‘Arrogance’ & ‘Bullshit:’ Top Insiders on Netanyahu’s Catastrophic Oct. 7 and Gaza War

Ronen Zvulun/Getty Images
Ronen Zvulun/Getty Images

Fifty miles up the coast from Gaza, where an Israeli offensive continues to shatter the besieged strip, Israel’s former chief spy Tamir Pardo is a world away from the war without end, in his office in Israel’s tech hub in the manicured city of Herzliya. From 2011 to 2016 Pardo was the director of Israel’s foreign intelligence agency, Mossad. He says the seeds that led to this moment of dread were sown over the previous two decades.

The bloody, unprecedented attack on Oct. 7, 2023, sparked widespread Israeli anger at a government that promised them perpetual calm in lieu of peace.

The worst security failure since the country was founded showed up the limits of militarized segregation, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu championed as a low-cost way to dominate Palestinians. After years of relative calm and a booming economy, that lie was brutally exposed on Oct. 7.

The shock has led to broad domestic support for a relentless military assault on Gaza in retaliation, but the problem of what to do next echoes the debate over what went so catastrophically wrong.

At 71 years old, Pardo feels the country is less secure and—unable to make tough choices about its future or willing to address its most pressing problem—has less vision than when he joined Mossad in 1980. He believes Israel’s future depends on addressing the question of Palestinian rights—a question that was rarely asked and was left unanswered in the calm before the war.

Tamir Pardo and Michael Morell

Former Mossad Director Tamir Pardo and former US Central Intelligence Agency Acting Director Michael Morell at the Harvard University Kennedy School in 2016.

Paul Marotta/Getty Images

“Should we take from this that we need to change reality,” he asks, believing that continuing to deny Palestinians their basic rights will only lead to more bloodshed. “Or should we learn from this that [we’ve] shown too little force and [we] should crush them with greater might, so that they’ll be even more afraid of us?”

Pardo spent his career clandestinely and ruthlessly targeting those deemed a threat to Israel, but from that fight, he learned a lesson that eludes most Israelis. Force alone cannot protect it. “You’ll never be able to quash the aspiration for liberty,” he says.

As part of a months-long investigation into the causes of Israel’s greatest intelligence and security failure, and how it continues to shape its war in Gaza, The Daily Beast spoke with a former Israeli prime minister, a serving senior Israeli military official, a former Mossad chief, two former national security advisers and a former senior officer with the Israel Security Agency, Shin Bet. They describe a culture of arrogance toward Palestinians in the security and political establishment.

Israel’s leaders were confident their military prowess and vast technological superiority could keep at bay the dire consequences of the reality they imposed over decades of continued expansion on Palestinian land. Throughout Netanyahu’s tenure, segregation and expansion have been treated as the permanent political solution.

The former and current officials describe the decision not to heed multiple intelligence warnings as the result of Israel’s security establishment eating the poisoned fruit of the Netanyahu era. While divided on their answer to Pardo’s question, they all believe that a “flawed theory” left Israel vulnerable and stuck in a war that still has no end in sight eight months on.

Israel’s decision to respond to Oct. 7 by crushing Gaza “with greater might” has been resoundingly clear to Palestinians. Fighting pangs of hunger, Mohammed Abedallah scours the sparsely stocked stalls in Al-Mawasi, the packed area on the ragged, polluted southern Gaza seashore that Israel has declared a safe zone. He has been forced to flee three times since the war began.

The 36 year-old from Gaza City fled Rafah just before Israel smashed its way into Gaza’s last standing city in what appeared to be open defiance of another Biden Administration red line. When the shells started landing, an estimated 1 million people who had taken refuge in the supposed safe haven were forced to leave. The U.S. Administration has adopted the Israeli description of a “limited operation” to describe the block-by-block advance instead of a full invasion but it makes no difference to Abedallah and his family. “Gaza City, then Khan Younis and now Rafah,” says Abedallah. “It’s almost the same drama over and over again.”

Wherever they go, Israeli attacks follow in a war where Israel has destroyed or damaged the majority of Gazans’ homes, decimated the public infrastructure and forced people back into the rubble they previously fled.

Abedallah carried his elderly mother in his arms as they fled in terror from Israeli air strikes on their Gaza City home in October. She died a month later, trapped in the squalor of an overcrowded UN school in Khan Younis that was supposed to be a place of refuge. As winter rains set in and the ground fighting grew closer, Abedallah’s family was sleeping in the school’s courtyard as the skies turned a fiery red during long nights of Israeli bombardment. With little shelter from the elements, he had to watch helplessly as his mother succumbed to illness, unable to get medical treatment while suffering from exposure.

When Abedellah then fled for Rafah as Israel flattened Khan Younis, his 83-year-old father was too weak to walk the nearly six miles. Held in the rain for nine hours at a checkpoint and taunted by Israeli soldiers, he describes troops using a megaphone to order the crowd of people it held up to shout that “the people want Hamas to leave.” Children cried and they all feared being killed in the street, Abedallah recalls. He then describes soldiers using the shovelhead of a bulldozer to transport his father and others who couldn’t walk. “I guess it was their most humane act,” he says. “The rest isn’t so humane.”

Doctors in Gaza Reuse Medical Implants Cut Out of Victims

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that the rights of Gaza’s more than 2 million Palestinians to protection from genocide are at risk of irreparable damage, and ordered Israel to take immediate measures, including halting its Rafah offensive, to ensure these rights. The International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Karim Khan is seeking arrest warrants for Netanyahu, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and three senior Hamas officials for war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

Disease and hunger are rampant because Israel has choked off supplies of food, fuel, and medicine, leading a UN Commission of Inquiry into the war to accuse America’s staunch ally of using starvation as a weapon of war. For Palestinians, this is the worst existential crisis since the 1948 war, when Israel dispossessed an estimated 750,000 Palestinians who were driven from their homes and lands, in an event Palestinians call the Nakba, or the catastrophe.

The shock and revulsion caused by the Hamas-led Oct. 7 assault on Israel, killing approximately 1,200 civilians and soldiers—according to Israeli government figures—while 250 others were taken captive in a series of grisly massacres, sparked a rage at Gaza that’s been channeled by Netanyahu’s embattled hardline government. Shaped by the transition from being able to ignore the Palestinians kept out of sight under Israeli rule to having to grapple with the explosion of violence from places that had been locked away for years, it’s a rage that continues to turn one of the world’s most densely populated places into rubble in an offensive that—according to Gaza’s health ministry—has killed more than 37,000 Palestinians from all walks of life.

Israeli soldiers hold guns

Israeli soldiers patrol Israel’s southern border with the Gaza Strip on June 13, 2024.

Jack Guez/Getty Images

For the families of the hostages whose pleas for their loved ones have gone unanswered, it’s a different kind of horrific nightmare. One hundred and five Israeli and foreign hostages were released as part of a prisoner exchange during a weeklong ceasefire in November, but the rest are still held by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Eight months on, captives continue to die from injuries suffered in the attacks, harsh conditions and Israeli air strikes, pushing their loved ones into the leading role of a widespread protest movement demanding that Netanyahu strike a deal with Hamas that releases all the captives. Relying on the widespread fury that still sustains support for the war, however, Israel’s prime minister has dodged U.S. brokered ceasefire proposals and vowed to keep fighting until Hamas is “eliminated.”

In the weeks leading up to Oct. 7, Israel moved troops from its border with Gaza to bolster security for settlers, carrying out a wave of expansions and attacks on Palestinian communities in the occupied West Bank. Told by Netanyahu since 2009 that they could ignore decades of occupation, maintained indefinitely through a carefully crafted and executed strategy of divide and rule, Israelis watched as the walls that were supposed to protect them crumbled in a single bloody morning. Facing demands for answers alongside widespread calls for vengeance, Netanyahu launched an unprecedented and indiscriminate war.

Several investigative reports, including by the New York Times, have documented in the months since the attack that in May 2022, Israeli military intelligence was already in possession of Hamas’ detailed plan for a multipronged infiltration operation. While the timing of the attack was not known, the likelihood it would actually be carried out was dismissed as low.

Codenamed “Jericho Wall,” the 40-page military document was a detailed blueprint of Hamas’s plans for a massive assault that aimed to overcome Israel’s fortifications and storm military posts and Israeli communities around Gaza. Israeli intelligence knew of Hamas’ intentions of pouring its fighters en masse into Israeli territory. They had details of how it would use motorbikes, cars, paragliders and fighters on foot under the cover of thousands of rockets fired into Israel. They even understood its intentions to use explosive-dropping drones, anti-tank missiles, and IEDs to take out Israel’s elaborate surveillance systems, communication networks and the automated machine guns mounted on Israel’s numerous fortified watchtowers. In short, they knew in detail of Hamas’ plans to overrun the high tech wall of concrete and firepower sealing Gaza in. On Oct. 7, the attack that Hamas—the Palestinian Islamic nationalist organization that has run Gaza since 2007 and fought six wars with Israel—codenamed “Al Aqsa Flood,” was a near carbon copy of the plans detailed in “Jericho Wall.”

Eyal Hulata was head of Israel’s National Security Council during Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid’s brief premiership in 2022. He says that he never saw “Jericho Wall.” He thinks it should have crossed Netanyahu’s desk, but he doesn’t know if it was treated as serious enough to have been. “I would want to say it must have. But I cannot,” he told The Daily Beast.

Hulata sees Israel’s military, technological and intelligence advantage amid periods of quiet as creating a confirmation bias. He believes that maintaining tight control over Palestinians while Israel thrived led the security establishment to believe their control and the country’s security was unshakable. “I wouldn’t put it on tech per se,” he says of Israel’s failure to prevent Oct. 7. “But I will say it keeps us [in] comfortable places,” he says, suggesting Israel’s vast military technology advantages over Palestinians lulled the country’s political and military leadership into a false sense of security.

Hulata doesn’t believe Oct. 7 was simply the result of an intelligence oversight or breakdown of information flow. He thinks the problem lies in a mentality that Israel can continuously control its rule over Palestinians rather than resolving its conflict with them: “I think the policy of managing the conflict has collapsed before our eyes.”

Uzi Arad, a seasoned state security insider, says that security interests took a back seat to political ones under his former boss, Netanyahu. Puffing on a cigar on the second floor balcony of his Tel Aviv home, the former national security adviser and Mossad director of research is animated as he tells stories about Netanyahu’s miscalculations. He says it was self-interest that led the prime minister to pursue a policy of deepening the wedge between Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, and accuses him of now putting his political survival ahead of Israeli national interests in the way he directs the war. According to Arad, Netanyahu sought to fracture the Palestinians by opposing a Palestinian state and failing to seek a political resolution in order to deliver calm in lieu of peace.

“The more he had coalition partners who were pro-settlement, and against a Palestinian state, the more he had to take that into consideration politically and even personally, the more he subjected this policy and Gaza to his overall interest,” he said.

Arad recalls meetings where Netanyahu took the view that Gaza and the West Bank should be dealt with as two separate entities and contends that in his tenure leading Hamas in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar encouraged this approach. Deceived into thinking it was a lasting solution, Netanyahu, he says, believed that Hamas was kept in check by a decade and a half of unending blockade amid regular wars. He says this outlook was then adopted by the security establishment and resulted in a belief that Hamas could be placated by a modest increase in access to foreign funds and permits for a small number of Gazan laborers to work in Israel. “That theory was a flawed theory from the outset,” Arad says, arguing its adoption was for political expediency and a reassuring narrative of a dominance that Palestinians couldn’t shake. “There is a question to what extent the intelligence people were politicized in their assessment because it was comforting.”

Benjamin Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a press conference at the Sheba Tel-HaShomer Medical Centre on June 8, 2024 in Ramat Gan, Israel.

Jack Guez/Getty Images

Netanyahu’s predecessor, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, is livid about the kind of war Israel finds itself in and how it got here.

“It’s all bullshit,” he tells The Daily Beast, sitting in his Tel Aviv office, which is filled with reminders of the days he was in power.

Olmert, Israel’s only prime minister to be jailed for corruption, is accusing Netanyahu, who is also on trial for corruption, of using the war to try and force Palestinians out of Israel permanently.

The only major Israeli political figure to publicly call for a ceasefire, Olmert believes the Netanyahu government is using the war to transform Israel and the territories it occupies. Pointing to a ruling coalition that includes far-right settler nationalists and expansionists like National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who have openly called for the expulsion of Palestinians, he sees a government using the war to further entrench the religious nationalist vision of an exclusively Jewish Israel between the Jordan river and Mediterranean sea.

“The Israeli government is saying openly that we will move them to Egypt,” says Olmert about threats by leading cabinet ministers to expel Palestinians. “They want a comprehensive war but a comprehensive war is made for one thing, for the chaos that will allow them to keep us in the West Bank, expel Palestinians in the West Bank and create the political conditions that will allow annexation.”

Netanyahu’s stated war goal of destroying Hamas politically and militarily was originally Olmert’s in 2008. The former prime minister still believes that had he been politically able to march to Gaza City, he would have routed Hamas with far less cost. The first PM to launch a Gaza war and the last one to launch one in Lebanon believes, however, that the root cause of the gravest security failure in Israel’s history lies in the country’s system of segregated rule over Palestinians that Netanyahu has treated as a low-cost, permanent solution.

Olmert, who was the last Israeli leader to negotiate toward a final settlement with the Palestinians, says a lack of humility and contempt for Palestinians has shaped the security and political establishment’s decision to disregard the warnings of a looming attack, and fail to address the fundamental issues that paved the way for it.

“The most significant failure was arrogance and the inability to absorb the idea that the Arabs can be smart enough to do what we would have done under similar circumstances,” he says. “We thought we are the start-up nation, we are sophisticated, we are the smart guys. The Arabs, these bunch of primitives, turned out they were smart,” he says, mocking the prevalent Israeli attitude.

It’s a sentiment shared by Gonen Ben Itzhak, a senior former Shin Bet handler who arrested Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti, and was credited with turning Israel’s most senior Hamas asset, Mosab Hassan Yousef, during the second intifada—the Palestinian uprising that raged from 2000-2005. He described Israel’s war as—in part—a campaign of revenge against Palestinians, noting that rather than downplaying and denying the scale of its damage to civilians, Israel has expressed pride in the staggering devastation it has brought upon Gaza. “That’s why we count bodies,” he says of Israel’s boastful broadcasting of its wrecking of the enclave.

Pardo says that even though Netanyahu looms large over Israel’s current position as its longest serving prime minister, he doesn’t think the Israeli leader and his far-right coalition partners, such as Ben-Gvir, should be exclusively blamed for seeing permanent Israeli rule through segregation as the solution. “It is our problem, all of us,” he says. “In fact, the worst ones in my opinion are those in the center, and left,” he continues, pointing to a political consensus created over nearly two decades that saw no need or urgency in changing Israel’s oppression of Palestinians. “I have nothing to argue over with Ben-Gvir. He thinks the way he does,” Pardo says, before contending that “50 percent of the Israeli population thinks the same as Ben-Gvir at the end of the day.” For this, he points the finger at the political left and center for not offering an alternative to Netanyahu’s plan to exacerbate Palestinian political divisions to maintain the “quiet,” while dispossessing Palestinians of their lands and depriving them of their basic rights.

For decades Israel has expanded an elaborate system of segregating Palestinians. It allowed Israelis from Tel Aviv to the occupied West Bank’s hilltop settlements—illegal under international law—to live in separate bubbles on top of or next to Palestinians and ignore them at the same time. Sealing off Gaza from the world, Israel has built towering concrete walls to cut off occupied East Jerusalem from the West Bank, which it controls with troops and dual legal systems that give Israeli settlers all the protections of Israeli civilian law, while stateless Palestinians are subject to the judgment of army officers under military law.

Comparing Israeli rule over Palestinians to South Africa under apartheid, the former intelligence chief believes the majority of Israel’s Jewish citizens accept denying rights to Palestinians. “Now I don’t want to say this outloud, but it’s natural, like the 17- or 18-year-old who in 1960 was in South Africa [and] didn’t see a Black person as someone facing a predicament,” Pardo says. “When [Palestinians] try to challenge this reality, then they’re the ones who aren’t OK,” he says. “Who are they to even want rights?”

Israel’s ability to ignore Palestinians, however, didn’t last. As the images of the unfolding Oct. 7 attack spread, acute vulnerability replaced the sense of invincibility that Israelis had cultivated over the last decade and a half.

Israeli soldiers were still battling Gazan fighters to regain control of neighborhoods in southern Israeli towns and kibbutzs all around him on Oct. 8, but 23-year-old George Elkhazov was just relieved to be alive. A resident of Ofakim, 11 miles from Israel’s wall sealing off Gaza, his world and what he thought possible radically changed as he watched Palestinian fighters banging on his door through the doorbell camera.

Protestors hold signs and Israeli flags.

Protesters hold signs and flags during a demonstration calling for a hostage deal, on May 20, 2024, in Jerusalem.

Amir Levy/Getty Images

Standing on the sidewalk outside his gate hours after the attack, he pointed to where residents of the working-class community were gunned down on the street.

Across the road from his small bungalow home sat a truck with Gaza license plates that carried the fighters. A green military bag and shattered glass were strewn around the bullet-riddled vehicle. According to Elkhazov, it took 17 hours for Israeli security forces to regain control of the community and release a couple who were taken hostage by Hamas fighters. Machine-gun spray covers the homes and cars. Blood smears the walls of a neighborhood bomb shelter littered with bullet casings.

“I only thought this could happen in my worst nightmares,” says Elkhazov. “Now I think it will happen again.”

Living under periodic rocket fire since the build up to the 2008-2009 Gaza war, he had a sense of security provided by Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system. That sense was shredded when he received a call up for reserve duty while still hiding and waiting for Israeli forces to rescue him on Oct. 7. “Where were the cameras and the spotters in the watchtowers,” he says, lamenting the failure of Israel’s digital and increasingly automated ramparts around Gaza to hold up under attack.

Elkhazov grew up next door to the Palestinian enclave, and Israel’s blockade has been ongoing most of his life. Like most Jewish Israelis his age, he has never been to Gaza as a civilian. After his experience on Oct. 7, he no longer believes that the isolated and besieged community, whose inhabitants are mostly descendants of refugees from the 1948 war, should continue to exist. “We need to flatten Gaza, erase Gaza.”

From the horror on the border, the torment felt from the attacks quickly permeated across Israel, shaking the nation as people from across the country and political spectrum united in furry, grief, and desire for vengeance. After a decade and a half of economic prosperity and relative security, Israelis found themselves in a new, less confident reality, Pardo says. “What [Hamas] did in the villages of the Western Negev was to show us that we aren’t invincible.”

When air-raid sirens started blaring in Tel Aviv, and stories of mass killings in southern Israel mounted, Israelis transformed. The city’s cafés and bars went from being institutions of social escape that made the desperation and misery across Israel’s nearby walls feel a world away, to a shaky refuge in an inescapable grim reality. The coffee, the music, the drinks and the billowing clouds of weed smoke stayed the same but people now gathered to talk about lost friends and family members, and wonder if they would ever feel secure again. Rather than ignore the Palestinians like in the era before the war, Israeli attention focused on them as discussions about their annihilation became pervasive and hundreds of thousands of Israeli army reserves mobilized for the invasion of Gaza. Tel Aviv was no longer a place of escape from the region but a subdued city where for the first time in nearly two decades—despite the comforts—everyone felt close to the hell of war.

“We were all very furious, scared, we felt alone,” says Noam Permont, sitting in his bright fluorescent cubical office at a south Tel Aviv medical cannabis dispensary he owns in a partnership. A soft-spoken, open, self-described Israeli liberal, the 45-year-old father of three lives in an upper-middle-class Tel Aviv neighborhood, and worked in biotech ventures as part of Israel’s booming economy before getting into the medicinal weed business. Part of the mass anti-government protests before the war, Permont remains a strong opponent of Netanyahu and the government, and holds the prime minister responsible for Oct. 7. “[Netanyahu] wanted to be remembered as the protector of Israel,” he says. “He’ll be remembered as the precise opposite.”

At the same time he has supported the war and sees its scale of devastation as acceptable. “They went medieval on us and we retaliated,” he says of the Hamas-led attack from Gaza and Israel’s blanket destruction in the besieged strip. “We did what was necessary.”

Permont is, historically, a supporter of the two-state solution and ending Israel’s occupation, but the attacks that started this war have changed his outlook. His vision of an end to occupation and a two-state solution now sounds far more circumspect and conditional. “In any future settlement, the particular security measures that will have to be taken will be extremely severe,” he says. “Let’s say separation is going be very, very, very distinct.”

In the past couple of months, a re-established sense of security is emerging in central Israel despite the country’s first, yet thwarted, Iranian missile and drone attack, ongoing fierce fighting with Hezbollah on Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, and the war that continues to consume Gaza. In Tel Aviv, Permont sees a new bubble inflating. Anti-government protesters have returned to the streets, now targeting the government’s handling of the war, but not against the war itself, and Permont describes an environment where people act as if the war is over, despite no end in sight. “We have been very, very comfortable in our bubbles. In a way this has been a wake-up call,” he says. “But I don’t think it was.”

In an effort to establish a sense of security and deterrence, and restore Israel’s confidence, the country deployed its most advanced tech and weapons to wreak destruction on Gaza on a scale that matches the national discourse of indiscriminate punishment. Israel’s panopticon-like surveillance gives it the ability to strike almost any target above ground in Gaza with precision, constantly watching Gaza from the skies and monitoring its telecommunications and deluge of metadata. Israel has also been able to survey and penetrate Hamas’ vast underground tunnel network, using specialized forces and new robotic technology, but to a much more limited degree.

Throughout this war, the massive amounts of information this surveillance produces has been fed into AI programs called Lavender and The Gospel, which use it to produce targets for the Israeli military. Exposed in investigations by The Guardian, the progressive Israel-Palestine English language publication +972 Magazine and its Hebrew sister outlet Local Call, the programs not only compile long target lists in record time, but also go into incredible detail about the number of civilians likely to be killed and wounded in a given attack. The reports describe how pre-authorization of 15-20 civilian casualties has been programmed as acceptable for airstrikes on low-ranking alleged Hamas targets.

Speaking on condition of anonymity because of his active service, a senior Israeli military official insists that it is people who sign off on the attacks with the knowledge of estimated civilian cost. A soldier reviews all this information and still decides that the attacks on Gazans are worth it, while the tech simply helps them locate and hit more places, faster. “The whole way we select targets is very human intensive,” he says. “Robots aren’t going to conduct a war for Israel.”

“Technology was probably the most helpful thing [to] eventually turn the battle in our favor,” the military official says, describing Israel’s regaining of control in the country’s south and launching its all encompassing offensive. However, Israel has yet to achieve any of its stated military objectives. Its Rafah invasion hasn’t led to Hamas’ destruction or killed its senior leadership. Israel rescued a captured soldier in October, two civilian hostages in Rafah in February, and four others in central Gaza’s Nuseirat refugee camp in June during the deadliest attack since December, killing more than 270 Palestinians, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. And yet Israel hasn’t come close to saving the vast majority of those still held captive in the Strip.

The senior official believes the war is a time for political resolutions to take a back seat to an uncompromising assault, but he sees Netanyahu’s strategy of trying to contain Hamas and treating Gaza and the West Bank as separate entities as creating a “deep conceptual mistake” that led to an unforgivable strategic error. “I think they have made a very big mistake that they will live with for the rest of their lives.”

“We are fighting the war because animals came and attacked our citizens,” he says. The statement echoes comments made by Defense Minister Gallant as he cut off Gaza’s access to food, fuel, medicine and water on Oct. 9. Those words are being cited as evidence of Israel’s intent to commit genocide in South Africa’s case at the ICJ. “We are fighting an all-out war against Hamas, period,” continues the military commander. “This war is different because we are fighting to eliminate them.”

Frustrated with growing international condemnation of Israel’s war, the battle-hardened soldier blames Hamas for Gaza’s destruction, dismissively describing the reality and cost of victory as inevitable. “Sorry, we will win, sorry, they will lose.”

Amidst inescapable horror, Hind Khoudary, 28, has watched Israel use the most advanced weapons systems in an inescapable onslaught that has caused her world to explode. The Palestinian journalist, who has been picked up as a correspondent by Al Jazeera English, has been one of the few journalists to report on Israel’s ground invasion into the north last fall, and to continue reporting from central Gaza throughout the war. In November, while Israel regularly cut Palestinian phone and internet communication as it pressed its ground invasion into northern Gaza, Khoudary beat the blackouts and continued reporting using an international electronic sim card that works off Egyptian and Israeli networks. As the Israeli military pounded its way to encircling Gaza City, she was in the Jabalia refugee camp with the residents of a neighborhood that Israel flattened from the air. She watched as desperate people pulled at slabs of concrete from their apartment buildings with their bare hands, trying to save loved ones buried under the rubble. Since launching its Rafah invasion, Israel has again made Jabalia a central target in its simultaneous assault in northern Gaza. The scenes Khoudary witnessed during Israel’s initial invasion have been repeated across Gaza throughout the war.

“It’s obvious that this attack is a collective punishment of Palestinians,” says Khoudary. She cut her teeth reporting in 2018, covering mass protests against a blockade Israel has imposed since 2007. Surviving multiple wars and a blockade for most of her life, she watched as Gazans marched on the wall Israel sealed them in with, and saw a generation of young Palestinians crippled or killed by Israeli bullets. Yet the carnage of this war is something beyond what she thought possible. “I met a man in Jabalia today who knows 100 people under the rubble. He told me that he won’t flee because if he’s going to die, he wants to die with dignity.” An hour after she left Gaza’s largest refugee camp for families Israel dispossessed in 1948, Israel bombed it again.

The West Bank’s hilltop city of Ramallah, where the PA has its limited seat of government, is 10 miles and one wall away from the capital Palestinians aspire to create in occupied East Jerusalem and has long felt divorced from Gaza’s fate. Since the war, however, Ramallah-based pollster and political analyst Khalil Shikaki says that Palestinians fear the same future wherever they are. “Given what the Israelis are currently doing, the massive destruction against civilian life and civilian infrastructure is leading Palestinians to conclude that their mere existence as a people is now threatened by Israel,” says Shikaki, who has been gathering data on the Palestinian public’s perspectives since the 1990’s. “Palestinians realize that what is happening in Gaza could spill into the West Bank.”

When Gaza fighters poured into southern Israel on the morning of Oct. 7, the army immediately put the West Bank under lockdown, closing the checkpoints and freezing Palestinian movement. Eight months on, The Palestinian Authority’s (PA) Ministry of Detainee and ex-Detainee Affairs has recorded upward of 9,000 people taken prisoner in daily Israeli military raids on Palestinian communities and regular clashes with Palestinian fighters. Over 500 have been killed in the raids and attacks by settlers since the war started, according to the PA Health ministry.

Palestinian cities and towns still remain largely cut off from each other with most checkpoints surrounding them still closed. The main roads between Palestinian communities have few Palestinian-plated cars as occupied commuters are held up by tight checkpoints, while their lives are regularly threatened by settlers who block intersections and attack them on their commute.

Across the West Bank, Israeli settlers have responded to the war by increasing attacks on Palestinian towns and villages. Focusing on smaller, isolated villages, settlers have forcefully displaced 18 Palestinian communities with impunity since Oct. 7. In the south Hebron hills, European Union placards on schools they funded are now fixed to empty buildings in hamlets turned to ghost towns. It’s a message to West Bank Palestinians that they are also a target of expanding war and displacement, and that no one will protect them.

On the Israeli-bulldozed streets of the northern West Bank’s Jenin refugee camp, a densely packed working-class community of 23,000 people who descend from refugees from the Haifa region, fighters from the Jenin Brigade have responded to the settlers. Standing in a stucco garage pockmarked with bullets on a previously paved road as Israeli drones circle overhead, “Ibn Qanun,” a Jenin Brigade fighter in his late twenties, says they have retaliated by expanding beyond the camp to ambush the army during raids. He says now they are also targeting settlers from the expanding settlements. The young man, who is aged by circumstance, sees his fate tied up in the course the war takes and since it began he feels he is fighting to support Gaza while resisting an emerging Nakba.

Ibn Qanun was a law student at the American University of Jenin when he was first arrested by Israel and jailed for eight years for taking up arms with Palestinian Islamic Jihad, but he has long given up on the idea that the law can change his circumstances for the better. Instead, he’s eager to finish our interview and rejoin the fighters patrolling the camp, checking the makeshift barricade of barbed wire and twisted rebar meant to slow army advances down. “From Israel, nothing can be won with law,” he says, echoing a growing sentiment among Palestinians that force is the only language Israel understands.

Leading Palestinian scholar Rashid Khalidi says he can see the logic of former colonial powers at play in the way Israel is waging its war. The Columbia University history professor and Edward Said Chair points to the 1945 Sétif and Guelma massacres in colonial Algeria where the French authorities responded to the killing of 100 French settlers by massacring thousands of Algerians. “If you don’t keep the colonized in their place, they’re going to overwhelm you,” Khalidi says, portraying Israel’s unrestrained military action in Gaza as a 21st-century version of the colonial strategy of disproportionate and overwhelming force.

Khalidi says there is a difference in the gory statements being made through atrocities by Palestinian fighters on Oct. 7 and Israel since. While Israel is conditioning control and dominance, Hamas wants to force Israel and the world to reckon with the reality Palestinians have been forced to endure while their plight was sidelined.

“When you pressure people and push them into smaller and smaller spaces, make their space your space, kill them if you want and you create a situation where they have no alternative,” he contends. “Then they’re going to lash out when they see an opportunity and do unto you what you have been doing unto them as you took their land away.”

It is a feeling shared by Pardo, the former chief Israeli spy who fears what his country has become and the consequences of what it is doing to the region. Unable to ignore Palestinians any longer, he watches as his country continues to use all its military power to force them out of sight rather than coming to terms with a reality where they live differently together.

More than eight months into the war and losing global public opinion, things are not going Israel’s way, despite all its seeming might. Charged with committing atrocities, facing increased boycotts and intensifying diplomatic isolation, Israel is also struggling to achieve its stated military goals and refuses to declare its vision for a postwar future. The Palestinian demand to end decades of oppressive Israeli rule is again being discussed by leaders the world over, as the war continues to reduce their homeland to slabs of stucco and twisted rebar.

The author of The Hundred Years War on Palestine doesn’t see this war leading to a better outcome for the people of the region.

Fearful for relatives in Gaza and worried about his family in the West Bank, Khalidi sees these political shifts in the context of the carnage. “That doesn’t mean any good change will come.”

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