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Speaking Truth to Power

How did we get to October 7th?

by Peter A. Belmont / 2023-12-18
© 2023 Peter Belmont


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Hamas’s attack on Israel on October 7th, 2023, was part of a long negotiation between Zionist Jews and Palestinian Arabs about the proper governance and proper population of the territory of Palestine (now Greater Israel).

Most of this negotiation has been violent. Rashid Khalidi discusses this negotiation in his book “The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine”. After 100 years, this negotiation may be called history.

Those who want to understand why Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, 2023, need to understand this history. The attack did not occur without cause, nor did it spring from irrational hatred or from uncaused antisemitism. It certainly did not spring from European antisemitsm. Jews, Christians, and Muslims had lived peaceably together in Palestine for centuries.

This history began when early Zionists thought that in order for Jews to escape from persistent European antisemitism—especially the pogroms of Poland and Russia—they needed a country of their own, a Jewish State, and that state needed to be in Palestine. After Great Britain captured the territory of Palestine from the Ottoman Empire in WWI, it declared, in the Balfour Declaration (1917), that Palestine was to provide a “national home” for the Jewish People.

Opinion about what this “national home” should mean differed among Zionist Jews, but many (today we would say the “hard-right”) decided that it needed to mean a Jewish State in (or of) Palestine. Not all Jews agreed. Many Jews in those days were anti-Zionists, and some were cultural Zionists who wanted a home but not a state in Palestine.

Judah Magnes, a notable pacifist, wrote in a letter to Chaim Weizmann in 1929:

Moreover, a Jewish Home in Palestine built up on bayonets and oppression is not worth having, even though it succeed, whereas the very attempt to build it up peacefully, cooperatively, with understanding, education, and good will, is worth a great deal, even though the attempt should fail.

Magnes’s words had little effect. In 1945-50, Jewish terrorists working to create a Jewish State expelled the British from Palestine, seized 78% of the Palestinian territory, and by 1950 had expelled or frightened off 85% of the Palestinian Arabs then living there. These people became refugees and were never allowed to return to Palestine (by then, Israel). This was for Palestinians the beginning of the great tragedy callled the Nakba.

The Nakba never ended. Not only were the refugees of “1948” never allowed to return, but further expulsions occurred in 1967, and the Israelis imposed an oppressive regime—today by many characterized as an apartheid regime—both within pre-1967 Israeli territory and within the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967 —Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem.

Since the 1970s there was a fad for conducting what was all too hopefully called a “peace process” between Israel and the Palestinians, but those who could read the tea leaves saw that Israel wanted “process” as a substitute for “peace” and was never willing to agree to any proposal for a Palestinian State acceptable to the Palestinians.

Recently, of course, and despite the never-ending ritualistic intoning among many leftists of the phrase “two-state solution” to the Israel Palestine conflict, the Israeli government has declared unequivocally that no two-state outcome is possible—and that the only one-state outcome possible is today’s actuality: an apartheid system gradually squeezing Palestinians off the land.

Much violence occurred from 1948 until today, but since 1973 the violence has chiefly been that of the Israeli oppressor. This violence included a 16-year Israeli blockade (siege, closure) of Gaza which cut off or cut down imports of food and building materials and medicines and most commercial exports.

That is the history. With “peace process” progressing from charade to silence, what was left to the Palestinians—apart from hope for a never-occurring international intervention—was a choice between acceptance of slow erasure by Israel or violent uprising.

Which brought us to October 7th. Eschewing more than 16 years of slow death, Hamas chose spectacular violence to catch the world’s attention, to induce an Israeli genocidal response, and thereby to change the status quo in a way that might just possibly lead to some relief from Israel’s slow suffocation of Palestine.

How it plays out is anyone’s guess: the world’s governments have a bottomless capacity to ignore both war crimes and the opinions of their own citizens. The USA is a case in point.

Dreadful as the October 7th attack was, it has stimulated international attention and sympathy for Palestinians as never before. Israel’s genocidal response may create the international “intifada” that finally brings about positive change.


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