TEL AVIV—As Hamas terrorists carried out a highly choreographed massacre in Israel on Oct. 7, they received a source of support that amplified the horror that took place that day. A mob of ordinary Palestinians spontaneously joined in what became the deadliest pogrom against Jews since the Holocaust, according to videos, eyewitness accounts, and the Israel Defense Forces.
Whereas the Hamas terrorists wore uniforms and carried military-grade weapons, the Gazans who followed them into the Jewish state were dressed as civilians and mostly unarmed, two officials from Israel's devastated Gaza border region said. Young men with knives, overweight dads, and at least one elderly man on crutches were among those who exploited Hamas's rampage to create a second wave of carnage that rivaled the barbarism of the professional terrorists.
The IDF declined to provide details about non-Hamas Gazans’s involvement in the Oct. 7 attack. But IDF spokesman Jonathan Conricus confirmed to the Washington Free Beacon that large numbers of Gazans who were not members of any terrorist group entered Israel and participated in the atrocities.
"They did what you say they did," Conricus said.
The extent to which the Gazan public took part in Hamas's campaign of terror has yet to be fully understood even in Israel. But for the communities near Israel's Gaza border—home to many of the country's remaining peaceniks—firsthand knowledge of what their Palestinian neighbors did has already hardened into a new consensus: Coexistence is dead, and Gaza must be crushed.
"The second wave of Arabs who came into the country were just as cruel as the terrorists of the first wave," Gadi Yarkoni, the mayor of the Eshkol Regional Council, which encompasses most of the Gaza border communities, told the Free Beacon. "We saw that it was not only Hamas who came to slaughter us. It was all the residents of Gaza, including people who worked in our kibbutzim."
Yarkoni was elected mayor under the banner of Israel's center-left Blue and White party less than a year after he lost both his legs in a mortar attack during Israel's 2014 Gaza war. Only now has his idealism been pushed past the breaking point.
In a monologue on Israel's Channel 12 news that went viral online last week, Yarkoni forcefully disagreed with the anchor’s reporting on allegations, since debunked, that Israel bombed a hospital in Gaza during its ongoing war with Hamas.
"I hear what you say, and I have changed," Yarkoni said. "I don't talk like you. I don't know what's going on with our hostages and missing people. Their families are crying out, and the people of Gaza, who we once thought were good, are responsible. It’s not just Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Ordinary people from Gaza took [our citizens]."
"I demand that the State of Israel and the IDF finish this mission," he said. "Finish it this time so that we can live in peace."
Yarkoni, who survived Oct. 7 in the safe room of his house in Kibbutz Nirim, estimated that 3,000 Gazans were involved in the attack, about half of them "civilians." The IDF has put the total number of terrorists at 2,500 to 3,500 but declined to specify whether that figure includes non-Hamas members.
Speaking with the Free Beacon, Yarkoni referred to gruesome footage and survivor testimonies that have not been made public.
"I saw a scene where a Gazan civilian chopped off a man's head. It took him several attempts to detach the head from the body," he said.
According to a video that was posted online, Gazans used a bulldozer to tear down a section of Israel's border fence, and hundreds of unarmed men and boys—wearing T-shirts, baseball caps, sneakers, and flip-flops—crossed into the country. They came mostly on foot but also by bicycle, scooter, and motorcycle. Someone appears to have brought a donkey. Other online videos show ordinary Gazans taking selfies on and around Israeli tanks and ransacking a military base on the border. All the while, cries of "Allahu Akbar" rang out.
The mob soon arrived in nearby Israeli communities that Hamas was already terrorizing. Security footage and Hamas videos from Be'eri, Nir Oz, and other kibbutzim capture dozens of ordinary-looking Gazans looting and taking part in killings and kidnappings, including of women and children.
Some of these people extorted their victims. Jacqueline Glicksman, an 81-year-old resident of Kibbutz Ein HaShlosha, told the Free Beacon that three young men from Gaza, including one who appeared to be a teenager, broke through the window of her safe room and demanded money. She told them she had none, and minutes later, her house was burned down. Glicksman somehow managed to jump out of the broken window in her pajamas and run to safety. But her friend, Silvia Mirensky, 80, was killed in an arson attack next door.
Meanwhile, in the streets of Gaza, crowds greeted the returning kidnappers as conquering heroes, online videos show. Some Gazans taunted the Israeli hostages and defiled the dead as they were paraded through the streets.
Raz Cohen, a 24-year-old former Israeli commando, saw both Hamas terrorists and ordinary Gazans kill and rape revelers at the Nova music festival in Re'im, where at least 260 people were slaughtered. After escaping the Hamas terrorists, Cohen hid in a bush with a group of friends for almost seven hours. He watched as a gang of Gazan civilians—men wearing Adidas and armed only with knives and axes—raped and murdered a young Jewish woman.
"While they were raping and killing, they always laughed. I can't forget how they laughed," Cohen told the Free Beacon.
Several members of Cohen's group later ran from the bush and were caught by the same gang of Gazans. He said he heard his friends' screams as they were tortured and stabbed to death.
"You know when you hear the screams of someone who is dying," said Cohen, who was eventually rescued by Israeli soldiers.
A young couple who were abducted at the Nova festival also appear to have been victims of ordinary Gazans. Footage shows that Noa Argamani and Avinatan Or were taken away by a group of about a dozen young men, some of them teenagers. As Or's brother told Israel's Channel 99, the kidnappers did not look to be armed. Minutes before Or was captured, he texted friends that 20 "people" were hunting down and lynching Jews, according to screenshots published by Israel's Ynet news site.
An Israeli soldier who responded to the festival massacre told Ynet about his elite unit’s encounter with four amateur terrorists.
"They had no weapons. One of them had a knife," said the commando, who spoke anonymously. "You can't say they were tough. I think they are all margarine. They are not good fighters, from what we have seen. But it was their numbers and their evil. That's all. You unleash a lot of people and say, 'Do what you want, and have fun. Enjoy the murder. And also loot.'"
Daniel Meir, Nirim's security chief, told the Free Beacon that dozens of ordinary Gazans attacked his kibbutz on Oct. 7 along with about 50 Hamas terrorists. During an hours-long gunfight with the invaders, he climbed to the top of a grain tower, where he was able to survey the battlefield.
Meir, echoing Yarkoni, said the differences between the Hamas terrorists and the other Gazans were easy to see: The Hamas terrorists wore green camouflage or black uniforms and were armed with automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, and hand grenades. The ordinary Gazans wore everyday clothing and came unarmed or carrying only knives, although some appeared to have taken firearms from fallen Israelis or Hamas terrorists.
There was "complete cooperation" between the two groups, Meir said, with Hamas doing most of the fighting and the ordinary Gazans focused on looting and kidnapping.
"The civilians went into houses and turned them upside down. They took phones, computers, jewelry, whatever they could find," he recalled. "From what I know, they also took most of the hostages."
Meir, along with three fellow members of his security team and a passing IDF helicopter, improbably managed to fend off the terrorists until soldiers arrived in Nirim around 1 p.m. Five members of the kibbutz were killed and five are missing.
Even though Nirim suffered less than some of its neighbors, Meir said the attack—and particularly the role of ordinary Gazans—shattered his community's faith in coexistence. Many of the kibbutzniks were longtime peace activists, and there was widespread support among them for a program that allowed thousands of Gazans to work in Israel.
Now, the IDF has reportedly detained a few thousand Gazan guest workers and is investigating whether they helped Hamas plan the Oct. 7 attack. Several community members received text messages from Gazan workers, according to Yarkoni, warning their former employers that they were coming to kill them.
"I am a man of peace," Meir said. "I wanted us to live in peace—that we could drive to the ocean over there [in Gaza] and that we could do groceries in Rafah or Khan Yunis. I think even most right-wing Israelis at the end of the day pray for peace. The desire for peace is ingrained in all of us."
"But today we understand that [the Palestinians] are educated differently. They are educated for something else. Just as we crave peace, they crave jihad," he said. "They are raising monsters. And it is impossible to make peace with monsters."