A discussion about Hamas & October 7


First published at Arguing for Socialism.

We are constantly told by the Western corporate media that Hamas is a terrorist group, that the October 7 attack was a terrorist attack, atrocious, a massacre and so on. In the days following the raid pro-Palestinian interviewees in the media were repeatedly pressured: “Do you condemn Hamas?”

But the reality is very different. On January 21 Hamas issued a powerful statement that puts the attack — Operation Al-Aqsa Flood — in the context of Israel’s long and violent subjugation of the Palestinian population, explains why they carried out the raid, and responds to Israel’s lies. One figure cited in the statement says a lot: “in the period between January 2000 and September 2023, the Israeli occupation killed 11,299 Palestinians and injured 156,768 others”.

Who exactly killed who

A recent report on the raid puts the total non-Hamas dead at 1139 — 373 from the security forces, 695 Israeli civilians and 71 foreigners (most presumably guest workers).

We can make a number of observations about these figures:

1. The security forces (military and police) are the primary armed force of the occupation. Obviously, they are fair game. A primary objective of the attack was to smash up the Gaza Division, the force responsible for keeping the inmates in their open-air prison. Some 25 of their bases and installations were attacked on October 7.

2. We should be sceptical of any data coming from the Israeli authorities. As their statements during the Gaza genocide show clearly, they are inveterate liars. If they say anything, it should be assumed to be a lie until proven otherwise.

Who were the 695 “civilians”? The first point to make is that the kibbutzes or "settlements" are not just country villages scattered around the border with Gaza — they are precisely settlements in a stolen land, guarding a subjugated population. They all have a military character and each has its security element.

For instance, an October 14 Daily Mail article features “Twenty-five-year-old Inbar Lieberman, the security coordinator of kibbutz Nir Am, [who] led a group of residents killing more than two dozen advancing terrorists.”

Israeli helicopter pilots lacking clear guidance on targets used their mobile phones to talk to kibbutz security personnel to get information on what to shoot up.

Also, since the Israeli Defence Forces are based on national service, the settlements are full of reservists who might be called up or be on standby.

The recently-released movie Zone of Interest deals with the life of Auschwitz concentration camp commandant Rudolf Höss whose family lived in a villa right next to the camp, separated from it only by a high wall. On one side there was a garden and quiet family life and on the other a hellish nightmare where people were gassed to death on a massive scale and their bodies burnt round the clock. The stench of death was everywhere and inescapable, even in the tranquil Höss family compound. It’s hard to avoid making a parallel between this situation and the Gaza open-air prison-concentration camp and the nearby Israeli settlements.

3. All this said, we can admit that a number of civilians did die on October 7. But who killed them? It is now clear that many of the civilian dead, possibly even most, were in fact killed by counterattacking Israeli forces (tanks and helicopter gunships). The Israeli forces were desperate to stop any captives being taken back to Gaza as hostages.

Also, once Gaza’s border fence was breached numerous people not under the discipline of the armed groups streamed across. The Hamas statement addresses this when it says: “Maybe some faults happened during Operation Al-Aqsa Flood’s implementation due to the rapid collapse of the Israeli security and military system, and the chaos caused along the border areas with Gaza.”

And, more generally, Hamas affirms that:

Avoiding harm to civilians, especially children, women and elderly people is a religious and moral commitment by all the Al-Qassam Brigades’ fighters. We reiterate that the Palestinian resistance was fully disciplined and committed to the Islamic values during the operation and that the Palestinian fighters only targeted the occupation soldiers and those who carried weapons against our people. In the meantime, the Palestinian fighters were keen to avoid harming civilians despite the fact that the resistance does not possess precise weapons. In addition, if there was any case of targeting civilians; it happened accidently and in the course of the confrontation with the occupation forces.

Revolt of the oppressed

Even if Hamas had done everything Israel accused it of — and this is so clearly not the case — we could well say: So what? The whole situation goes back to the 1917 Balfour declaration and even before with the formation of Zionism in the 1880s. Zionism wanted to take over a land — Palestine — which already had a population. The Zionists could only accomplish their aim with the support of Western imperialism and by ruthless violence (even if they had to dissemble at the beginning when they were weak).

Every revolt of the oppressed is likely to involve some killing of "civilians". It would be better if this didn’t happen but brutality begets brutality. In the United States, progressive opinion rightly celebrates the 1831 Nat Turner slave revolt. On Turner’s plantation the slaves rose up and killed the slave owner, his wife and all their children, among others. Obviously, the violence fundamentally came from the infamous system of slavery that blighted the lives of so many. Norman Finkelstein has a number of passionate posts relating the Nat Turner revolt and the recent one in Gaza.

Hostage taking

A key objective of October 7 was to secure hostages (especially military personnel) to use as bargaining chips in an attempt to liberate some of the thousands of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

I think this is an entirely legitimate form of struggle. Many other struggles by the oppressed have taken hostages at various points in their fight.

The Paris Commune of 1871 took prominent figures hostage in an attempt to stop the Versailles government forces executing captured Communards. Eventually, when the killings continued, the Commune executed about 100 hostages, an action defended by Karl Marx in his famous work The Civil War in France.

In August 1978, a Sandinista commando took hostage the entire Nicaraguan House of Deputies. Such a large section of dictator Anastasio Somoza’s key backers and personnel were seized that the regime had to negotiate over the release of political prisoners.

Obviously, in seeking hostages, it is better to take military and security personnel, regime bigwigs and so on and avoid ordinary people, the elderly and children etc.

Israel’s ‘right to defend itself’

Western leaders, including Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong, regularly invoke Israel’s “right to defend itself”. But this right doesn’t exist. Israel is the oppressor entity; in 1948 and 1967 it violently seized Palestine, expelled a large part of the population, and reduced those remaining to the status of second-class citizens.

As an apartheid state, as a state for Jews only, Israel has no right to exist — none whatsoever. The non-Arab Israeli people certainly have a right to exist but only in a democratic secular state which grants equal rights to all its citizens, whatever their ethnic or religious background. A “Jewish state” (just like an “Islamic state”, a "Buddhist state" or whatever) should be consigned to history’s rubbish bin.

What was the alternative?

As the Hamas statement makes clear, there was no alternative to armed struggle. In 2018 Gaza errupted with the March of Return. Thousands demonstrated near the border fence demanding that Palestinian refugees be allowed to return to their villages and towns. On just one day (May 14) Israeli snipers murdered 60 people peacefully protesting near the border.

This reality meant that armed struggle was inevitable. There simply was no realistic alternative unless Palestinians were supposed to rot in their open-air prison for decades more. The October 7 raid and the subsequent heroic resistance has completely unlocked the whole political situation. Israel has exacted a terrible price from Gaza but pro-Palestine sentiment has exploded globally and Israel’s militarised colonial-settler society is under the spotlight as never before in its entire history.


The Australian government’s list of proscribed terrorist groups contains 29 organisations. Most of them are definitely unsavoury but three clearly should not be on it.

1. The PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) is a progressive, socialist, secular liberation organisation. It fights for the rights of the Kurdish people across the Middle East; is for ethnic and religious pluralism, feminism, and grassroots democracy. It was listed in December 2005 as a favour to Turkey. The whole listing stinks.

2. The Lebanese Shia organisation Hezbollah was listed in December 2021. It is not in any sense a left-wing organisation and is integrated into the system of Lebanese capitalism. But it does confront Israel and clearly frightens the Zionist regime. There is no good reason to describe it as a terrorist entity.

3. Similarly with Hamas. It was proscribed in March 2022. It is an Islamic group with social views far from those of the left but, as recent events have shown, it is dramatically and heroically confronting Israel. It is a key part of the broad Palestinian resistance. Why on earth is it on the Australian terrorism list?

We might also ask: If Hezbollah and Hamas are proscribed, why are not Israel and the IDF since they are carrying out a policy of terror on an industrial scale? And why doesn’t the US also feature since it is Israel’s key enabler, without whose support Israel could not exist? Obviously pigs will fly before we see Israel and Washington on any terror list. But today many people around the world are probably asking why not?