The Atrocities in Israel and Gaza

Over a month ago, on October 7, Hamas launched a brutal surprise attack on Israel.  About 1,300 Israelis, mostly civilians, were killed and 3,300 injured.  At least 150 people were taken hostage.  Many of the dead were enjoying a music festival.  Others perished when gunmen entered their villages and homes and slaughtered them without mercy, including women and children, even toddlers.  Our Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, was shown photos of some of the dead and was clearly shaken by the lack of humanity evident in what the killers did to their victims.  Hamas’ attack was unconscionable, and they deserve not only the scorn of the civilized world but whatever wrath the Israeli military can rain upon them.

Posters in Israel for one of the young Israelis held hostage in Gaza

But what has followed that attack is also brutal, and an estimated 10,000 Palestinians have been killed, and many more are suffering because of Israel’s forceful retaliation against an implacable foe.  The Israelis have a legitimate argument—that Hamas fighters are embedded in Gaza, and it’s impossible to differentiate Hamas soldiers from the civilian population in which they are hiding.  Nonetheless, to the media and the outside world, Israel’s retaliation appears indiscriminate.  There is no excuse for firing missiles into Palestinian refugee camps. Still, it illustrates the necessarily callous nature of a forceful response to a despicable act of mass terror against innocent Jewish people.  I imagine most of us are heartbroken over what transpired when Hamas attacked Israel in October—and over the anguish in Gaza after Israel retaliated.  If you have any compassion for other human beings, you can’t help but feel anguish over the Israeli victims of that surprise attack as well as the suffering of many innocent Palestinians since. 

People around the world are now protesting against Israel’s retaliatory strikes, and, as Homas hoped, many have forgotten the heinous attack that prompted those strikes.  Antisemitism is on the rise again, not only in the Middle East but in our country as well.  Iran is stoking the fires of hatred, and we face the prospect of a broader regional war in which the United States could be drawn into the conflict.  Since October 7th, the world has become a far more dangerous place.

A Palestinian child in Gaza
A poignant view of the destruction in Gaza

We have to consider what’s happening in Israel and Gaza in the broader context of what happened after 911.  We lost thousands of our citizens in a brutal surprise attack.  We justifiably retaliated by invading Afghanistan, a war in which at least a quarter of a million Afghanis were killed, many of them civilians.  In Afghanistan, we faced the same challenge the Israelis are facing in Gaza—we were fighting an insurgent army that hid in the civilian population, used innocents as human shields, brutalized anyone who opposed them, and slithered underground to avoid an open conflict they would surely lose because of the imbalance in firepower and technology.

We all wish for peace, but it’s hard to realize that elusive dream when Hamas’s avowed mission is to destroy Israel and the Israeli people.  When the goal of an insurgency is annihilation, how do you find compromise?  Now, Israel is determined to annihilate Hamas, and I don’t blame them.  I would not want to live in a place where my neighbors were hell-bent on killing me and my children, where my existence was an affront to them, where I could not work and play without the constant fear of death. 

Of course, the destruction of Gaza and the deaths of so many Palestinians is also bitterly lamentable.  If I were a Palestinian living in Gaza and not affiliated with Hamas, I would see the Israelis as the terrorists, even if I secretly opposed Hamas (I couldn’t do it openly) and deeply regretted the mass murder they perpetrated, ostensibly in my name.  I would feel daily terror at the rain of Israeli missiles and the rumbling of the tanks, and I’d be panicked over the loss of my livelihood and desperate to find food, shelter, and clean water for my family.

I agree with Netanyahu that Hamas must be destroyed.  Allowing Hamas to remain in power in Gaza after what they did is an unacceptable outcome of this conflict.  But so is the mass killing of thousands more Palestinian civilians.  Hamas should receive the ultimate punishment for their mass murder.  But it’s nearly impossible for an army to avoid civilian casualties when the enemy hides behind innocents and use their own people as human shields.  Undoubtedly, some of those civilians support Hamas, even if they don’t bear arms. 

Again, context.  In the American Civil War, the North won in part by burning Southern fields and farms, destroying food stocks, animals, rail lines, raw materials, and anything else the rebel armies could use to sustain the conflict.  In World War II, both the Axis and Allied powers bombed cities, seeking to destroy their enemies’ ability to wage war or support the war effort, regardless of the line between civilians and enemy combatants.  The brutal but inescapable fact of war is that innocents will suffer and die, particularly when enemy soldiers are inseparable from civilians and when one of the antagonists is willing to commit atrocities against civilians as their means of waging war.

Teddy bears in Tel Aviv for each of the people Hamas is holding hostage

I wish, like most of us, that Netanyahu and the Israeli cabinet would exercise more restraint in their quest to vanquish Hamas.  I don’t question their goal; it would be mine, too.  But they are showing little restraint, and their unwillingness to allow more humanitarian aid inside Gaza is inhumane and incomprehensible.  They are playing into Hamas’ hands as they turn the world against themselves through virtually unrestrained retaliation. Moreover, they are creating new generations of terrorists in the young people of Gaza who are suffering through this war and will forever bear the scars of this conflict.  In time, they will want to retaliate, too, perhaps by invading a kibbutz and killing every man, woman, and child they find.

Israel needs to eliminate Hamas as a threat, but they should do so through a reasoned (albeit lengthy) campaign that strives to preserve innocent Palestinian lives and gives hope that a lasting peace can be achieved.  If the cycle of violence continues, then our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren will witness more killing and suffering in that sorrowful part of the world.

Whatever you feel about Israel’s response to this terrorist attack, keep this in mind:  Hamas not only escalated the violence exponentially, they took more than one hundred Israelis hostage and are using them as pawns to deter the Israeli military.  Holding hostages is among the most egregious violations of human rights.  It violates the Geneva Convention and reflects the utter depravity of Hamas’ leadership.  Hamas perpetuated these recent atrocities, and they must pay the price for that.  I say this as a former soldier.  When someone attacks you, you cannot fail to respond.  If you do, it emboldens them to strike again.  And again.  And again.  You must carry the fight to them so they understand that aggression is not free.  Especially when it entails gross violations of human decency against innocents.

Photo credits: All images courtesy of Dreamstime.

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