Vitalii Portnikov

A Matter of Life and Death

“The greater the number of countries in today’s anti-Putin coalition, the more effective the support for Ukraine and its people becomes. It raises the hope that we may never witness Metula engulfed in flames, Kiryat Shmona subjected to bombardment, or engage in conversations about the residents of Katsryn fortifying their streets with anti-tank hedgehogs.”

The words above are excerpted from my article, “The Fire of War,” penned two months after Russia’s assault on Ukraine. It was published in one of Israel’s Hebrew publications. It’s worth noting that during those days, these conclusions were perceived within Israeli society as a voice crying out in the wilderness. Israelis naturally held sympathy for Ukraine; there was no reason to support Russia, which had posed a threat to the Jewish state several times during the 20th century. However, the war being fought in Ukraine was viewed as distant, not directly tied to Israel’s security. In my article, I attempted to explain that the revival of the Russian Empire, against which Ukraine was taking a stand, would ultimately jeopardize Israel’s interests. This was because the Kremlin aimed to restore the Soviet Union’s influence in the Middle East. Yet, I miscalculated the timeline—Putin does not have much time left. He seeks to become an emperor, a more palpable version of a general secretary. Consequently, he neither shows partiality to Israel nor feigns sympathy for innocent victims. He no longer needs to pretend to be someone he never was.

It’s indeed intriguing how the “Hamas Blitzkrieg” bears resemblance to Russia’s own. Russia, despite being recognized as a nation-state, conducts itself in occupied territories much like a classic terrorist organization. Its soldiers display an unfathomable hatred, killing and harming civilians. Moscow simultaneously denies responsibility for civilian casualties and conceals its own losses from aggression. In the case of Hamas, a classic terrorist organization with the sole purpose of targeting civilians, it recently carried out a successful military operation with the assistance of terrorist states. They breached borders and employed paragliders, resulting in brutal murders and the denial of both their crimes and the extent of casualties among militants. We live in a perilous era, where states behave like terrorist organizations while terrorist organizations adopt the capabilities of legitimate states. Navigating such a world is an arduous quest, especially for a Jew born in Ukraine.

The analogies between Hamas and Russia extend further. Both aggressors primarily invoke history, particularly their own interpretation of it. Putin denies the Ukrainian people’s right to exist, viewing Ukraine as “historical Russia.” The existence of a state with its capital in Kyiv well before the emergence of Moscow fails to persuade him; instead, it reinforces his beliefs. This perspective is widespread in Russian society, with no alternative viewpoint prevailing. The divide in Russian society lies between those who find it immoral to pursue the “restoration of Russia” through war and those who insist that such restoration can only be achieved through force. According to supporters of the latter, anyone opposing their views has no right to exist within the “original” territory of “historical Russia,” or even to exist at all. This is the message Russian soldiers aimed to convey in Buch.

Conversely, the leaders of Hamas and their supporters believe that Jews have no right to reside in Israel, a land invented by the defiant Roman emperor Hadrian, termed “Palestine.” They label Jews as “European occupiers” on the original Arab land. The fact that Jews have a national and historical connection to this land, confirmed not only by biblical accounts but also by numerous archaeological findings, fails to sway Hamas and the broader Palestinian Arab society. In their perspective, there has never been an alternative view. The divide has always been between those who believe in achieving their goals through political means and those who insist that the sole method to expel the “occupiers” is through force. Supporters of the latter maintain that anyone with differing views has no right to reside in “Arab Palestine,” or even to life itself. This is the message Hamas fighters aimed to convey in Kfar Azа and other affected areas.

Both aggressor groups confidently lay claim to the legacy of World War II. During the initial weeks of Russia’s assault on Ukraine, reports emerged of 96-year-old Boris Romanchenko, a Kharkiv native and a former inmate of several Nazi concentration camps, who perished in Russian shelling. Hamas, on the other hand, brutally killed 90-year-old Kisufim resident Gina Smyatich-, a Holocaust survivor from Europe. But this is not merely an attempt to complete what the predecessors of today’s malevolence left unfinished. It also serves as an audit of benevolence.

Borys Romanchenko lived in city whose residents never harbored negative feelings toward Russians. Even the events of 2014 failed to alter this sentiment. They held Putin responsible for the war, not acquaintances or relatives abroad. Yet, Russia callously obliterates Kharkiv and other towns and cities in the east and south of Ukraine, demonstrating its intent to kill and clear the territory. Kibbutzim on the Gaza border, including where Gina Smyatich resided, have consistently sheltered people with liberal beliefs, advocating understanding with Arabs and voting for left and centrist political parties. Hamas, however, is untroubled by such nuances, and Jews who promote peace and compromise are deemed threats. Thus, they murder them with relish. Both Russia and Hamas pursue this course because they understand the consequences but seek nothing but our annihilation.

Therefore, foreign wars in the modern world have become obsolete. Each conflict quickly escalates to exponential proportions. This is not merely a war for territories or the freedom of one’s country—it is quite literally a matter of life and death. Our only options are to force them to stop or to destroy them; otherwise, they will eliminate us all.

About the Author
Vitalii Portnikov is a Ukrainian publicist, writer, TV presenter and member of the Ukrainian PEN. He is also an author and renowned journalist working in democratic media in Central and Eastern Europe for more than three decades. He is the author of hundreds of analytical articles in Ukrainian, Belarusian, Polish, Russian, Israeli, Baltic media. He hosts television programs and his own analytical channels on YouTube. He is currently broadcasting at the office of the Espreso TV channel and continues to cooperate with the Ukrainian and Russian services of Radio Liberty.
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