‘If not for Hamas we could live with Palestinians’: Conversations in Israel

The events of October 7 shook Israeli society to its core.

Within hours, Israel had launched a relentless aerial bombardment of Gaza. Within days, hundreds of thousands of reservists had been called up for service. Within weeks, a ground operation of the enclave was under way.

Israel said its goal was to destroy Hamas and free the captives taken along by its fighters to Gaza. Western observers doubled down on the label of “terrorist” to describe Hamas and #HamasisISIS trended on social media, comparing the group with the armed group ISIL (ISIS).

Announcing myself as an Al Jazeera journalist became steadily more difficult. Many people in Israel viewed it as the “voice of the enemy”, as one man told me. Others just politely declined to speak.

Around Israel, people who did agree to speak to me described what they felt was an irrevocable change after October 7 in who they perceived as “the enemy”. Often, it was specifically Hamas, but sometimes it was a broader grouping: Palestinians, Arabs or Muslims.

The day their lives changed

Shaded from the unforgiving sun by a hulking concrete seaside hotel, adults reclined on rickety benches, children shrieked with laughter as they chased each other in a tumble-down courtyard in the southern Israeli city of Eilat on a sweltering November afternoon.

All members of the same family, they had been evacuated from their homes near the Gaza Strip as Israel’s assault continued.

They recalled the fear they felt on October 7. It was a day that changed their lives forever, they said; now they were in limbo, waiting for their area to be deemed safe enough to return.

Nachum, a man in his 30s, said he lost one of his best friends at the Supernova festival, an electronic music event held in southern Israel that was attacked by Hamas fighters on October 7. An Israeli police report stated that 364 people were killed at the festival and 40 were kidnapped.

“Do you think it will be a long war,” I asked him. “I hope so because I want Gaza gone,” he replied definitively.

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