GAN HAIM, ISRAEL - OCTOBER 11: Family and friends of May Naim, 24, who was murdered by Palestinians militants at the "Supernova" festival, near the Israeli border with Gaza strip, react during her funeral on October 11, 2023 in Gan Haim, Israel. Israel has sealed off Gaza and conducted airstrikes on Palestinian territory after an attack by Hamas killed hundreds and took more than 100 hostages. On October 7, the Palestinian militant group Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel from Gaza by land, sea, and air, killing over 700 people and wounding more than 2000. Israeli soldiers and civilians have also been taken hostage by Hamas and moved into Gaza. The attack prompted a declaration of war by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Photo by Amir Levy/Getty Images)
There are simply no words. No words to describe the horror of innocent families being hunted down in their own homes and slaughtered for being Jews. No words to explain how the elderly, young children and babies are abducted and abused on camera, the parading of lifeless bodies on the back of pick-up trucks through the streets, naked women abused and spat on in front of cheering crowds.
On Saturday morning, 7 October, as Jews around the world woke up to mark Shabbat or the Jewish day of rest and celebrate the holiday of Simchat Torah, Hamas unleashed a barrage of intense rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip.
This assault provided cover for dozens of its operatives to breach the border and infiltrate Israeli territory, taking over whole towns and villages and murdering civilians indiscriminately. This dramatic escalation in tensions was persistent and unrelenting in its ferocity and unprecedented in its savagery and brutality.
Hamas is a fundamentalist Sunni Muslim terrorist organisation founded in Gaza in 1987. Created by members of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas is one of the Palestinian territories’ two major political parties and has governed more than two million Palestinians in Gaza since a 2007 military coup in which it murdered its rival Fatah party members.
The death toll in Israel from the Hamas assault over the weekend is believed to be over 1 000 people, and the number grows daily. This was the largest number of Jewish people killed because they are Jewish in a single day since the Holocaust.
The stories of innocent lives shattered, each containing a whole world, are heart wrenching. Like that of Doron and her two little girls Raz and Aviv, just 4 and 2 years old. They were filmed being kidnapped by Hamas and taken to Gaza. Itai and Hadar Bardichsky, married 30-year-olds, hid their ten-month-old twins in a security room in their home while terrorists went door to door in their village murdering Jews. They fought until their last breath. Their twins, miraculously alive, were left alone for more than 14 hours before being rescued.
The frantic call of eight-year-old Micha’el stays with me. Hiding in a cupboard, he phoned his aunt to tell her that his mother and father and sister had been murdered and lay just metres away from him. Tamar, Yonatan and their three children Shachar, 6, Arbel 6 and Omer, 4, were gunned down in their home at Kibbutz Nir Oz.
Images of a 12-year-old Israeli boy kidnapped by Hamas and being terrorised and taunted on camera are being shared on social media. The desperate pleas on my newsfeed are of scores of families frantically searching for their missing loved ones. Images of a young woman holding baby twins as she is dragged onto a vehicle bound for Gaza, or an elderly woman who needs medication to survive being taken away by armed fighters and then paraded through the streets of Gaza, are the stuff of nightmares.
The stories of the mass rape of young Israeli girls next to the bodies of their dead friends have emerged from the scenes of the Supernova Sukkot music festival. Over 260 young people butchered by Hamas were found at the site in Re’im southern Israel. The news of around 40 babies in a Kibbutz murdered, some beheaded, is beyond comprehension.
Hamas is intent on the destruction of the entire Jewish people. Far from a liberation movement, Hamas is openly genocidal in its founding charter. In Israel over the past few days, Hamas has been carrying out a double war crime — attacking Israeli towns and cities with the goal of murdering and kidnapping innocent civilians and using its own people in Gaza as human shields, and schools, hospitals and civilian structures as launching pads and storage facilities for weapons.
Hamas is using social media to document and share its atrocities, openly admitting to what many are calling blatant and unashamed war crimes. No country would dismiss the deliberate and calculated murder of hundreds of its civilians, as well as the infiltration of its borders and towns. Hamas has committed a carefully planned and funded attack on families targeting the elderly, young children and women. Once again, Hamas has prioritised the killing of Israelis over the welfare and advancement of the Palestinian people, who will needlessly suffer because of the choices and actions of their leadership.
While iconic landmarks around the globe have been lit up with the Israeli flag or in the colours of blue and white in solidarity with the people of Israel, from the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin to the Empire State Building in New York, it is utterly shameful that the South African Department of International Relations issued a statement blaming the Jewish State for the rise of hostilities this week. No empathy has been shown for the loss of innocent Jewish lives.
Jewish communities sadly know from recent decades that whenever tensions escalate in Israel and Palestine there is a marked spike in the number of antisemitism cases around the globe. This weekend has been no exception. Already there are reports of a vandalised kosher restaurant in London, UK; displaying swastikas and images of dead Israeli civilians on cellphones at a pro-Hamas rally in New York City; and chants of “Gas the Jews” at a pro-Hamas rally in Sydney, Australia.
Jewish people around the world are bracing for a backlash of hate. We have already seen marches in support of Hamas being planned in South Africa, outside Jewish communal organisations and across university campuses.
The decades-long conflict between Israel and Palestine is indeed complex and nuanced. It is of course legitimate to criticise policies and actions of the Israeli government, as well as to call for peace on both sides and to advocate for the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
Yet the atrocities of the past weekend cannot be seen as legitimate resistance or politics. The horrific acts that unfolded had nothing to do with advancing the Palestinian cause or fighting for peace. Hamas are not revolutionaries. They are terrorists. Raping women and beheading children, abducting civilians and hunting down families in their homes is not a struggle for human rights or freedom, it is a massacre.
May peace prevail in the region and may all peace-loving people around the world call out injustice and inhumanity wherever it rears its ugly head.
Alana Pugh-Jones Baranov is a writer and the Political and Social Justice Liaison for the South African Jewish Board of Deputies. She is Deputy Chair of the Hate Crimes Working Group as well as a Steering Committee member of the World Jewish Congress’ Jewish Diplomatic Corps and its Women’s Representation Task Team Co-Chair.