Most Israelis want Hamas crushed despite Gaza casualties, UN rebuke

By Ilan Rosenberg and Frank Jack Daniel

JERUSALEM (Reuters) -Israeli citizens said on Wednesday the army should not back off its unrelenting offensive to crush Hamas, despite the U.N. General Assembly’s ceasefire call, the growing list of troop casualties and a spiralling Palestinian death toll in Gaza.

Israel’s military suffered one of the deadliest days in the two-month-old Gaza war on Tuesday, with a colonel among 10 soldiers killed, bringing the toll to 115 – almost double the number killed during clashes in the coastal enclave nine years ago.

And with much of the enclave laid to waste, conditions dire and more than 18,500 Palestinians killed in the Israeli army’s air and ground assault, U.S. President Joe Biden said the “indiscriminate” bombing of Gazan civilians was costing Israel international support.

Polls in recent weeks show overwhelming backing for the war despite the rising human costs. Six Israelis who spoke to Reuters on Wednesday said now was not the time back down, regardless of fading global sympathy reflected in Tuesday’s U.N resolution.

Hamas’ killing of about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, on Oct. 7 revived something Israel previously felt when Arabs staged a surprise attack in 1973 – fears that its neighbours and enemies could do away with the Jewish nation all together, said political scientist Tamar Hermann.

“The sense of the people is that this is a threat to the very existence of Israel,” said Hermann, of the Israel Democracy Institute, which conducts regular opinion polls on the war. She said that people were prepared for more deaths of soldiers.

Speaking in Jerusalem, retiree Ben Zion Levinger said Israel’s enemies would view any slowdown in fighting Hamas as a sign of weakness.

“If we don’t take this fight to the end, then tomorrow morning we’ll have battles in the north and in the east and the south and maybe Iran. Therefore, we have no choice,” said Levinger, a former IT worker.

Although the cost was “terrible,” the goal of the military operation was the total destruction of Hamas infrastructure in Gaza, Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee chair Yuli Edelstein said in an interview.

Hamas said the killing of soldiers on Tuesday showed Israel would never achieve its war goals in Gaza. “The longer you stay there, the greater the bill of your deaths and losses will be, and you will emerge from it carrying the tail of disappointment and loss, God willing.”


After a week-long pause in hostilities in November, more than three-quarters of Israelis said the offensive should resume without adjustments that would reduce either Palestinian civilian casualties or international pressure, according to a poll conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute.

Israeli media reporting of the war dwells less on the civilian cost in Gaza than international coverage does. Hermann said that while views on Palestinian casualties varied depending on Israelis’ political leanings, some people felt the deaths were an acceptable price to pay for future security.

“There is a sense of first revenge, mainly on the right, and on the left and the centre they see it as I would say secondary to the achievements of the war … it is being perceived as collateral damage.”

Only 10% of Israelis thought the army was using too much firepower, according to a Tel Aviv University poll conducted in late October among 609 respondents, with a 4.2% margin of error.

Jerusalem resident Adam Saville, who works at a non-profit academic institution, said Israel was doing what it could to avoid killing non-combatants.

“It’s awful. It’s awful that there are so many civilian casualties, he said. “But this is war, and that’s what happens in war.”


Along with capturing or killing the Hamas commanders who planned the Oct. 7 rampage through Kibbutzim and a rave in Israel, a goal of Israel’s war is to bring back the hostages grabbed by the militants and taken to Gaza.

Israel says at least 19 of the 135 remaining hostages are dead, and two bodies were recovered this week. Around 100 of the hostages were released during a week-long truce in November.

Portraits of the hostages with the slogan “bring them home” are pasted on walls and bus stops and projected on public buildings across Israel.

Israelis have proven willing in the past to make concessions to free hostages or spare their troops’ lives, but Oct. 7, the deadliest single incident in Israel’s 75-year-old history, has hardened opinions.

Unsurprisingly given the unstable situation, polling shows Israelis are unsure what a long-term solution would look like. However, the Israel Democracy Institute survey says more than 40% of citizens think the country should pursue the creation of a separate Palestinian state after the war.

In a possible sense of the mood, almost 60% of Israelis, including 40% of Arab Israelis, cited destroying Hamas in any way possible as the most important goal of the war, according to the Tel Aviv University poll.

Around a third said bringing the hostages home was the main goal.

“Right now, we didn’t achieve neither the first nor the second,” said Hermann. “Most people are ready to continue until the point where at least one of the major aims is achieved.”

(Reporting by Ilan Rosenberg and Frank Jack Daniel; Additional reporting by Dan Williams; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Lisa Shumaker)