 21, 2024]

The PA’s dilemma concerning Hamas is clear. The PA wants unity with Hamas to be able to control it under the PLO and profit from its popularity. But it might be like letting the fox into the henhouse, as Hamas might take control and “thwart the reconciliation” and create “a government according to its criteria” and Iran’s wishes.

These concerns were expressed by a senior Fatah official a month ago when unity talks were still under way:

Headline: “Senior Fatah official to Erem News: Hamas is thwarting the reconciliation and wants a government according to its criteria”

“Fatah Revolutionary Council member Abdallah Abdallah accused Hamas of thwarting the Palestinian reconciliation talks according to instructions from their regional allies, and that it wants a government according to its criteria.

The senior Fatah official confirmed that Hamas is rejecting the political partnership with his [Fatah] Movement and prefers to take exclusivity over deciding the fate of the Palestinians.

Abdallah told [UAE-based news website] Erem News: ‘Hamas is the reason for postponing the reconciliation meeting in the Chinese capital Beijing after attempting to impose its conditions on the dialogue even before it began,’ and explained that ‘It is impossible to accept the dictates of Hamas and its allies.’

Abdallah explained: ‘Hamas wants to establish a new Palestinian government according to its criteria and according to its partisan vision and agendas, and it is refusing to recognize the current [PA] government led by [PA Prime Minister] Muhammad Mustafa, which is unacceptable.’

He added: ‘Hamas wants to impose its conditions on many topics, and primarily the rehabilitation of the Gaza Strip after the war (i.e., the 2023 Gaza war; see note below) and the form of government there.’” [emphasis added]

[Erem News, UAE-based news website, June 27, 2024]

The author is a senior analyst at Palestinian Media Watch, where a version of this article was originally published.

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New Yorker Columnist: Israelis Are ‘Weaponizing’ Oct. 7 Sexual Violence and ‘Demonizing’ Hamas

The personal belongings of festival-goers are seen at the site of an attack on the Nova Festival by Hamas terrorists from Gaza, near Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip, in southern Israel, Oct. 12, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

The 12-word title of Masha Gessen’s recent offering in The New Yorker hints at the hatchet job that follows.

In “What We Know About the Weaponization of Sexual Violence on October 7th,” it becomes apparent that Gessen is not, as any reasonable person might think, commenting on how Hamas used sexual violence as a weapon of war during its October 7 invasion.

Instead, Gessen puts her best effort into supposedly demonstrating how Israel has weaponized Hamas’ October 7 atrocities.

She opens the piece by quoting Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian, who is apparently, by virtue of being a criminologist and feminist scholar, deemed “more qualified” than anyone to answer whether rape and gang rapes were part of Hamas’ attack.

Shalhoub-Kevorkian, a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s School of Social Work and Social Welfare, was suspended from her job in March after comments she made on a podcast with “three Palestinian American academics” were revealed by an Israeli news channel.


1/ Why is @mashagessen denying Hamas war crimes in the @NewYorker? The rape of Israeli women and girls by Hamas terrorists on October 7 are not just allegations. They are well-documented with witness testimony.

— HonestReporting (@HonestReporting) July 21, 2024

Gessen’s quoting of Shalhoub-Kevorkian is grossly deceptive. The academic, readers are told, spoke with “confidence and care” when she put the sexual violence of October 7 into “historical context”:

Rapes, abuses, sexual abuses, gang rapes—it always happened in wartimes,’ she said. ‘It always happened.’ She had written about this wider history, she said, and she had written about the history of Jewish Israeli soldiers, back in 1948, using sexual violence against Palestinians. ‘Abuses and sexual abuses happen,’ she said. ‘And they shouldn’t happen. And I will never approve [of] it, not to Israelis, not to Palestinians, not in my name.’

She was speaking as a Palestinian. Next, she spoke as a feminist:

‘I don’t go and interrogate the rape victims. If a woman said she was raped, I will believe her. I do not need evidence, and I don’t want to go check facts, to be honest. This is my opinion.’”

These remarks alone are grotesque, not least because they inaccurately suggest rape was used as a weapon by Israel during the state’s founding in 1948, but also because they minimize the horrors of October 7.

October 7 was not “wartime” — Hamas did not wage war on an army that dark day, when it broke the ceasefire with Israel. Terrorists — aided and abetted by Palestinian civilians — broke into people’s homes, violating and murdering unarmed men, women, and children. The victims were both Israelis, foreigners, and foreign workers.

But more importantly — and more troublingly — this was just one of many statements Shalhoub-Kevorkian made on the podcast. She also claimed that Israelis act scared when they walk past her and hear her speaking Arabic on the phone, but added that they “should be scared because criminals are always scared.”

On Zionism, Shalhoub-Kevorkian said it is time to “abolish” the movement for Jewish self-determination, and “only by abolishing Zionism can we continue.”

So, according to Shalhoub-Kevorkian, only by eradicating the State of Israel can Palestinians continue. And on the October 7 massacre, she said:

[Israelis] will use any lie. They started with babies, they continued with rape, and they will continue with a million other lies. We stopped believing them, I hope the world stops believing them.”

Gessen casts her own doubt on whether there is evidence of “widespread, systematic and, particularly brutal” sexual violence, noting in a later paragraph that “most of the women who had been subjected to sexual violence on October 7th were dead. They weren’t coming forward with evidence.”

She claims it is the Israeli government that is amplifying the sexual violence narrative.

There is something deeply ironic in Gessen’s argument that Israel has politicized sexual violence, when she uses the deaths of Israeli women and girls, whose testimonies of the horrors they endured cannot be heard, to criticize the Israeli government.

To bolster her argument, Gessen picks at a February report by the Association of Rape Crisis Centers of Israel, which laid bare the horrific extent to which Hamas brutalized Israeli women.

She states that the “report relied on media articles, television stories, and confidential information that had come through member organizations of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers.” The report’s “weakness,” she concludes, is that “much of the evidence was third- and fourth-hand, as in the case of media accounts that quoted other media accounts that quoted people who said they had witnessed attacks.”

However, Gessen immediately contradicts herself, noting that Hila Tov, a prominent multimedia journalist and activist, conducted the research for the report and that Tov said that “most of the evidence, in the end, came from dead bodies, or, rather, from the recollections and interpretations of volunteers who had gathered the bodies, and from doctors who interviewed survivors.”

The report was based on evidence collected from the scene, testimonies from those who collected bodies, and from doctors who interviewed survivors — the only possible sources of evidence. As a side note, Gessen ignores another piece of compelling evidence that further proves the events of October 7, which is the interrogation videos of Hamas terrorists and Gazan civilians in which they admit to raping Israeli women and girls.

Gessen also invites skepticism about the findings of the investigation by Pramila Patten, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, released in March.

In addition to the challenges that are typical of any attempt to document sexual violence, Gessen argues that Israel and October 7 are unique because the victims’ bodies were gathered by “volunteers untrained in forensics” who prioritized a speedy burial as per the Jewish tradition of interring the dead within 24 hours. She adds that “nonetheless,” the report concluded there are grounds to believe that a number of instances of rape and gang rape took place.

Another report that documented October 7 sexual violence by The New York Times in March is branded “controversial” by Gessen. This account, she asserts, included the “sweeping claim” that Hamas commanders had ordered their subordinates to use rape as a weapon of war. She suggests this “raised the bar for any researcher who tried to document the crimes, changing the question from ‘Did it happen?’ to ‘Was it systematic?’”

Gessen cynically suggests that all subsequent reports about October 7 — those she deems “better researched and more comprehensive” — have been “met with disappointment by those who were expecting evidence of systematic crimes.”

Ultimately, we see why Gessen is so determined to undermine the overwhelming evidence of October 7: She believes “Israeli authorities have strategic reasons for claiming that the sexual violence was systematic.”

One reason, she contends, is that Israel is trying to highlight that “however inhumane the Israeli ways of waging war are, the message is, Hamas’s are even worse.” She describes this as a “campaign of demonization” that prompted Palestinian activists and pro-Palestinian media to try to “debunk claims that sexual violence occurred on October 7th.”

Aside from the fact that a campaign of demonization against Hamas is probably not a bad thing, given that Hamas is a proscribed Islamist terror group committed to killing Jews and destroying Israel, it is absurd that Gessen manages to find a way to absolve pro-Palestinian activists of what she terms their “equal and opposite campaign of denialism.”

The message is clear: even when pro-Palestinians engage in the most revolting denialism of atrocities, it’s still somehow Israel’s fault.

Gessen closes the piece by juxtaposing what she states are uncorroborated stories of October 7 — “eviscerated pregnant woman; the woman who supposedly had a number of nails driven into her vagina; the claims that eyewitnesses saw Hamas fighters cut off women’s breasts while raping them” — with what she asserts is mounting “evidence of sexual torture of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli facilities.”

First, the accounts she referenced in Israel are not unsubstantiated. Numerous first responders reported finding bodies whose genitals had been mutilated, and these accounts have not been recanted.

It is utterly nauseating to suggest that the horrifying October 7 testimonies are not trustworthy because “rape is common in war and in peace” and that to “convey the trauma of sexual violence, victims and witnesses may feel the need to embellish.” Even more repugnant is the false equivalence between Hamas and the IDF. Testimonies of sexual abuse in Israeli prisons have been propagated by the likes of Euro-Med, which absurdly alleged Israel had trained dogs to rape detainees.

Without directly denying that sexual violence took place on October 7, Gessen suggests the extent of the rapes has been overblown and casts doubt on the severity of the attacks on the victims.

The article is nothing more than an exercise in apologism for the horrific acts of Hamas.

The author is a contributor to HonestReporting, a Jerusalem-based media watchdog with a focus on antisemitism and anti-Israel bias — where a version of this article first appeared.

The post New Yorker Columnist: Israelis Are ‘Weaponizing’ Oct. 7 Sexual Violence and ‘Demonizing’ Hamas first appeared on

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