Hamas launched a massive attack against Israel exactly 50 years after the surprise Egyptian and Israeli assaults that became known as the Yom Kippur War. It caught the Jewish state off guard, reflecting a major intelligence failure, and it combined thousands of missile strikes with on-the-ground infiltration, leading to widespread murder and kidnapping.
Israel’s response, perforce, must be tough, sustained and unrelenting. It is likely to be a prolonged operation if it is to decapitate Hamas leadership and destroy the extensive terrorist infrastructure in the densely populated Gaza Strip.
But if the past is prologue, the longer the conflict goes on, the likelier it is that this clear-cut storyline — genocidal arsonist versus lifesaving firefighter — will become blurred in some Western capitals and media outlets, led by so-called progressive voices.
A full-scale war launched by Hamas, with the central involvement of Iran, it is being reported, will evolve into a “cycle of violence,” which just goes round and round and round. No one seems to remember why it began, but neither side is prepared to end it, so the two combatants just keep at it.
Or, it morphs into a misleadingly simplistic tale of the strong, Israel, against the weak, Hamas. Thus, the focus, as Israel regains its footing and takes the offense, quickly becomes the damage inflicted on “poor, defenseless” Gaza, not to mention the comparative body count, as if the side with the higher number of casualties is, by definition, in the right.
In reality, neither version comes close to the truth.
It is too intellectually lazy to stand on the 50-yard line and assert that the two sides — a democratic nation seeking nothing from Gaza other than a quiet border, and a terrorist regime calling in its Charter for the annihilation of Israel — are little more than mirror images of one another.
And to render judgments according to body counts would have made Nazi Germany the hapless victim and the U.S. and Britain the brutal aggressors. Among wartime civilians alone, the ratio of victims was weighted heavily towards the Germans. Among soldiers, it was also strikingly (and equally fortunately) lopsided.
What’s missing, or too often forgotten, in the discussion is the ability to grasp the nature of Hamas. Not that it should be difficult. After all, Hamas is largely an open book. Yet too many don’t seem willing to read the pages of that book.
They refuse to see, even if that doesn’t stop them from rendering judgments. Or they look but don’t allow themselves to be persuaded by the facts staring them in the face. Or they succumb to projection, believing everyone would act in a particular circumstance just as they would, thereby not allowing for the possibility of alternate patterns of behavior.
But it’s precisely this failure of imagination that gets to the root of the matter — this unwillingness, or inability, to accept another pattern of behavior so contrary to our own that it challenges our most basic assumptions.
Alas, it’s happened before. When Hitler came to power in January 1933 and until his invasion of Poland in September 1939, the Western world was treated to one example after another of governments, scholars and journalists, especially in Britain, France and the U.S., who couldn’t, or wouldn’t, grasp the genocidal nature of the Third Reich, though it was there for all to see.
Hitler didn’t hide his world view in “Mein Kampf” or his inflammatory speeches, but his words were too often dismissed. As many as 60 million people, including six million Jews, paid with their lives, not to mention the wounded, displaced, and exiled, for this failure.
Hamas in its ghoulish Charter calls for the destruction of Israel. It should be required reading before anyone offers comment on the current conflict.
Is what’s written simply meaningless or irrelevant? Or is it the key to understanding what’s going on?
Hamas uses schools, including UN-run educational institutions, to hide weapons. That’s why Israel has no choice but to enter those compounds.
The same with hospitals and ambulances, which Hamas brazenly exploits, again forcing Israel to take action. And mosques can also be used as arms depots for the terrorist infrastructure.
Notice how Hamas, with its wily public relations strategy, rushes to show damage to schools, hospitals and mosques, as if any destruction, ipso facto, is proof of Israeli “culpability.”
So, too, the weaponization of civilians to protect Hamas masterminds, thereby drawing world sympathy if this vulnerable population gets added to the casualty list, however unintentionally, by Israel’s forces.
How can we in the West possibly make the mental leap to another place — the world of Hamas and other members of the Muslim Brotherhood, and their state supporters — who fantasize about death, and yearn for “martyrdom” and the lure of life in the hereafter?
Israel is on the front line against a bloodthirsty adversary that few understand. It is an enemy that plays by different rules entirely, or, more precisely, no rules. Accordingly, Israel has to adapt to survive and fulfill the most basic function of any government — the protection of its people.
Jerusalem will aim to do what it must — defeat the enemy, keep a close eye on Iran and its Lebanese terrorist proxy Hezbollah, overcome its mind-numbing intelligence lapse, restore deterrence, care for the thousands of wounded, and search for the hundreds of kidnapped. In doing so, it deserves full support and solidarity, for its battle is no less than the battle of every democratic, life-affirming nation.
David Harris was CEO of American Jewish Committee from 1990 to 2022.