Avner Falk
Clinical and political psychologist and psychohistorian

How and why the Gaza war broke out

The world seems at a loss to understand how a relatively small and weak group like Hamas could wreak such havoc in our well armed country, with its sophisticated weaponry and high tech intelligence. An American cousin, horrified by the invasion of the Hamas murderers and by the atrocities they had commuted in Israel, wrote me a couple of days after the war broke out, “This is not easily understood with all the protective technology Israel has in place.” I wrote her back,“ I thought I might share with you my understanding of the causes of the tragic war that we are living through right now, which was by no means inevitable.”

In my view, chief among the psychological causes of this war are our own denial of reality and our collective narcissism (ethnocentrism).

The Hamas fighters who invaded our country on October 7 had trained for their deadly attack for many months under the very eyes of our soldiers, who were stationed right above them on our border with the Gaza Strip. Their leaders had announced loudly and in public their intention to carry out this attack. A reserve general in our army, Itzhak Brik, had warned us publicly many times and in every possible medium of what was going to happen to us, urging us to be vigilant and to take preventive security measures. But the leaders of our government and of our army did not want to believe that Hamas was capable of carrying out such an attack. They had shut their eyes and numbed their brains, letting themselves be carried away by their own feelings of superiority.

Hamas is an Arabic acronym for “the Islamic resistance movement.” The Hamas “freedom fighters” had convinced themselves that they were heroes resisting Israeli oppression, whereas in the view of most normal people they are brutal murderers committing atrocities, slaughtering children, women, old people, young people, even entire families, with incredible cruelty and savagery

This is the worst failure of our military intelligence since the Yom Kippur War of 1973. It is no coincidence that the Hamas leaders chose the fiftieth anniversary of that war to launch their attack. They sought to repeat the surprise and the victory of that war, as they saw them. They now feel victorious. They are proud of their “martyred” shuhadah (the plural of shaheed), an Arabic word meaning “witnesses” and based on their belief that the fighters who are killed in a jihad witness and testify to the triumph of the Islamic religion. They have no doubt that their shuhadah are in paradise, sitting next to Allah and served by 72 huriyah, an Arabic word meaning “splendid companions with most beautiful eyes and a modest gaze.”

Hundreds of Israeli families are in severe emotional crisis, not knowing whether their loved ones are dead or taken hostage. Hamas has taken dozens of Israeli hostages, whom it will not release until Israel frees the thousands of Arab terrorists in its prisons who have Israeli blood on their hands. These hostages may be murdered if Israel invades the Gaza Strip in an attempt to remove Hamas.

A professor of Islamic law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem who had received a copy of the above text has asked me, “Can you be more precise about being vigilant and taking preventive security measures”? I answered him, “Thank you for your question. While you are an expert on Islamic law, which I am not, I have published a book about Islamic terror, and I shall try to answer your question. As the Israeli reserve army general Itzhak Brik had pointed out long before this war broke out, being vigilant and taking preventive security measures means stationing tanks, heavy artillery and mobile military forces at all the gates and passages between the Gaza Strip and Israel, stationing combat units in all the Israeli towns and villages surrounding the Gaza Strip, making frequent surprise checks at the staff units of all the military units in that area to make sure they are on their toes, replacing every commander who is not vigilant, and taking every other necessary measure to prevent another surprise attack of the kind we saw two days ago.”

The Israeli siege of the Gaza Strip, ever since Hamas took control of that tiny and very densely populated area by force in 2007, is a major psychological cause of this war as well. I therefore continued my message to the Islamic law expert, “Needless to say, this does not rule out lifting the Israeli siege of the Gaza Strip and trying to reach an accommodation with its Islamic rulers and, if that proves impossible, invading the Strip and replacing them with moderate ones. I realize that the latter option is extraordinarily hard, risky, dangerous, and costly but, if there is no other way to prevent another attack like the current one, it must be done. Israel just cannot afford another attack like this, with one thousand of its citizens murdered and two and a half thousand injured, many gravely, and with hundreds of Israeli families in a severe crisis, not knowing whether their loved ones are alive or dead. Since then, the number of casualties has risen daily. We now have over one thousand Israelis killed and almost three thousand wounded, many of them severely.

All these horrors could have been avoided if our leaders had not been in massive denial and if they had not underestimated our enemies and overestimated our own military prowess and preparedness. The British Jewish psychologist Norman Frank Dixon (1922-2013), who lost an arm while serving with the British army during the Allied invasion of Normandy in 1944, explained this tragic phenomenon nearly fifty years ago in his classic book On The Psychology of Military Incompetence.

I concluded my message to the Islamic law professor, “Last but not least, the danger from Hezbollah in the north of Israel is many times greater than that from Hamas in the south. They have tens of thousands of well-trained and deeply motivated combat fighters who fervently hate us and do not fear death. The above measures advocated by General Brik must be implemented at once in the entire area bordering Lebanon if we are not to witness a much more tragic war with ten times the casualties of the present one.”

If you are interested in going deeper into the causes of this tragic war, you may wish to look up my books Fratricide in the Holy Land (see and Islamic Terror (see

About the Author
Please see