Steven Aiello

Preserving Humanity in the Face of Evil

The horrific events of October 7, 2023 have been called Israel’s September 11th–in the utter collective trauma to a people, a defining moment that will be forever seared in our minds. I was 12 years old when two planes brought down the Twin Towers–I can recall vividly looking out the window of our school in Brooklyn and seeing the smoke rising from lower Manhattan. The shock and horror brought people together in a time of grief, and New Yorkers found unity in a way that Israelis all come together at times of war.  We are seeing that already in Israel–groups for volunteers have been overwhelmed with those wishing to help, and donations of food for the troops and displaced families; people flocking to funerals of people they had never met before in a show of support.

During such times–faced with unspeakable evil perpetrated by complete strangers, while we bury loved ones, are torn apart thinking about family and friends being held captive by evil incarnate, there are immediate and powerful reactions. Understandably. Individually and collectively, when the dust has settled, we will need not just accountability from our political, intelligence, and military leaders, but also genuine mental health support, and the opportunity to express the pain, anger and vulnerability that so many feel. 

At the same time, as we fight to secure our borders and pivot to going on the offensive, the hardest part is yet to come. Because with all of our pain, with all of the anger, and with the full force of the IDF facing a largely civilian population in Gaza, the potential to punish those who had no knowledge, voice or role in the attacks, is too easy. We must be able to look ourselves in the mirror afterwards. We cannot lose our humanity. And that is easier said than done.  

We all know that those who are under the influence of alcohol or similar substances should not get behind the wheel of a car or any powerful machine. The potential for causing catastrophic harm, losses that you will regret the next morning, is too high. The same can be said for being in a heightened emotional state. The possibility of making decisions and taking actions that we cannot undo, is sky high. That goes all the more when those who could pay the price are those we deem different than us, or in this case, on the other side of a fence, who we associate with our enemies (Hamas, PIJ, and other terrorist entities). 

The decision to cut off the supply of water to a civilian population–two million humans–women, children, babies, elderly, disabled, alike, is immoral. It likely violates international humanitarian law–the laws of ethical warfare based to a large degree on lessons learned from the Holocaust. It undermines the legal arguments for carrying out a blockade of Gaza under the San Remo Manual. And it is definitely an emotional reaction that many of us will not want to wake up to once we are sober. It is not something that we would want our children or grandchildren to know we were part of, was done in our name, was implemented by our army. 

I served proudly in the IDF for two years, including during a war. Throughout my service, and the nearly decade since leaving the army, I have carried the IDF code of ethics in my wallet. I may not agree with every strategic decision, but I believed in our purity of arms, our efforts to uphold IHL, to protect civilian life on both sides, while defending our right to a safe and secure homeland. But the decision to cut off food, water, or medical supplies, to a civilian population, regardless of our own pain, loss and suffering, is indefensible and immoral. 

We face difficult days, and impossible choices ahead of us. If there were a magic button to disappear Hamas and PIJ and install a responsible, democratic, civilian government in Gaza, it would have been done. But even now, in our most vulnerable and painful moment as a nation in half a century, we must rise above the base instinct and raw emotions. The response of Israel, carried out by the IDF, must have clear objectives, and must be implemented in a way that we can look ourselves in the mirror the day after. That will be the hardest part of the battle.

About the Author
Steven Aiello is the Director of Debate for Peace (, and a board member of the NGO Committee on Sustainable Development NY. He has a BA in Economics, MA in Diplomacy and Conflict Studies, and MA in Islamic Studies. He teaches Model UN for schools throughout Israel. Among his other hats he serves as Regional Coordinator for Creating Friendships for Peace, and Dialogue Officer at Asfar. Steven has also served as Chief of the Middle East Desk Head for Wikistrat, interned for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and the American Islamic Congress. His writing has been published in the NY Daily News, Jerusalem Post, Iran Human Rights Review; Berkley Center at Georgetown;, and the Center for Islamic Pluralism. He can be reached via email at
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