Friday October 13, 2023 – כ״ח תִּשְׁרֵי
We are now almost a week into this war, six days after the most bloody and gruesome attack on our people. The horrific stories of death and heroic stories of survival are coming to light. It will take time to begin to fully internalize the magnitude of this atrocity and to absorb the loss of the individual lives that were taken. We will feel the effect each life had on countless circles of loved ones, relationships, and the entire world.
The ripple effect has gone far beyond the epicenter, and its reverberations are being felt around the world. Many of those following and watching from abroad have been expressing unequivocal messages – most importantly, President Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. But shockingly, not everyone has conveyed the sentiments that have been clear to most of us – that this was a true act of unbridled barbarism, evil, and inhumanity.
While Israelis were reeling and trying to comprehend the magnitude of such an attack, Students for Justice in Palestine, proclaimed: “Today, we witness a historic win for the Palestinian resistance: across land, air, and sea.” Other such statements came from New York’s chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (D.S.A) which promoted a rally with speakers who applauded the attacks, and the Connecticut D.S.A. enthusiastically claimed: “Yesterday, the Palestinian resistance launched an unprecedented anti-colonial struggle.” Many of us have seen that the president of N.Y.U.’s Student Bar Association wrote in its newsletter, “I will not condemn Palestinian resistance.” The Black Lives Matter Chicago chapter held up a sign that said “I stand with Palestine,” but then included an image of a figure in a paraglider clearly reminiscent of those Hamas murderers used to descend on an outdoor music festival turning it into a killing field.
As New York Times Columnist Michelle Goldberg shared, many young Jews are :
“completely shattered by the response of their lefty friends in New York,” who were either justifying Hamas’s atrocities or celebrating them outright.
Many progressive Jews have been profoundly shaken by the way some on the left are treating the terrorist mass murder of civilians as “noble acts of anticolonial resistance.” These are Jews who share the left’s abhorrence of the occupation of the West Bank and of the enormities inflicted on Gaza, which are only going to get worse if and when Israel invades. But the way keyboard radicals have condoned war crimes against Israelis has left many progressive Jews alienated from political communities they thought were their own.”
What is critically important now is to have the courage to maintain moral clarity. There should be no moral question about what happened. Let me be clear. The hundreds of terrorists from Hamas, supported by Iran (some even carrying ISIS flags) were not an oppressed group trying to shake off the oppression of “the last settler colonial system” (to quote one statement I saw on social media). They were trying only to kidnap or kill Jews and inflict as much pain and hurt on Israel as possible. They were not an army of another state engaging in war, nor were they a band of freedom fighters. They are terrorists who are the manifestation of evil.
Bret Stephens recently captured this sentiment strongly:
“I’m talking about the university presidents who stand for free speech when it comes to antisemitism but become notably censorious when it comes to other forms of controversial speech. I’m talking about the political leaders who repeatedly promise solidarity with Israel only to quickly demand restraint when Israel seeks to destroy the infrastructure by which Hamas maintains its war machine. I’m talking about narratives that seem calibrated to create the outrageous impression that Israeli soldiers deliberately kill Palestinian children. I’m talking about the people whose fury at the Israeli government never seems to abate but who barely pause to observe that Hamas is a dictatorship of religious zealots or that President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority is a fulminating antisemite.”
As Israel mounts its justifiable and necessary response to fighting against the most brutal and criminal atrocity against the Jewish state since the Holocaust, more and more voices are calling for pressure to be put on Israel to restrain itself, to tame its response.
One thing, however, needs to remain clear.
The pressure from the international community needs to be on Hamas to release the hostages that they violently dragged out of their homes and plucked out of a party. Too often victims are the ones blamed for overreaction and for a so-called “disproportional response.” After 2,700 of its citizens were murdered on September 11, 2001, the United States entered into an 18-year-long war that claimed the lives of more than 432,000 civilians (not including al-Qaeda or Taliban operatives). The Simchat Torah massacre against Israel, claiming over 1,300 lives, would be equivalent to over 25,000-30,000 lives in the United States. Hamas committing unthinkable acts of mass slaughter is far from “resistance.”
Israel has called for a massive and powerful response. Israel has the right to defend itself. We all know that a ground incursion into Gaza means additional casualties for our troops and for innocent Gazans, along with the guilty Hamas terrorists. We also know that targeted precision air attacks on Hamas hideouts in Gaza leaves the densely populated Gaza Strip in rubble, which exacerbates the already dire situation of hunger and lack of water and electricity.
So, what should Israel do?
For starters, it needs to do everything it can to free those who have been abducted and are being held hostage. Then it needs to do everything it can to minimize the loss of innocent human life. And finally, it needs to do everything it can to destroy Hamas as a terrorist organization. Israel should do its best to clarify these three notions:
- Hamas is a terrorist organization and is not synonymous with the Palestinian people. Hamas perpetrated a massacre of unspeakable cruelty and atrocity. Hamas is a terrorist organization and there is no defense whatsoever of the crimes against humanity that Hamas terrorists committed. The condemnation of Hamas is not a condemnation of the Palestinian people. We support the Palestinians and their right to freedom and independence. The way Hamas conducted this attack is reminiscent of the Nazis, and just like not all Germans were Nazis, not all Palestinians are Hamas.
- Both Jews and Palestinians deserve to be safe and to have self-determination.
Both peoples have a history in and claim to the same land as their peoples’ homelands. One can, on the one hand, criticize and protest the Israeli government’s policies and actions – including its 56 years of military occupation of and settlement expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem – and, on the other hand, still support the existence of the State of Israel as the State of the Jewish people. One can, on the one hand, criticize harshly the policies, actions, and corruption of the two governments – Hamas and the PA – representing the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank – and, on the other hand, still champion Palestinian human rights and a state for the Palestinian people.
- It is hard to act not out of anger and vengeance:
It is not out of the ordinary to hear calls to wipe out Gaza, bulldoze it into the sea, or level it to the ground. Israelis are angry. Furious! And the rage is only growing as more and more details of the unspeakable unfold and are revealed. Yes, serious investigations will have to be made as to how this could have happened and how Israeli intelligence and the IDF were initially debilitated, but right now PM Netanyahu is looking to rain down an unbelievable strike on Gaza which will result in great collateral damage. I am of the opinion, even if unpopular, that this will not help Israel’s cause. There is a reason that our rabbis found legal loopholes as they understood that “an eye for an eye” and a “tooth for a tooth” leaves the world toothless and blind. Eradicating Hamas is the only goal, which is easier said than done, not the revenge killing of innocent Palestinians.
Etan Nechin, an Israeli journalist wrote:
“You can’t have it both ways: If it’s morally indefensible to kill Palestinian civilians, even when framed as a fight against terrorism, taking the lives of Israeli civilians is equally inexcusable, even when presented as a battle against Occupation. If not, how can you expect the world to condemn the bombing of building towers and collective punishments in the cutting of water and electricity when you can’t unequivocally condemn the murder of civilians?”
This week, we begin reading our Torah again from the beginning. The first initial message that we will read after the creation of the world is that all human beings are created in God’s image. There could not be a, more importantly, straightforward and poignant message to come after this week from hell.