It is at this point beyond dispute that Hamas killed a significant number of civilians on October 7th. The precise ratio of combatant-to-non-combatant casualties is unclear since we know [1, 2] that many of those killed died either in "collateral damage" incidents from IDF fire or possibly the Hannibal Directive. But in any case the fact that Hamas killed civilians cannot seriously be disputed since many videos of atrocities were uploaded online.

However, to my understanding, there is no independent evidence that the Hamas leadership ordered the killing of civilians. That is to say, there is no evidence (to my understanding) that the killing of civilians was a matter of policy. A document released by Hamas indicated that the killing of civilians was not a matter of deliberate policy. Hamas has also previously denied killing civilians.

Indeed, one striking thing is that Israeli officials are much more open in their public comments about targeting Gazan civilians in their military operations, than Hamas leadership was about targeting Israeli civilians on October 7th. This seems to upend the traditional narrative (promoted by e.g., Sam Harris among others) that the Israelis are the moral Western army inadvertently killing civilians while Hamas is an irrational jihadist organization purely bent on killing innocent infidels for fun.

One alternative hypothesis might be that the killing of civilians was indicative of a lack of discipline among Hamas troops, or that the acts against civilians were by a subset of more extremist Hamas fighters rather than indicative of a formal policy. I'm not saying that this hypothesis is correct, but it does not seem to me incongruent with existing evidence.

Another alternative hypothesis might be a good faith misinterpretation of IHL by some Hamas fighters as discussed in the linked question I asked a month ago.

Furthermore, it is not clear to me why extreme atrocities would be in Hamas' interests. Indeed, Hamas' principal aim was presumably to collect a large number of hostages to use as leverage; having the fighters spend hours torturing and pillaging would not optimize for this goal. It also would undermine Hamas' PR strategy, which in recent years has been to portray itself as a relatively moderate organization e.g., the 2017 Hamas charter.

Is there independent evidence that Hamas killed civilians as a matter of policy on October 7th? If not, is it appropriate to ascribe responsibility to the entire Hamas organization for atrocities which were not official war policy?

Note I would like to explicitly exclude any and all testimony from captive Hamas fighters in Israel, due to concerns that such testimonies may have been extracted via torture.

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    I think you should clarify whether the operative verb is targeted or killed. Given that civilians were taken prisoner by Hamas militants they clearly must have been targeted. Commented Feb 9 at 14:48
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    I have problems understanding the question. It seems to suggest that the Hamas fighters on October 7th randomly gathered to kill scores of Israeli civilians just for their own satisfaction instead of doing that for some kind of goal in itself? Is this true? A planned attack on Israelis including and especially concentrating on civilians seems much more plausible to me. Commented Feb 9 at 15:35
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    @NoDataDumpNoContribution One thing I can easily imagine is Hamas leadership ordered "kill soldiers at military bases, then go to civilian areas to take civilian hostages and kill armed resistance you encounter" Then once Hamas members reached civilian areas some killing of unarmed people happened by a small subset of undisciplined militants. This seems like an entirely plausible scenario which is discounted by the mainstream narrative which wishes to paint Hamas in the worst possible light. Commented Feb 9 at 15:38
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    If there were say tens of civilian deaths then maybe your scenario might become possible but I'd say, with more than 1000 mostly civilian deaths and torture included, no way this wasn't the plan all along. Maybe your question is simply asking what Hamas plan was and what they actually tried to achieve there? I think this question has already been asked before. Commented Feb 9 at 16:17
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    @StopGazaGenocide so they stumbled across a party in the woods and murdered everyone there - by mistake? "Oh, look, people dancing - they must be soldiers!"
    – littleadv
    Commented Feb 10 at 0:18

2 Answers 2


Targeting civilians has been a long-standing policy of Hamas:

Hamas first began suicide attacks specifically targeting civilians in response to the Cave of the Patriarchs massacre carried out by the American-Israeli settler Baruch Goldstein, who on 25 February 1994, during Ramadan, killed 29 unarmed civilians by throwing hand grenades and firing at a group of worshippers during prayer at the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron. There was a strong sense that the Israeli military was complicit in the massacre because Goldstein wore military fatigues during his attack and carried an assault rifle issued by the IDF, the nearby IDF forces failed to intervene to stop the attack, and indeed an additional 19 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces in the riots that ensued in protest of the massacre. Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin condemned the massacre, but refused to withdraw Jewish settlers from Hebron, fearing a violent confrontation with the settler community. Hamas announced that if Israel did not discriminate between "fighters and civilians", then it would be "forced ... to treat the Zionists in the same manner. Treating like with like is a universal principle."

Prior to the Hebron massacre, Hamas did not deliberately attack civilian targets. But following the massacre, it felt that it no longer had to distinguish between military and civilian targets. The leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in the West Bank, Sheikh Ahmed Haj Ali, later argued that "had there not been the 1994 Ibrahimi Mosque massacre, there would have been no suicide bombings." Al-Rantisi in an interview in 1998 stated that the suicide attacks "began after the massacre committed by the terrorist Baruch Goldstein and intensified after the assassination of Yahya Ayyash." Musa Abu Marzouk put the blame for the escalation on the Israelis: "We were against targeting civilians ... After the Hebron massacre we determined that it was time to kill Israel's civilians ... we offered to stop if Israel would, but they rejected that offer."

Specifically regarding October 7, 2023:

International human rights groups, medical personnel, and journalists have chronicled the militants' onslaught, detailing the killing, including the decapitation and burning, of women, children, and the elderly, alongside young men and soldiers.[296][295][297][298] Senior Hamas official Khaled Mashal said that the group was fully aware of the consequences of attack on Israel, stating that Palestinian liberation comes with "sacrifices".[299][300]

Here are related articles by Human Rights Watch and The Amnesty International.


The documents found on the bodies of Hamas fighters by Israeli first responders show that targeting civilians has been a matter of policy. These documents include detailed maps and show that Hamas intended to kill or take hostage civilians and school children. You can read about the documents in NBC NEWS, Washington Post and CNN.

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    These could have been fabricated by Israelis. Generally I only take independently verified evidence (or admissions) seriously. Commented Feb 9 at 16:34
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    I imagine a fighter ("militant"), knowing that today is his last day on the Earth with a good chance. But he has his tasks, and he has some reason to still keep them (mostly: revenge for his killed relatives, for his miserable life, and the promise of the paradise). So, I imagine this. It is very hard for me understand, why would he have written orders, and why would he take with him on his body. It is yet more bigger wonder as that the 9/11 guys had just left their Quran in their car, before they went to die.
    – Gray Sheep
    Commented Feb 9 at 20:17
  • These look like maps and other useful instructions. Such would be useful to prepare in advance and understandable why to take into the mission, maps are not so easy to memorize.
    – Stančikas
    Commented Feb 9 at 20:37
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    @StopGazaGenocide is it also true with regards to the Palestinian claims? For example, do you have any collaboration to the claim that there's a "Gaza Genocide" that you demand to stop from any source other than the people who you refuse to believe did the things they themselves take pride in doing?
    – littleadv
    Commented Feb 10 at 0:13
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    @GraySheep generally, when you give orders - you need to provide clear instructions that can be followed. The more complex they are the harder it is to memorize them in a short period of time to follow under stress. So yes, orders are in writing, with maps and clear details, to be followed during the operation. These people got their orders hours, at most days, before the operation started. They couldn't have been trusted with memorizing and rehearsing for weeks since it would have leaked and alerted the Israelis.
    – littleadv
    Commented Feb 10 at 0:15

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