Israel Must Not Commit Atrocities in Response to Hamas’ Brutal Massacres

Like Jewish people across the world, I have fallen asleep and woken up every day with a pit in my stomach since Hamas’ horrific massacre in Israel on October 7th. I feel sick with grief for the hundreds of people who senselessly lost their lives, and for their loved ones who will forever be tormented by the events of that day. I am haunted by images of innocent people, who remind me of my own family, being held hostage, shot, and paraded through the streets. I struggle to understand how Hamas is capable of such brutality, and as many in the world cheer Hamas, I fear the seemingly inextinguishable fire of antisemitism.

There is no undoing the atrocities of October 7th, but I am among many Jews who take solace in the Israeli Defense Force’s ability to provide protection when a group unleashes its ire on the Jewish people. Israel is justified in taking military action to defend itself and to defeat Hamas and its genocidal aspirations.

However, the validity of a military response from Israel does not mean any military response is valid. I cannot accept that Hamas’ atrocities against innocent people justify Israel committing other atrocities against innocent people. I am increasingly alarmed by Israel’s choice to inflict suffering on civilians in Gaza in a manner that is both inhumane and ineffective for achieving its goal of liberating hostages and defeating Hamas. It is shocking to see Israel impose a blockade of electricity, water, and fuel on Gaza, depriving over two million people of basic necessities for survival. I also fear that Israel’s evacuation order for more than a million northern Gaza residents will lead to their permanent displacement, as foreshadowed by Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and explicitly promoted by retired Major General Giora Eiland. Lastly, despite Israel’s order for civilians to flee the most dangerous combat areas, it seems no place in Gaza is safe from Israeli bombings, as more than 1,000 children have already been killed in the war. If Israel remains on its current trajectory, it will only worsen a grave humanitarian crisis.

While Israel claims its blockade will pressure Hamas to liberate Israeli hostages, it simultaneously argues that Hamas is unmotivated to protect Gaza’s civilians. If Israel’s government believes Hamas uses civilians as human shields, why would depriving those same civilians of basic necessities persuade Hamas to concede and release the hostages? When this inconsistent logic is revealed, Israel’s blockade of Gaza looks a lot less strategic and a lot more vengeful. Regardless of the rationale, this inexcusable violation of human rights could tip into the horrifying realm of mass murder if Israel does not reverse course quickly enough.

Additionally, Israel’s evacuation order for one million residents in northern Gaza may keep civilians out of lethal urban combat zones, but it also raises the frightening possibility that those residents will be permanently displaced. Far before the current conflict, Israel’s Minister of National Security, Itamar Ben-Gvir, had a history of disregarding Palestinian territorial rights. Now, other senior officials in Israel’s military and parliament, including Major General Ghassan Alian and Defense Minister Gallant, are suggesting Israel will make Gaza “hell” and deliver consequences that last “for forever.” When recalling the 700,000 Palestinians displaced by Israel’s 1948 War of Independence who never returned to their homes, it is not difficult to imagine that the displacement of Gaza residents could last far beyond the current war.

Lastly, while Hamas disregards civilian safety by imbedding itself in residential areas, that fact does not justify Israel’s widespread bombing of civilian safe havens. Among the targets of suspected Israeli bombings in the past week are a school, an emergency shelter, and a convoy of vehicles evacuating from northern Gaza. These actions cause senseless death and sow terror among civilians.

As a Jewish citizen of the world, I cannot stand idly by and accept that the only course of action is for Israel to show such cruelty towards civilians. Israel must restore electricity, water, and fuel to the people of Gaza immediately. It must also ensure northern Gaza residents can return home as soon as combat ceases in their neighborhoods. Even the temporary displacement of Gaza residents is causing enormous disruptions and has tragic consequences. To minimize long term devastation, Israel must limit damage to civilian infrastructure in evacuated areas, while treating shelters, schools, and hospitals as safe zones at all times. As a citizen of the United States, I similarly demand that the US not write a blank check to Israel. US military aid to Israel must be contingent upon the above humanitarian guarantees.

There can be no mistake that Hamas prides itself on terrorizing civilians and using them as pawns in its war. However, Israel’s moral imperative is to differentiate itself from its enemy and protect civilians and their basic human rights. I recognize this argument can feel unwelcome in the aftermath of a Hamas operation designed to maximize civilian suffering. But Israel does no honor to the innocent victims of Hamas’ attack by inflicting additional suffering on innocent people. I refuse to stay silent or hide behind my grief and anger. Israel must show restraint in its treatment of Gaza’s civilians, even as it shows resolve in liberating hostages and defending its people.

About the Author
Jacob Naimark lives in New York City and currently works as a paralegal.
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