Stacy Gallin

A War on Human Dignity

Israel Defense Force soldier in the aftermath of a rocket attack.

The death toll from this weekend’s attack against Israel represents the deadliest assault on Jews since the Holocaust. Speaking on American television on Sunday morning, United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken described the scene in Israel by saying, “Men and women and children dragged across the border into Gaza, including a Holocaust survivor in a wheelchair. People gunned down in the streets, civilians.”

Hundreds of young people attending a music festival in the Negev desert chased by Hamas terrorists. Many were brutally gunned down while trying to escape. Others were abducted, beaten and are now presumed to be hostages. A video, authenticated by CNN, shows a woman, German-Israeli citizen Shani Louk, being paraded around in the back of a Hamas jeep, unconscious, while chants of “Allahu Akbar” were shouted by her captors.

A report of an Israeli mother on the phone with her 16- and 12-year-old children when gunshots rang out and forced entry was heard. The voice of her 12-year-old saying “I’m too young to go,” was the last thing she heard before the line went dead.

IDF spokesperson Lt. Col Jonathan Conricus described the victims of these attacks as “babies, children, women, the elderly and the disabled.”

These are the facts of the situation as it stands right now. Hamas, defined by the United States as a designated foreign terrorist organization in October 1997, is blatantly disregarding the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court Article 8 on War Crimes. This international document, first ratified by 160 States on July 17, 1998, sets forth that “it is the duty of every State to exercise its criminal jurisdiction over those responsible for international crimes.” The Rome Statute provides as examples of war crimes, among other things, “taking hostages” and “intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population as such or against individual civilians not taking direct part in hostilities.” The stories, videos, and independently verified reports of the situation in Israel could not be clearer. Regardless of one’s political or religious beliefs, this is a war against terrorists who are openly defying international criminal law.

The response among Jews in the United States has been largely one of shock, disbelief and helplessness. While many have compared the situation to the 9/11 attack on US soil, the psychological toll runs deeper. There is a sense of generational trauma that perhaps usually lays dormant among many American Jews. Annual Holocaust remembrance programs prompt social media posts with the hashtag #NeverAgain. An antisemitic hate crime may trigger emotions that conflate historical events, continued personal experiences and the complex interplay of these two issues in today’s society. However, this is different. With the documented increase in antisemitic and anti-Israel rhetoric, many American Jews feel that despite not being physically located in Israel, this attack is an assault on all of us. Hamas has openly stated its mission to rid the world of the Jewish people. This weekend’s attack was a concerted effort towards doing just that.

To reiterate, this is not about one’s feelings on Israel. Whether or not it has a right to exist, its current political climate, or previous military engagements are not the topics at hand- at least not right now. This is not a political issue. It’s a human rights issue. The International Criminal Court recognized that there are certain times when citizens of the world need protection from the heinous crimes and violations of human dignity that took place on an international scale during the twentieth century and remain unpunished. There is a reason that international human rights law was born out of the ashes of the Holocaust. There are certain crimes against humanity that are so egregious they must be recognized on a global scale so that the perpetrators are held accountable. The videos of innocent civilians, many of whom are women, children, and elderly people, make clear that despite their intended target, Hamas is waging a war against human dignity and civility.

As Elie Wiesel said, “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must—at that moment—become the center of the universe.” During the Holocaust, when human lives were endangered and human dignity was in jeopardy, the world stayed silent. Millions of people were slaughtered. We cannot allow that to happen again. We owe it to those whose lives were lost then to stand up and speak out now.

About the Author
Dr. Stacy Gallin is the Founding Director of the Benjamin Ferencz Institute for Ethics, Human Rights and the Holocaust, formerly the Maimonides Institute for Medicine, Ethics and the Holocaust, located in New Jersey. She is a Senior Fellow at the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University and Co-Chair of the Department of Bioethics and the Holocaust of the International Chair in Bioethics, a WMA Cooperation Centre.
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