Published October 24, 2023
On Saturday morning, at a synagogue in New Jersey, Rabbi Marcus suddenly stopped the prayers and burst into tears. It seemed as if his heart was breaking, because it was. A war had broken out in Israel, he wept; one hundred people dead. Turning on my phone, I saw that the Rabbi was wrong: the numbers were much higher. But numbers don’t tell the whole story.
On Sunday, like many other Israelis, I was on a plane back to Israel in order to join my unit as a reservist of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). The reality to which I was shortly to be exposed proved more murderous than anyone could have imagined. I’m not sure that we will ever be able to come to grips with the full horror of what occurred.
We will never be able entirely to comprehend how other apparently sane, thinking, modern human beings willfully, deliberately slaughtered a pregnant woman by cutting her fœtus from her womb, decapitated babies, tied children together and burned them alive, and tortured to death 90-year-old people. And yet, unimaginably, this barbaric murder spree of over 1,400 people, from the elderly to babies and even fœtuses, still does not even begin to tell the story.
Many women were repeatedly and brutally raped until they died in ways that cannot be published in a newspaper. In their final moments of life, some mothers managed to save their babies by hiding them in any place they could find.
In the aftermath, I received a message that I never thought I would get: “We are looking for breastfeeding mothers who can breastfeed the orphans and the babies of the mothers who were kidnapped into Gaza.” Children as young as one month old were abducted to Gaza, where they are now held in chicken cages.
Thomas Hand, father of one of the abducted children, received “good news.” His eight-year-old daughter, who had been kidnapped and taken to Gaza, died of her injuries on the way. Through tears of relief, this grieving father explained to a TV reporter that this horrific outcome, amongst the worst that any parent can experience, was nevertheless “good news” compared to the alternative—compared to what Hamas would surely have done to her before she eventually died. He said, “They called me after two days and said, ‘We found Emily, she’s dead.’ I jumped up and shouted, ‘Yes!’ Out of all the possible outcomes we had, this was the best news I could get. If you have any idea how they treat captives in Gaza, it is worse than death.”
The stories are shocking in their sadism, but the numbers are nigh inconceivable in their context. Israel is in fact a small nation, similar in size only to New Jersey. To get some perspective, compared per capita, the death toll of the October 7 attack (as it stands so far) is 14 times times higher than the death toll in 9/11. That would be the equivalent of approximately 42,000 dead in the United States. The raw figures account for the largest number of murdered Jews in one day since the Nazi Holocaust. There is not one family in Israel that hasn’t been touched by loss.
The Nazis liked their death sterile; Hamas murderers like it dripping with blood. The Nazis tried for years to hide their genocidal project from public scrutiny, but Hamas proudly broadcast to the world the videos of them celebrating the butchery. Besides their genocidal passion, another evil that is common to Hamas and the Nazis is the use of gas to suffocate families and burn them alive. The terrorists took tyres, set them alight, and rolled them into homes to smoke out the families hiding inside, or let them suffocate and burn to death. Survivor Gili Hazut recounted that Hamas took over homes using RPGs and hand grenades and, after they had murdered the families, and before they burnt the homes down, a mob of women and children arrived to plunder, loot, and ransack. The so-called Gaza civilians—these women and children—were active participants of the murdering machine.
Section 7 of the Hamas charter states explicitly that, “The Day of Judgement will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews. When the Jew will hide behind stones and trees, the stones and trees will say, ‘O Muslims, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.’” Now we behold the videos of the unfathomable atrocities that have come from this murderous creed. If Hamas murderers had taken one thousand Jews and led them into cyanide showers, that would have been a less brutal act than what was perpetrated.
This is what they would do to each and every one of us if they could. The Evil that we are facing is absolute and unimaginable. The whole world must now see that when they say, “Free Palestine,” it means to eradicate the Jews from Israel by any means, however brutal, however barbaric. Nothing less.
The truth is that we, as part of the Western culture, don’t like to look evil in the face. But sometimes there’s no choice. Our policy, based on liberal values and the philosophy of John Rawls, struggles to fathom certain cultures that achieve sexual pleasure from collective violence. The political culture in the Middle East is still characterized by having a person ‘lose themselves’ in an ecstatic, violent experience.
While the West succeeded in changing its cultural desire for the Colosseum’s death celebrations into cheering at rock concerts and sports contests, Islamic terrorism still thrills to the perpetration of violence which emanates from mankind’s darkest urges.
This evil desire is what connects Al-Quaida, the Taliban, Hamas, and ISIS. The absolute victory over these groups is vital because it will prevent future terrorist attacks not only in Israel but all over the world. It is on this point that U.S. Secretary of Defense Austin is wrong. Hamas does represent a significant part of the Palestinian public. The Palestinians elected these murderers in the last elections held in Gaza. According to every survey and study, they would do so again and again if new elections were held.
The ‘civilian’ residents of Gaza give out candy after every terrorist attack in Israel—just as they did after 9/11 in the U.S.A., lest we forget. This time, a huge, public celebration was held to applaud the horrific images of the massacre as they broadcast, and to cheer the terrorists as they shoved their raped hostages into cars to be driven around like trophies. The idea of a separation between Hamas and Gaza’s citizens is mostly fictional, although this does not mean that all Gazans are Hamas, and we should distinguish between the two in those cases where real differences exist.
At the same time, we must overcome this absolute Evil. The Allied forces understood the same imperative during the Second World War. Dresden, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki were necessary to bring the Axis countries to complete and utter surrender, for only after unconditional surrender could a truly new generation be raised. In other words, the total defeat of Germany and Japan were necessary to create modern day Germany and Japan. Only absolute defeat can bring about a profound cultural change and the abandonment of murderous doctrines. That is why moral clarity is required for the West in general, and for Israel in particular.
There are moral principles that we must adopt. Taking lives should be avoided unless it is crucial to defeating the enemy; keeping a bloodthirsty population and regime alive is immoral, not moral; and moving the non-militant population elsewhere is in fact a moral act, because it is the only practical option for saving both Gazans and Israelis from Hamas.
The IDF holds to the highest standards of morality and insists on warning Gazans to flee south as a means to avoid harming uninvolved civilians. But Hamas prevents them from fleeing to a safe zone in Egypt. This is a double war crime: Hamas first viciously slaughters Israeli civilians, and then it hides behind Palestinian civilians.
The necessary moral act calls for leveling the Gaza Strip with artillery and bombs before our soldiers are sent into the deadly grounds.
This is also a humanitarian crisis. Hundreds of thousands of traumatized Israelis in mourning have become homeless, fleeing their Kibbutzim and towns around the Gaza Strip and the northern border, and becoming refugees in their own country. In the coming days over a million Gazans will be forced to leave their homes. There will be no water, electricity, and medicine.
The West must step up, too. The U.S. administration must refreeze the $6 billion in Iranian oil revenues that it unfroze scarcely a fortnight ago; it must enforce oil sanctions against Iran, which supports Hamas; and the UN Security Council must implement immediate sanctions against Iran. The West needs to support Israel so that no humanitarian gestures will be made until all those abducted and captured are safely back in Israel. Furthermore, the West must swiftly create a humanitarian corridor from Gaza towards Egypt. This will help to distinguish between innocent Gazans and Hamas supporters. These war refugees need international help both in transit camps and in resettlement around the world. Egypt must be made to cooperate with this plan.
This conflict has been going on for decades with no way out. The only way for it to end is to give the IDF the time and support needed to totally defeat Hamas once and for all. The free world must always remember the horrifying Saturday of October 7, 2023.
Dr. Ronen Shoval is a Visiting Fellow in Jewish and Political Thought at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. His work focuses on the deep interplay between theology, politics, and society.