For Jews, there will always be a pre-October 7 and a post-October 7 world.
Pre-October 7 was a world in which antisemitism was still rampant, and often masked as its more politically correct cousin, anti-Zionism, but yet a world in which we still had trust. Trust that if the worst were to happen, our non-Jewish friends would still protect us. Our institutions would protect us. The global community would protect us. Post-October 7 is a world in which our trust has been entirely eroded. Not just the trust in our friends or the system, but in the very elements that make up humanity.
I no longer trust in morals, because I have seen over the past few weeks how something immoral has been moralised. I no longer trust in reason, because I have seen over the few two weeks how something unreasonable has been rationalised. I no longer trust in justice, because I have seen over the past few weeks how something unjustifiable has been justified.
I heard someone refer to this new reality as the ‘upside down’ world. Yes. On October 7, our world was turned upside down. And, it appears, we are still living in it.
On the morning of the 8th of October, I saw on the social media of a person I grew up with, a person self-described as a human rights activist, publicly celebrate the mass-slaughter of Jews with a room full of gleeful people – in Sweden. On the same day, I saw on the social media of a fellow international lawyer, a video celebrating the bulldozed barrier between Israel and Gaza, bulldozed by the same people who subsequently entered Israel to torture, rape, murder, decapitate, burn alive and maim 1,400 people.
It seems that even before Israel had responded to the Hamas attacks, before it had even had a chance to count the bodies, these atrocities were being celebrated as a form of fighting oppression, fighting for freedom. How did we get to this? “It will only get worse,” I heard my Israeli partner tell me, as I threw my phone on the ground in disgust that day, quickly terminating my online “friendship” with these monsters and letting out one uncontrollable sob after another. “This is just the beginning,” he said. “Israel hasn’t even responded yet. You have to brace yourself or get off the Internet.”
He was not wrong. Since that day, it has indeed gotten much, much worse. Predictably, Israel vowed to destroy Hamas, which was exactly the response Hamas was looking for. Because of Hamas’s total disregard for humanity and the laws of war, any military response whatsoever by Israel can be twisted in their favour. I will explain how.
People talk a lot about the conflict being an example of “asymmetrical warfare”. Typically, what they mean when they say this is that Israel is the powerful Goliath, backed by state-of-the-art weaponry from the West, while Palestine, or the Palestinians, are unarmed, unorganised, rock-throwing Davids. The reality is of course entirely different. Yes, Israel receives weapons and support from its allies in the West, most notably the United States. But Hamas is a highly sophisticated quasi-State, elected by the people of Gaza in 2005. It is funded and weaponised directly by the Islamic Republic of Iran and other donors, mainly through untracked cryptocurrencies, and funded indirectly by international humanitarian aid meant for the citizens of Gaza, who no doubt lead miserable lives. The wealth of Hamas’s leader, who currently resides in Qatar, is estimated at 4 billion dollars. In its nearly 20 years of authoritarian rule, Hamas has dug up and repurposed into rockets water pipes meant to provide clean drinking water to Gaza Strip residents, diverted money for aid to produce more weapons for its army, and sold whatever is left of the food, medicines and other aid it has received at extortionate prices to vendors in Gaza for reselling to its citizens. Aid that was meant to be free to the people who need it the most is being used, abused and resold.
This war is asymmetrical, but not in the way people think. This is a war between a State, which operates according to the international laws of armed conflict, and an organisation, which does not. The laws of armed conflict prohibit the deliberate targeting of civilians. They prohibit the indiscriminate targeting of civilians, too – with rockets that can land anywhere (including in the parking lots of Gaza hospitals). They prohibit the taking of hostages. They prohibit torture. They do not prohibit deaths. But when you respect the laws of armed conflict, you seek to minimise death and suffering in war. When you do not, you pursue death and suffering in war. It is almost impossible to fight a war, in respect of the laws of armed conflict and with the aim of minimising death and suffering, against an organisation that not only tries to kill and harm as many of its opponent’s civilians as possible, but that also seeks the deaths of its own. By ensuring that as many of its own civilians as possible are killed, it succeeds in painting an image of its opponent as its equal – a “terrorist state” – thereby legitimising its own horrendous actions.
By upholding the image of David fighting against his oppressor, Goliath, Hamas and its sister organisation Palestinian Islamic Jihad, are able to get away with virtually anything, no matter how horrid or unlawful, while any action taken by Israel in response, no matter how legal, justified or necessary, is condemned and dismissed as another act of oppression. Even if Hamas did not hide its weaponry arsenal in or near hospitals, mosques, kindergartens and protected United Nations buildings, which they do, even if Hamas did not threaten the civilians in North Gaza to stay put during strikes in order to die for the “cause”, which they do, and even if Israel managed to kill only Hamas operatives with zero civilian casualties, and destroy only Hamas weapons, the strikes would still be seen as part of a continuing policy of oppressing the Palestinian people. And that is why Israel can never win.
As someone who has dedicated her professional life to international law and upholding what is right, what has perhaps pained me the most, other than the deep, indescribable pain I feel about the public justification to the massacre of my people, is the eradication of my trust in the law, and the fact that what is not only reasonable and just, but also legal, has been, somehow, illegalised.
The Gaza Strip is governed by the third consecutive Hamas administration, comprising Ministers, Deputy Ministers, Director Generals and other high level officials. Israel left the Gaza Strip in 2005, together with all remaining Jews living there. Hamas immediately commenced its rocket launching campaign that would continue for the two decades to come. In 2007, after Hamas became officially elected, it violently ousted its remaining political opponents, taking complete control of the strip. After Fatah and the Palestinian Authority fled the strip, leaving it as a terrorist stronghold, Egypt and Israel together imposed a blockade to isolate Hamas and prevent the smuggling of weapons into Gaza, which was causing a threat to the security of both Israel and Egypt. The Palestinian Authority itself supported the blockade, declaring that any lifting of it would bolster Hamas. This is the backdrop to the Gaza blockade, which has been written about, protested against, described as an occupation, compared with the Holocaust and likened to an open-air prison. It is all of these things – but the people responsible for making it such is Hamas. For twenty years, this organisation that may have borne the promise of a free Palestine in 2005 when it was elected, has terrorised and controlled its people, presenting such an enormous threat to the security of its neighbouring states that neither Israel nor Egypt can afford to open the borders. And anything that does enter is immediately hijacked by Hamas in furtherance of its genocidal mission to rid the Earth from Jews and other infidels, starting (but certainly not ending) with its most immediate neighbours. With the amount of international aid and funding Gaza has received to date, it should have been the pearl of the Middle East. Instead, its leaders live as kings in other pearls of the Middle East.
Israel is not perfect – far from it. For example, imposing a siege on Gaza which prevents the influx of food and electricity has devastating humanitarian consequences and makes the situation incredibly dire for the citizens of Gaza, who have for decades been punished by everyone around them for a war they didn’t want. Food, aid and fuel has to be able to reach the residents of Gaza, and to the extent that Israel or any other country is preventing that from happening by failing to honour their international obligations, they should be criticised. But even the citizens of Gaza blame Hamas for the situation they find themselves in. And if we are to criticise, and we are to blame, we must direct our blame in equal proportion against all those responsible.
Never have I seen such an unequivocal condemnation of Israel from protesting citizens in every corner of the world, without a corresponding unequivocal condemnation of the indescribable atrocities Hamas committed on the 7th of October, and the atrocities they continue to commit, with the holding of over 200 hostages, including babies and toddlers, and the barrages of rockets they have fired at Israel non-stop over the past three weeks (or shall I say, the past 20 years). “Proportionality,” I hear people cry, as I watch our international press print the increasing numbers of Palestinian casualties in alarming headlines. We should be alarmed by any number of Palestinian civilian casualties, even though, as an international lawyer, I feel compelled to say that the concept of proportionality in war is a legal term that has been entirely misconstrued in the media. Nevertheless, the death of civilians is an indescribably tragic element of war, and the scenes coming out of Gaza are horrifying. But as the government of the Gaza Strip, Hamas also runs the Gaza Health Ministry – the body responsible for reporting internationally on the death count of Palestinians. We saw only last week how an alleged Israeli airstrike, purportedly landing on a hospital and killing 500 civilians, was quietly confirmed to be an errant Hamas rocket landing in a parking lot, killing maybe 50, maybe 10, maybe none. On the other side of the border, Hamas rockets hit a hospital four times – causing not even a fraction of the media outcry. Where is the proportionality of our response?
This is a dirty war. I do not blame people for being confused. I do not blame them for not knowing what is right and what is wrong. I do blame them, however, for deciding, in the midst of that confusion, that the pain and suffering of the Palestinians is the only legitimate pain and suffering in this conflict, and that it is directly attributable to Israel no matter what has happened, is currently happening or will happen in the future. I also blame mainstream media for their abhorrent disregard for journalistic principles. What is supposed to be our on-the-ground source of honest and factual reporting has become a propaganda machine for Hamas. Trigger-happy journalists don’t question the logistics of accurately counting 500 deaths in 10 minutes, when two weeks after the 7 October massacre, Israel has still not finished counting the bodies. They don’t consider the fact that terrorists who have the ability to gut pregnant women, tear out their foetuses, and behead the mother and unborn child, also have the ability to lie.
And this is really what we are dealing with here. Asymmetrical warfare at its very core. An absolute inability to condemn, or even believe, any act when carried out against Jews, no matter how horrendous, and an almost obsessive need to do so, when Jews are described as the perpetrators. Who the victims are, does not matter.