One hundred days ago, the previously unthinkable happened in Israel. A state born out of adversity and war only 75 years ago, woke up to what some have since described as a threat to its very existence.
On Saturday night in Tel Aviv, the events of 7 October were commemorated by thousands of people. Uppermost on the minds of everyone were the around 130 hostages abducted by Hamas and still being held in Gaza, although some of them may not be alive anymore.
Just after dawn 100 days ago, thousands of heavily armed Hamas fighters stormed through and over the Gaza border fence in several different places.
They attacked kibbutzim, military bases and border towns, accustomed to rocket attacks from Gaza but overwhelmed by the scale of the Hamas incursion.
At least 1 200 people were killed along the length of the border as Israeli defences were caught completely by surprise.
Images of hundreds of young music lovers fleeing for their lives at the Nova festival shook Israel to its core. More than 360 people were killed at the festival site and dozens more abducted to Gaza.
Among those at the huge commemorative event in Tel Aviv were families of the disappeared, carrying posters and wearing T-shirts featuring the faces of their loved ones.
I spoke to Yossi Schneider – a cousin of Shiri Bibas, who was kidnapped along with her two young children and husband.
“There are 130 people, mainly civilians being held without medicines and the Red Cross is not even being allowed to visit them,” says Yossi, angered that the wider family has received little information on their physical or mental welfare.
“There are three generations of my family that disappeared. Three generations of my family! And the world is keeping silent and asking us to stay calm. I cannot take it anymore,” he adds, tired and clearly frustrated.
Most people here would say that 7 October was the biggest threat ever faced by Israel and that Israelis have never felt so vulnerable.
While the safe return of the hostages is their absolute priority, many also agree with their government’s war aims in Gaza and few voices are calling for tolerance and coexistence. As Israel’s shaken defence establishment eventually responded to what was happening in the south as Saturday 7 October drew to a close, the Israeli military embarked on an unprecedented bombing campaign in Gaza – its stated goal: the complete destruction of Hamas and its support structure.
Much of the territory, from Gaza city in the north to Khan Younis in the south, has since been destroyed.
Israel says Hamas has been severely weakened and, according to the Israeli military, rendered almost inoperable as an organised force in northern Gaza.
But the number of civilians killed in the Israeli bombardment has been huge. More than 23 000 have been killed, according to the Hamas-run health ministry, many of them women and children. Thousands more are believed to be dead under rubble.
Palestinian officials say that 85% of Gaza’s population has been displaced. While more aid is now getting into Gaza, the UN’s humanitarian chief has described the situation as “intolerable”.
Faten Abu Shahada needs regular kidney dialysis which is one reason why she and her family have been forced to move south. Home for Faten and the kids is now a plastic tent in Khan Younis – the sound of an Israeli drone overhead their constant companion.
“Gaza has been destroyed. There’s no Gaza left – no hospitals, no education,” says Faten. “Our children have lost their school year, Gaza is no longer alive.”
Israel is coming under increasing international pressure to consider a ceasefire or pause in Gaza, such is the scale of the civilian suffering.
Even its closest ally, the US, which consistently defends Israel’s right to self defence and to prevent a repetition of 7 October, has repeatedly told prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the civilian death toll is “far too high”.
President Joe Biden has spoken of Israel’s “indiscriminate bombing”, which he said meant the country was losing support around the world.
Gideon Levy is a columnist for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz and a frequent critic of Netanyahu. I asked him if this war – already Israel’s longest since 1948 – would soon come to a conclusion.
“The war in its current shape will last as long as Americans will allow Israel (to do it),” says Levy.
“I don’t think it will be many weeks more. But that doesn’t mean that the war is over because nobody has thought about the day after.
“If Israel doesn’t pull out of Gaza, there will be resistance. And if there is resistance, there will be retaliation.”
As Israeli troops continue to attack Hamas positions in central and southern Gaza, ending the war seems to be far from Netanyahu’s intentions.
Israel says the fighting will not end until Hamas is completely defeated. The immediate future across the region, and especially for thousands of civilians living in appalling conditions in Gaza, looks particularly bleak. -BBC News
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