The Sukkot Massacres — How did we get here?

Ed Lander
The Psychograph
Published in
12 min readOct 13, 2023
IDF soldiers retrieve bodies near the Gaza security fence after the Hamas massacre on October 7th 2023

On Saturday the 7th October, at the end of the annual Sukkot festival, the Gaza based militant organisation, Hamas, launched a devastating surprise attack on southern Israel, called Operation Al-Aqsa Flood; after firing thousands of rockets into Israel, the Gaza militants breached the Gaza strip security fence, using heavy vehicles, and poured into Israel, beginning a series of massacres in Southern Israel, including the Re’im music festival massacre, the Kfar Aza massacre and the Be’eri massacre. Finally the militants took hundreds of Israelis hostage and returned to the Gaza strip. It took days for the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) to regain control of the communities in Southern Israel and flush out the remaining Hamas militants. Meanwhile the death toll kept increasing and currently stands at over 1300 Israelis killed, including soldiers, policemen and civilians, and many more seriously injured.

Obviously this catastrophe has rocked the Israelis, but also the international community. In many ways the attack is a watershed moment for the Israelis; even with Israel’s long history of wars with its neighbours and repeated flare ups with armed groups in the Gaza strip, Syria and Lebanon, this is the deadliest day in Israeli history since the Yom Kippur war back in 1973. People are already drawing parallels with the September the 11th terrorist attacks in the United States in 2001, which resulted in the deaths of thousands of Americans, after passenger aeroplanes were hijacked by Al Qaeda terrorists — working in collaboration with handlers abroad — and piloted into internationally recognised buildings across the United States, including the World Trade Centre ‘Twin Towers’ in New York City and the Pentagon in Virginia — home to the United States Department of Defence. In the same way that the 9/11 attacks forced people all around the world to ask themselves difficult questions and to try and understand why anyone would do such a thing, the Sukkot Massacres will likely force a new generation to ask similar questions …

Back in 2001, the world watched in shock and horror as the World Trade Centre towers collapsed in front of their eyes, and those trapped by the fires inside the buildings jumped to their deaths in desperation. These symbols of American international trade, business prowess and financial expertise — these icons of the New York skyline — disappeared forever in a matter of hours, again much to the shock and disbelief of audiences around the world and the people of New York City. The alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, Osama bin Laden, was very open about his hatred of the Western world and in particular its support for regimes that he felt oppressed Muslims, including Israel, Russia, India and the Philippines. In response to the attacks the United States significantly increased its security protocols on airliners entering its airspace, as well as airport security protocols and has avoided a repeat of the 9/11 attacks on its soil to this day.

Also, in the aftermath of 9/11, the United States launched its so called ‘War on Terror’, which led to the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan — a country that allowed Al Qaeda terrorists to train within its borders in the notoriously difficult terrains on the Pakistan border — as well as Iraq, whom we were told was in allegiance with Al Qaeda and possessed ‘weapons of mass destruction’ that could target the United States and its allies at short notice. Of course we now know that Saddam Hussein was not involved in the Al Qaeda terrorist attack on September 11th and that those weapons of mass destruction, or WMDs, didn’t actually exist in Iraq. And we also now know that the trauma of the 9/11 attacks was leveraged by cynical politicians in the United States and the United Kingdom to topple Saddam Hussein and ‘liberate’ Iraq’s oil fields by over-stating and exaggerating Iraq’s threat to the Western world as part of the so called ‘Axis of Evil’. But that is another subject — this article is about Israel and Hamas, and why there is such mutual hatred between the militant group that runs the Gaza strip and its sworn enemies across the Gaza security fence …

First we need to look at Gaza and Hamas. Gaza is small, narrow enclave that borders Israel, Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea (see map below). However Gaza is not a free country — it’s a densely populated strip of land that is subject to massive restrictions on trade and the movement of people. In fact both Israel and Egypt tightly control the crossings into the Gaza strip; Israel also has control over Gaza’s airspace and imposes a naval blockade that restricts the movement of people and goods in and out of the Gaza Strip by sea and air. In essence it is the world’s largest open air prison — a prison with a population of 2 million people, and a prison where Gazans are almost totally dependent on the outside world for food, water and energy. Most live in poverty and the unemployment rate is almost 50%. The Israelis formally withdrew from Gaza in 2005, however many people still consider Gaza as part of the Israeli occupied territories owing to the effective blockade and restrictions on trade and movement of people by the Israeli state and military apparatus.

Map of the Gaza Strip (Source: Wikipedia)

Over the years, many Palestinians have fled Gaza and the occupied territories in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and now live as refugees in neighbouring countries, such as Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt. The large refugee community of Palestinians in the Middle East, and around the world, has given a voice to one of the most marginalised and deprived communities in the world, who are totally dependent on foreign aid for their survival. It’s a miserable existence in the Gaza strip and many young people channel their anger and desperation into violence and join the numerous militant groups, such as Islamic Jihad and Hamas. Others are simply overwhelmed by their despair and choose to end their lives within the Gaza strip itself.

However the Palestinians are not alone, and receive large sums of aid from various organisations and nations, including the United Nations, the United States, the European Union, and Arab states, in particular Qatar and Egypt. Iran has also been a vocal supporter, as well as a financial backer of Hamas for many years, and shares its aims to undermine the Israeli state and end the occupation in Israel and Gaza. Many now see Hamas, in the Gaza strip, as well as Hezbollah — in Southern Lebanon — effectively as proxy forces for Iran, allowing it to wield significant influence in the region and apply pressure on the Israelis — in particular around the disputed territories in East Jerusalem and the holy site of the Al Aqsa mosque —one of the holiest sites in the Muslim world — where there have been clashes in recent years. In fact some senior Iranian officials have been openly praising the Sukkot massacres, and some suspect their direct involvement in the attacks.

Of course, violence and flare-ups between Israelis and Palestinians have been sadly commonplace over the years, and the Israeli Defence Forces are never shy at punishing the population of Gaza, with targeted missile strikes, whenever violence boils over in the West Bank or East Jerusalem or, of course, in response to rocket fire from the Gaza strip itself into communities across Israel. Often the international community responds in shock and horror at the devastation wrought by the IDF in its often-times heavy handed military responses, leaving whole neighbourhoods of Gaza completely levelled, and with heavy civilian casualties — seen in Israel as a core element of their military ‘deterrence’ strategy. In fact it is often only when cries from the international community reach a crescendo or, as we’ve seen in recent years, that accusations of are made of ‘disproportionate’ use of force, that the bombardments of Gaza cease. It is plain to see that the cycle of violence between the Israelis and Palestinians is long standing and doesn’t look likely to end anytime soon …

It’s now time to look at the Israeli Palestinian conflict through a historical lens. The state of Israel was founded in the aftermath of the Second World War, not least the horrors of the Holocaust, and established the nation state of Israel on the historic lands of Palestine or, as it was called back then, British Mandatory Palestine (in the colonial era of the British Empire) — see the first map below. In its nascent years Israel faced frequent attacks from its Arab neighbours and was involved in many wars, including most notably the 1948 Arab–Israeli War and the 1967 Six-Day War. Throughout its early years, the United States stood steadfast with the Israelis, providing them with large amounts of foreign aid, in support of their cause, in support of their shared values and in support of an ally in a geopolitically significant resource rich region of the world. In fact, as the chart below shows, Israel has been the largest recipient of US foreign aid since the Second World War, according to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Source: United States Agency for International Development

Under the United States’ stewardship, the areas of Mandatory Palestine controlled by the Israelis continued to grow. In 1947 the United Nations proposed a peace plan upon the withdrawal of the British forces from Palestine, as shown in the second map below. This proposal was accepted by the Jewish settlers, however resoundingly rejected by the Palestinians and Arab community. Over time the Israelis managed to capture more Palestinian lands, and even also take territory from neighbouring countries including the west bank of Jordan and the contested Golan Heights, from Syria, during the so called ‘Six Day War’ of 1967. Today, when people talk about the occupied territories in Israel, they are usually referring to the so called pre-1967 borders of Israel, or the ‘Green Line’, as shown in the third map below. However, fast forward to today, and the situation is radically different — the West bank has been carved up into ever diminishing Palestinian enclaves, surrounded by Israeli settlements, which are seen as illegal under international law — as shown in the fourth map below.

It should also be noted that Egypt has been the second largest recipient of US foreign aid. And it’s no secret that the Egyptian military is effectively funded by the United States, and is the largest and most powerful military in the Arab world. So this means that the two countries bordering the Gaza strip are the largest recipients of foreign aid from the United States since World War Two. It would follow then that surely the United States would be in the best position to provide a solution to the Israeli — Palestinian conflict …

Mandatory Palestine in 1946 (Source: Wikipedia)
1947 UN Mandatory Palestine Partition Plan (Source: Wikipedia)
The pre-1967 Israel borders or ‘Green Line’ (Source: Wikipedia)
West Bank settlements (Source: BBC)

The United States has been involved in attempted peace deals in the Middle East, and in Israel and Palestine, in various administrations. In fact almost every administration has a flagship Middle East peace plan that regrettably hits roadblocks. Notable successes include President Bill Clinton’s administration’s efforts, and the signing of the Oslo Peace Accords in 1993, which was supposed to be the blueprint to implement a two-state solution in Israel and Palestine. However this blueprint was not implemented, and the Israelis continued to take control of more and more Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, much to the frustration of the Palestinians, especially those whose homes were demolished and who communities were displaced. During President Donald Trump’s years in office, he tried to make a historic deal, whereby the Israelis would effectively pay reparations to the Palestinians, offering them land in the south of Israel in exchange for East Jerusalem — Trump’s so called ‘Deal of the century’. Not surprisingly, as this deal was seemingly not negotiated with Palestinian input, it was resoundingly rejected by the Palestinian leadership — ‘Jerusalem is not for sale’, famously said the ageing Fatah President, Mahmoud Abbas, to the United Nations …

Coming back to the subject of foreign aid, in more recent years, more American citizens have started to question why the United States continues to give so much aid to Israel — a technologically advanced so called ‘liberal democracy’, with a thriving technology sector and a modern armed forces. It was some very brave authors who, in 2007, went sharply against the political consensus and published the ground-breaking book The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy — a book that made cogent arguments that the United States often pursues foreign policy objectives that run counter to its national interest, and went further to expose powerful lobby groups in the United States that attempt to influence senior US politicians into making United States foreign policy more favourable to their interests. One such powerful lobby group is the pro-Israel lobby, a collection of predominantly Christian and Jewish pro-Israel and Zionist lobby groups. One of the most famous and best known pro-Israel lobby groups is the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). According to, AIPAC alone was the fourth highest spending Political Action Committee (PAC) during the 2022 election cycle. They were also by far and away the largest contributors to political candidates in the 2022 election cycle among all of the registered pro-Israel lobby groups, with $23 million out of a total of $44 million recorded. By comparison, the Gun Rights lobby contributed around $14.5 million in total, with the National Rifle Association (NRA) contributing around $6 million alone. And, contrasting with industry campaign donations, the defence contractors donated roughly $33 million, the energy industry around $190 million, the technology industries donated nearly $350 million and the finance industry a whopping $1.6bn. The Open Secrets data also shows that the political donations are spread fairly evenly across both Democratic and Republican parties and candidates, so regardless of the outcome of the Presidential elections, the goal of these lobby groups is to ensure that every United States administration remains in favour of Israel, even if this is at odds with public sentiment across the United States.

Coming back to Israel, and specifically the current political climate, long-time Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has formed the most right-wing coalition of his political career, bringing ultra-orthodox and far-right Jewish nationalist extremists into his government. Not surprisingly these groups support aggressive expansion of settlements in the occupied West Bank and have been a contributing factor to recent flare-ups in violence in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, in particular around the contested grounds of the Al-Aqsa Mosque — a particular flash point with Palestinians, who see the Al-Aqsa compound exclusively as a Muslim holy site, despite Jewish claims to the site and desires for freedom of worship alongside Muslims. It doesn’t take much for tensions to boil over in Israel, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza strip, and the recent massacres in Southern Israel are a stark reminder of the volatility in the region and the fragility of peace in a part of the world so often fraught with conflict.

Clearly now, more than ever, there is a climate of fear and mistrust between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and the hatred against Hamas is palpable — and rightly so. Therefore it is up to the international community to try to prevent further escalations and work towards meaningful and sustainable peace in the region. It is likely that these attacks will also derail efforts of a peace deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia, and the timing is certainly difficult to ignore. However, unfortunately, without meaningfully addressing the grievances of the Palestinian population in Israel and the occupied territories, there will likely be more catastrophes like the one we witnessed on 7th October 2023 …