What Really Happened on October 7th?

The genocide proceeds. In Jabaliya, Israel dropped six tons of bombs on a refugee camp a week after bombing a number of hospitals. Westerners are being conditioned gradually to accept higher and higher numbers of daily Palestinian deaths in more and more obviously genocidal ways – gathering sites, hospitals, schools, churches, mosques, refugee camps.

The US has placed naval assets where it safely could in the region and is deploying antimissile systems on the ground all to try to deter the military intervention of regional powers to stop Israel’s genocide. There is daily contact and exchanges of missiles and other fire on the Lebanon-Israel border, missile and drone attacks on US bases in Iraq and Syria, Yemen has declared war formally and fired missiles, and of course continuing fighting across the fence and now within Gaza. 

Pointing out the criminality of what Israel is doing can have no effect when the enforcers of the law are the imperialists themselves. International law will play no role in stopping this genocide. So, this presentation of the facts is not done in the hope that facts can change the West’s position on this genocide or to lay the foundation for the war crimes trials of the future. Still, since the events of October 7 are the pretext for the ongoing genocide, they must be examined.  

The feelings of October 7

Most of the discussion in Western media of what happened on October 7 is based on feelings, not facts, evidence, or the relevant laws of war that would apply, if Israel or the US were subject to such laws (they are not). Based on such feelings, progressive pro-Israel writers could assure their readers that it was a massacre; or that “animals isn’t even an appropriate term for the crimes committed by the Hamas invaders” oof October 7. Squeamish feelings indeed, the preciousness of life emphasized, and the barbarism of those who would kill the innocent. 


For tough talk about the harsh realities of war, you need to look to the way Americans like John Kirby talk about Palestinian deaths – present at, at the time of his speech, future as well. “I wish that that wasn’t going to happen. But it is. It is going to happen. And that doesn’t make it right… But that’s that’s unfortunately the nature of conflict.” As one commentator noted about Kirby’s speech: “this is the kind of statement people in Serbia and Rwanda got played back at them while they were sitting in a glass box in the Netherlands.”

In the end, the West doesn’t really need the facts of what Hamas’s armed wing did on October 7. What the West needs for its genocide propaganda is to generate a feeling around what happened. That it was uniquely savage, uniquely atrocious. Armed with this feeling, there can be no minimizing these Israeli civilian deaths as “collateral damage” incidental to the objectives of the Palestinian Resistance (“Hamas”) operation, the way there would be if Israel had done it to the Palestinians. 

In the West, what the Palestinian Resistance did on October 7 was not a crime – but worse than a crime. Pure evil. Counterproductive to the Palestinian cause. Bad enough that Palestine’s leadership is tarnished forever, forever illegitimate. 

Bad enough that any antiwar movement that wants the genocide to stop is also illegitimate, for by their failure to condemn these uniquely savage crimes, they have turbocharged Israel, lost credibility. 

Bad enough to justify everything Israel did since 1948. 

Bad enough to justify genocide. 

Through lurid descriptions of the events of October 7, the Palestinian Resistance is defined outside of humanity. Anyone who expresses support or solidarity is defined as a supporter of inhumanity, a committer of a criminal speech act, unprotected from libel and whatever penalties can be applied from there. 

Genocide is justified, solidarity is criminalized, through such feelings. It is hard to imagine that Western countries could be moved away from this structure of feeling.  

What happened on October 7?

Still. Even if the West will not use the facts in any future legal proceeding, even if the West ignores them, even if the West is morally and politically incapable of calling the genocide off, as fact-mongers, we still have for some reason to try to find out what actually happened. What are the facts? What can we put together about what happened on October 7?

In doing this we have a finite number of sources. The Haaretz list. The guided tour of Kfar Aza. Several eyewitness accounts. On the other side, we have Hamas’s statements. We have to analyze these carefully. Each piece has to be assessed according to the source, its previous record, its interest in releasing the information, and its biases.

US spokesman John Kirby assesses the Palestinian Ministry of Health as a source in this way: “The Gaza Ministry of Health is just a front for Hamas … a terrorist organization … We can’t take anything coming out of Hamas, including the so-called ‘Ministry of Health,’ at face value.”

The same could be said, from the reverse perspective, of all mainstream Western and Israeli sources, which are “just a front for [the Israeli military]”, which is currently committing genocide and whose utterances cannot be taken at face value. 

But such are the sources we have. If we cannot depend on any of the given sources to tell the whole truth, we can perhaps depend on the Western sources to present Palestinians in the worst possible light, and on Hamas’s accounts of what happened to present themselves in the best possible light, and use the sources while keeping these biases in mind. 

Quantitative Analysis of the October 7 attack: The Ha’aretz List

For a quantitative sense of the scale of deaths on October 7, we rely on the Israeli newspaper, Ha’aretz, where the death count is currently being updated and which has published 902 names as of October 26, 2023. The Ha’aretz list includes both civilians and military personnel and includes those killed after October 7 – the number rises as Israelis killed in the Gaza invasion are added to the same list. An earlier list with 308 names of Israelis killed was analyzed by one commentator, who counted 171 Israeli military personnel among them. 

An article in The Cradle with a similar goal as the current one – of determining what is known about what happened October 7 – published an age distribution of those killed and concluded that 16 of the 683 on the list to that date were children, the rest adults; and around half of the 683 on the list were combatants. 

The Cradle contrasts this with the 5,790 Palestinian civilians killed in Gaza by Israel since October 7, 2,360 of whom were children (at the time Cradle published; we are now over 9,000 Palestinians killed and around half children, with several huge massacres like the dropping of 6 1-ton bombs on Jabaliya camp on October 31). But the Cradle doesn’t understand that Israel and the West expect a far higher standard of Hamas than they do of themselves. It is impossible to imagine what a commentator like Gideon Levy would call Palestinians, what Guardian columnists would say to the antiwar left, if Palestinians were to kill 10,000 people and 4,000 children in indiscriminate bombing. 

Israelis killed on October 7 jpg

On October 26, the Ha’aretz list had 902 names (515 of whom had photos) and categorized 556 of these as civilians, 59 as police, 14 as rescue, and 273 as soldiers (10 Nepali students and 14 Thai workers are included as well). 

For 635/902 of these, no detail is provided about where the deaths happened. The largest single death toll in this list is the Re’im music festival, where 195 Israelis were killed according to this list. 

The proportion of adults killed was 498/540 of the dead who have an age indicated. The October 26 list includes 20 children in total: 8 children ages 4-9 and 12 children aged 11-16. Five of these children were killed in in Be’eri, 4 in Nir Oz, 4 in Kukhleh (last names Alkra’an and Abu Sabaakh), 2 in Dimona, 1 in Arara (last name Abu Jama). Four were 17 years old, and the other 498 were between 18-65 years old. Eighteen of the dead with age indicated were senior citizens over 65. 

The Battle of Nir Am: The Economist

An episode of the Economist’s podcast, the Intelligence, called “The Day Hamas Came”, describes what a battle with the Qassam fighters looked like from the point of view of Adam, a dual-pistol wielding Kibbutz dweller from Nir Am who “knew how to fight”. 

Nir Am Kibbutz

The same story was written up here for the magazine. In the story, Adam describes his kibbutz, Nir Am, as a militarized fortress with a gate strong enough that a truck could not be driven through it if closed. 

Kibbutz

The kibbutz has its own militia, the KK, and its own armory. When the attack started, Adam went to the KKK commander and then to the armory, and organized the defense of the kibbutz. He personally shot one of the Palestinian fighters three times in the body and delivered the coup de grace with a shot to the head. Some of the kibbutz’s agricultural laborers, Palestinians from Gaza, were killed in the crossfire. The kibbutz’s defenders held off the Palestinian fighters until the Israeli police and army arrived. According to Adam, while the kibbutz lost people, virtually all of the attackers were killed. 

In summary: this account from a survivor describes an attack on a fortified community, a two-way battle between armed groups, concluding with the death of all the attackers. 

The Battle on Kibbutz Be’eri, described in the NYT Daily

The New York Times’s podcast, the Daily, featured another kibbutz survivor of the October attack, this time from Kibbutz Be’eri. 44 year old Golan Abitbol who describes his community as one of 1,000 people. Like his dual-pistol wielding compatriot Adam, Mr. Abitbol heard the alarm in the morning and immediately got his 9mm pistol, locked his family in the shelter, took a firing position in the front of his home. Soon he was exchanging gunfire with a group of Palestinian fighters. “You don’t think,” Mr. Abitbol said. “You act like a warrior.” The enemy moved on to the next house, and Mr. Abitbol saw them a house on fire. As in kibbutz Nir Am, the Israeli military eventually came to the rescue with some heavy armor. When Mr. Abitbol came out of his house, he saw a tank parked on the street. “They told us to close the eyes of the young kids so they won’t see the dead bodies of the terrorists lying outside,” he said. His fortress, kibbutz Be’eri, had been burned he estimated that one hundred people had been killed: “I don’t know how many. I couldn’t count… 1 out of 10 is dead,” he said, in his community of 1,000.  

Mr. Abitbol provided his assessment of what happened and of the attackers – they were “not human beings”, he said, but “vicious killers”, “evil”, “animals”, and the attack was a “second Holocaust”. What he described, however, was not a death camp but a battle between armed attackers and armed defenders during which civilians were killed and other civilians taken captive. 

Friendly fire, crossfire in Israeli media

Mondoweiss published on October 22 a review of evidence available at that time of possible “friendly fire” deaths in which Israelis died as a result of Israeli military action. One major piece of evidence reviewed was an Israeli interview, republished by the Electronic Intifada, with Yasmin Porat, another survivor from Kibbutz Be’eri, who witnessed the Israeli retaking of the kibbutz. She said the Israeli army “eliminated everyone, including the hostages. There was very, very heavy crossfire.” Another article cited is from the Guardian by a journalist who went on an Israeli-Army guided tour of kibbutz Be’eri on October 11, who described the destruction: “Building after building has been destroyed, whether in the Hamas assault or in the fighting that followed, nearby trees splintered and walls reduced to concrete rubble from where Israeli tanks blasted the Hamas militants where they were hiding. Floors collapsed on floors. Roof beams were tangled and exposed like rib cages.” A military commander told Ha’aretz that his unit “fought inside the kibbutz, from house to house, with the tanks.” “We had no choice.”

Mondoweiss cites an October 20th Ha’aretz article going into more detail about the Israeli counterattack: “…only on Monday night and only after the commanders in the field made difficult decisions — including shelling houses with all their occupants inside in order to eliminate the terrorists along with the hostages — did the IDF complete the takeover of  the kibbutz. The price was terrible: at least 112 Be’eri people were killed. Others were kidnapped. Yesterday, 11 days after the massacre, the bodies of a mother and her son were discovered in one of the destroyed houses. It is believed that more bodies are still lying in the rubble.”

A survivor’s account from the kibbutz of Nir Oz describes fighting, Palestinian attackers burning houses, followed by looting, and finally an attack by an Israeli attack helicopter when one woman died – possibly from Israeli fire. Some snippets of a WhatsApp group chat from residents of Nir Oz were published in an Israeli newspaper and and show residents chatting with one another awaiting the Israeli military, describing terrorists walking around outside speaking Arabic. Another video shows what appear to be crossfire incidents at the Re’im music festival

Another inquiry into the deaths on October 7 was published by Max Blumenthal in the Grayzone. In addition to the damage at kibbutz Be’eri characteristic of high explosives fired from tanks, Max also shows how footage of charred remains of victims at the music festival were characteristic of Hellfire missiles fired by Israeli helicopters.

dead israel

Military analyst Scott Ritter believes (discussed at 1:06 of this video) that most deaths were friendly fire: 

“Israel’s lying to itself and the world because Israel doesn’t want the truth to come out about October 7, the absolute failure – political failure, military failure. And they definitely don’t want to talk about October 8. That’s the day they really don’t want to talk about. Because that’s the day that this undisciplined mob of Israeli Defense Force poured back into the settlements and slaughtered the settlers that were there… if they release the autopsies of all the bodies they picked up, you’ll find that the majority of them, more than the majority, were killed by 5.56mm rounds fired by Israel. There’s enough eyewitness testimony that supports this. And Israel doesn’t want to talk about this.” 

Urban warfare and civilian casualties

For a comparison of the methods used by armed organizations and civilian casualties, the Palestinian attack on October 7 could be compared to the battle of Shuja’iya in 2014, described by Israeli participants in the battle in the report by Breaking the Silence, This is How We Fought in Gaza

Scott Ritter, on the program DD Geopolitics, described how the various decisions by Hamas’s armed wing could have been made. He compares October 7, 2023 with the World War 2 Normandy campaign and the battle for Cannes. The British and Canadians had hoped to seize the city in a day, but the Germans moved three divisions into the city and it was a “bad battle” in which tens of thousands of French civilians lost their lives. The British and Canadians, Ritter said, would “go in, throw a hand grenade, oops, family of six, sorry, too bad so sad, wrong place wrong time, keep going. Because if you pause and cry, you get killed.” Like the allies in Cannes, the Palestinian fighters were “being actively resisted – Israeli forces were surging into the area, they were making contact with Hamas, they met Hamas in the kibbutzim. It’s an active war zone. A lot of people died. And a lot of them were civilians caught in the crossfire.” 

On the question of the civilians captured by Hamas, Ritter elaborated. “Why did they remove the women and children?” Ritter described a mission, Operation Eagle Claw, when Delta Force attempted to rescue hostages held in Iran. As they were setting up, “a busload of religious pilgrims drove through the site after we had landed. We captured the bus. We couldn’t let them go. So we put them all on a C-130… we took them hostage for operational security reasons. Do you think it’s possible Hamas had these women and children and thought if we keep them alive they’re going to make a phone call, we’ve got to get them out with us. Do you think that could have happened? I don’t know… I’m not saying Hamas didn’t commit any atrocities. I’m not in a position to know. The Israelis have a lot of footage of Hamas fighters turning corners and shooting people. Is that terrorism? Is that terrorism or are they assaulting a military position, from their standpoint?” 

Reports of atrocities all source back to the Israeli military

Reports of atrocities all trace back to the Israeli military and are rejected by Hamas categorically. The worst reports – of sexual violence, decapitated babiesburned babies – are all sourced back to the Israeli military and reported by the corps of pro-genocide Western reporters. These include a report in the Daily Mail based on testimony from a pseudonymous morgue worker named Shari who said it was “worse than the holocaust”, a visit by a journalist to a forensic pathology center showing photos of hands, plastic bags, and unidentifiable burned remains, a screening of Go Pro footage to 100 pro-genocide reporters, and the like. In all of these, specifics are removed, ostensibly out of either respect or simply because the horror is too great – the result is to maintain the mystique of acts that are beyond human comprehension. Acts that also, according to these sources, took place during active battles with the Israeli military. 

As far as footage that does not trace back to the Israeli military: There is video footage – from cellphones, security cameras, etc. – of Palestinians looting and even engaging in undisciplined attacks on civilians. The men in these videos do not appear uniformed or equipped as Hamas’s armed wing or any of the other factions. There were men who left Gaza through the fence once it was destroyed and were caught on video engaging in crimes. It is possible that these individuals were responsible for the crimes that occurred, and not Hamas’s armed wing who were engaging with the Israeli army and police. 

Conclusion: What is known about October 7

Gathering these Western and Israeli sources: there were a series of attacks on October 7 by Hamas’s armed wing on military bases and fortified kibbutzes that resulted in gun battles in which many armed personnel and many civilians died. Many Israeli military personnel and civilians were taken captive. Hamas has said the civilians will be released unconditionally (and some have been) and the military personnel will be traded for Palestinian political prisoners in a prisoner exchange. 

The Israeli army also claims that Hamas’s armed wing committed atrocities, claims which Hamas rejects. There is footage from sources other than the Israeli military suggesting both that many Israelis died in crossfire and friendly fire incidents and that Palestinians who escaped from Gaza once the fence was breached committed looting and other crimes. 

Meanwhile the Kirbys and Bidens deny Palestinian casualty numbers. 

We are approaching complete polarization: soon no claims made by Palestinians will be believed by the pro-genocide Western bloc and no claims sourced to the Israeli military will be credible to the anti-genocide bloc. There will be no reason to talk to one another and no desire on either side to do so. 

It is too obvious to say, but this bodes ill for solutions based on dialogue or negotiation. 

The Israeli military’s claims of extraordinary and unfathomable atrocities on October 7 have become the principal justification for the current genocide, which is no exception to the historical rule that genocides are not built on facts, but on lies.

Justin Podur is a Toronto-based writer. You can find him on his website at podur.org and on Twitter @justinpodur. He teaches at York University in the Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change.

Originally published in The Anti-Empire Project

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