By Jonathan Freedland * – The Guardian, OtherNews

Six months after the attacks of 7 October, and it’s time to count again the losses. They begin with the dead, with the 1,200 Israelis killed on that day and the estimated 33,000 Palestinians killed in the 182 days since. Some are sceptical of a Gaza figure that comes from a health ministry controlled by Hamas – while others suspect those numbers are, if anything, an underestimate, fearing that many thousands of uncounted Palestinian dead lie under the rubble.

Then you have to reckon with those who were neither Israeli nor Palestinian, but outsiders who wanted to help and paid for that kindness with their lives – like six of the seven aid workers of World Central Kitchen who were killed in three separate strikes from an Israeli drone this week. But the tally of suffering does not end with the dead. It must include the pain of maimed and orphaned Palestinians, and of the 134 Israelis and others who have spent the past six months held hostage, many presumed to be imprisoned underground, with some tortured and sexually abused.

The accounting of all that agony could last a lifetime and still it would not be enough. But any audit of this vicious half-year has to go wider still. The impact of the six-day war of 1967 is felt to this day, marking out the territories that remain under Israeli occupation. So what might be the lasting consequences of this six-month war? Who will emerge weaker and who stronger? At first glance, you might assume Hamas would be disappointed by the results of its murderous efforts on 7 October. It had high ambitions: this week, a former Gaza official revealed that the Hamas leaders were so convinced “that they were going to bring Israel down that they started dividing Israel into cantons, for the day after the conquest”. (They approached that ex-official to be a canton governor.) It did not pan out that way. Instead, Hamas’s rampage through southern Israel brought hellfire down on the people of Gaza, provoking an Israeli response that has left a staggering 2% of the population dead and displaced the rest.

That scale of destruction won’t unduly trouble the zealots at the top of Hamas: the death of others is a sacrifice they are willing to make. But they will lament the losses among their own: an estimated 10,000 men, more than a third of their fighting force, along with three battalion commanders and seven members of the ruling political bureau, according to Michael Milshtein, the former senior intelligence officer widely regarded as Israel’s foremost expert on Hamas. The group has lost or used up almost all its arsenal of rockets – and, its greatest disappointment, the action failed to spark the wider regional onslaught against Israel it dreamed of.

And yet, Hamas will regard itself as anything but the loser in the six-month war. For all of Benjamin Netanyahu’s talk of the “total defeat” of Hamas, it is still standing. Most of its key Gaza leaders remain alive and present; it is still “the prominent actor in Gaza”, Milshtein told me, adding that there is no realistic prospect any of the mooted alternatives will take its place. Despite all that the people of Gaza have endured, their approval of Hamas’s role in the war stands at 70%, according to the veteran Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki. Still, the chief source of the satisfaction Hamas will be feeling, six months on from 7 October, lies elsewhere – not in what’s happened to it, but rather in what’s happened to its mortal enemy: Israel.

In the immediate aftermath of 7 October, the country enjoyed widespread – though not universal – sympathy, especially from western governments. Joe Biden rushed to Tel Aviv, to sit with the bereaved and to stand with their leaders. But look at the picture now. Israel has never been more isolated. The president of the United States, which for decades has been Israel’s genuinely indispensable ally, is so “outraged” – his word – at Israel’s killing of those aid workers that on Thursday night he issued a barely veiled ultimatum to the country’s prime minister: do as I say or there will be no more arms. The threat is hardly empty: other western allies have already cut off weapons supplies or are considering it.

Those governments are responding to a global mood they can no longer ignore. Because it’s not Israel’s perennial critics who are denouncing the country; it’s Israel’s friends. In Britain, the WCK killings saw Lord Ricketts, a former UK national security adviser who earlier served Tony Blair, demand a suspension of arms sales. His call was echoed throughout the Conservative party, in a letter from hundreds of lawyers, including several former justices of the supreme court, and by usually pro-Israel, right-leaning voices in the media. When you’ve lost Nick Ferrari, who can regularly be seen acting as MC at major UK Jewish charity events, you know you’re alone.

Some in Israel will hope the current outrage is narrowly focused on Monday’s appalling incident. But that’s not quite right. For one thing, the conduct that led to those seven deaths is hardly a one-off – it’s just that this time the victims were not all Palestinian. As the much-admired defence analyst Amos Harel wrote in Haaretz this week, the WCK killings are “a symptom of a broader phenomenon” in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), a carelessness or worse “when it comes to shooting near civilians” and “a serious discipline problem” that has led to “many violations of the laws of war”.

For six months, Israel has asked for the world’s understanding, trying to explain that it faces an exceptional enemy – one that hides underground, among and underneath a civilian population, and thinks nothing of firing rockets and missiles from hospitals, schools and mosques. For that reason, foreign governments have granted Israel a rare patience. But that has now run out. And much of it comes down to the decisions Israel took not on combat, but on aid.

Amid the slaughter and with famine looming, Israel’s allies must say enough is enough. If not now, when? Even those allies who, like Biden, accepted that Israel’s war on Hamas would come at an unbearably heavy price could see no logic or justification in a pattern of restrictions and obstacles that inflicts suffering not on Hamas, but on ordinary Palestinians. Anger at the shortages of food and medicine, at the warnings of an avoidable famine, reached breaking point following Monday’s killings. After Biden’s demarche, Netanyahu promised to change and to open new aid crossings into Gaza – though there was a promise of a “flood” of aid from Israel last month, and it never came.

The result is that Israel, whose founders longed to be a light unto the nations, stands today as a leper among the nations. Many Israelis are barely aware of the change: their media don’t show the war the rest of the world sees and deplores. They are focused instead on the threatened retaliation from Tehran, which could come at any moment after Israel’s assassination of two Iranian generals in Damascus earlier this week, and the looming peril of Hezbollah’s arsenal across the northern border. And, frozen by the failure to bring the hostages home – the focus of growing anti-Netanyahu protests – they remain caught in the trauma of 7 October, replaying the horror of that day, the deadliest in Israel’s history, over and over again.

I don’t blame the Israeli public for that. But I do blame their leaders. Even if they did nothing to address the root causes of the conflict, their job was to transcend the rage and terror of that moment, to think calmly and strategically even amid the panic. To realise in that moment that their fight was with Hamas, not the entire population of Gaza. Instead, they have sown hatred in the hearts of a new generation, and they have made lonely a country that cannot function alone. So, no, there are no winners in this dreadful war. But Hamas can enjoy a wicked smile of satisfaction: it laid a deadly trap – and Benjamin Netanyahu led Israel right into it.

On the cover photo, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ©noamgalai/


* Jonathan Freedland is a Guardian columnist and the host of the Guardian’s Politics Weekly America podcast. He also presents BBC Radio 4’s The Long View and is the author of the award-winning The Escape Artist: The Man Who Broke Out of Auschwitz to Warn the World, along with several thrillers under the pseudonym Sam Bourne