© 2023 KASU
Your Connection to Music, News, Arts and Views for 65 Years
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Examining who carried out the brutal violence in Israel three weeks ago

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Who were the militants who swept into Israel from Gaza and took part in the attacks that killed more than 1,400 men, women and children?

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: On the outside walls of this two-story house you see the graffiti of the men who attacked it.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Daniel Estrin who visited the scene of one massacre at the Israeli kibbutz, Be’eri. As the next chapter of the war is still unfolding with more than 6,000 Gazans killed in Israeli bombardments, we explore who carried out the brutal violence three weeks ago. Just a warning - some of the details are disturbing.

ESTRIN: Some of them have left their names - Mu'min. There's a message here that says victory and the names of the militant groups that attacked it. And it's not just Hamas. You see here the Al-Quds Brigades. That's the militant wing of Islamic Jihad, a smaller militant group inside Gaza, spray painted in blue and brown and green. It's pretty amazing that they actually left their names on the walls of the home that they attacked.

Many of the attackers were killed. Some are detained in Israel. Here's the story of a 25-year-old attacker named Mohammed from those who knew him well. They granted us interviews on condition of anonymity, afraid Israel could target them.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Non-English language spoken).

ESTRIN: This is Mohammed's neighbor. He'd known Mohammed for a long time. A producer for NPR, Abu Bakr Bashir, spoke with him.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Non-English language spoken).

ESTRIN: On October 8, a militant returned to Gaza with Mohammed's cellphone and personal effects and told Mohammed's family what happened. He said Mohammed had made it a mile or two inside Israel, and an Israeli aircraft shot him - five bullets to the chest, one near the neck. Mohammed recited a prayer before he died.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Non-English language spoken).

ESTRIN: The neighbor told us Mohammed had led a pretty ordinary life. He didn't finish his high school matriculation exam. He worked as a taxi driver. He got married, had lots of friends and family at his wedding, started a business selling food products. But everyone in the family and neighborhood knew he belonged to the militant wing of the Iranian-aligned Islamic Jihad.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Non-English language spoken).

ESTRIN: Mohammed's father told NPR "may God be merciful with him. To be a martyr is a huge thing, and this is what he pursued. I hope God accepts him as a martyr."

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Non-English language spoken).

ESTRIN: Experts tell us militant groups in Gaza recruit fighters as young as 17 years old. There's an estimated 20,000 fighters in Hamas and several thousand in Islamic Jihad. That's a tiny percentage of Gaza's population, but it shows many are drawn to this. We asked a political analyst in Gaza, Mkhaimar Abusada, why.

MKHAIMAR ABUSADA: Aggression against the Palestinians for the past 75 years I believe is the driving force behind why many Palestinian youth join Hamas and join the fight against Israel.

ESTRIN: The question of motives is hotly debated. Israeli officials say it's an ideology of hate that led to this moment. Abusada cites history. Most of Gaza descends from refugees uprooted from their homes in Israel's founding war. He cites the failed rounds of peace talks that drive support for armed resistance to Israel. Then there's the poverty and unemployment, the 16 years of a strict blockade on Gaza and its Hamas rulers. Militant groups offer people a steady salary and shape a worldview.

ABUSADA: Not every young Palestinian joining Hamas. I'm a regular Muslim. I pray five times a day. But I'm not the radical Muslim. But those who belong to Hamas, I think it becomes part of the socialization process, part of the education process. Hating the Jews or hating Israel as an occupier. And that probably explain the brutality that took place on the 7th of October.

(SOUNDBITE OF BROKEN GLASS SHIFTING)

ESTRIN: Three bullet holes in the glass door, more even.

We walked through some of the ravaged homes. Kitchens turned upside down, books and games and a walker strewn over the floors.

This is the television set on the floor.

The smell of a blood-soaked mattress.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Shouting in non-English language).

ESTRIN: Israel's army has collected footage of the attacks in real time. It shows both methodical and erratic behavior.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Shouting in non-English language).

ESTRIN: And a warning - the details are graphic. Gunmen waited for a car to approach and open a kibbutz gate, then shot the driver and infiltrated. But there's also heavy breathing, yelling instructions and an attempted beheading with a garden hoe. The military says some of the men were on drugs. Gaza expert Samir Ghattas told us some were professionally trained.

SAMIR GHATTAS: (Non-English language spoken).

ESTRIN: Ghattas runs the Middle East Forum for Strategic Studies and National Security based in Cairo. He believes elite combatants traveled on false passports to countries like Lebanon or Iran, where they learned the combat methods of the Iran-backed militia, Hezbollah. He believes they returned to Gaza to train the squads who carried out the attacks.

GHATTAS: (Non-English language spoken).

ESTRIN: The Israeli army wouldn't confirm that but claims there was Iranian involvement.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Non-English language spoken).

ESTRIN: This week, Israel released interrogation videos. Detained attackers say their orders were to kill and to take a lot of hostages. This man says whoever brought back a hostage was promised $10,000 and a free apartment. Hamas leaders say they want a grand prisoner exchange to free Palestinians in Israeli jails. Mideast researcher Harel Chorev at Tel Aviv University says the goal is bigger.

HAREL CHOREV: The belief that Israel and Israeli society can be broken by such acts. People will leave. People will emigrate back to their original places as they always believe that all of us should go back to Germany and Poland and whatever, even if we are from Morocco. And so it's really to break our spirit.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: (Non-English language spoken).

ESTRIN: Israel released this recording it says is a phone call during the attacks from a son to his family back in Gaza. "Ten Jews. I killed 10, Mom."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: (Non-English language spoken).

ESTRIN: You hear a woman crying, "oh, my son, may God protect you." A man's voice says, "enough. Come back, come back."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: (Non-English language spoken).

ESTRIN: "What do you mean, come back," the son says, "there is no coming back. It's either martyrdom or victory."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: (Non-English language spoken).

ESTRIN: Was he killed or detained in Israel? Did he return to his family in Gaza? Israel hasn't said. What we know is that his family, like every other family in Gaza and Israel, now face the consequences of yet another war.

Daniel Estrin, NPR news, kibbutz Be'eri.

(SOUNDBITE OF BRAMBLES' "TO SPEAK OF SOLITUDE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.