Micha Odenheimer

Proportionality? Not in this War

There is this thing about Jews: We’ve had some traumatic experiences with genocide which we prefer not to repeat. And so when Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah tell us they want to destroy the Jewish state, we have found that it is prudent to believe them. Especially when their opening gambit is a wholesale massacre of men, women and children performed with unfathomable cruelty and then broadcast from body cams and celebrated by their adherents.

Those who are demanding “proportionality” from Israel in its response to the October 7th massacres have little understanding of how Israelis see this moment. What is on the line for us is our very existence — the lives and security of 9.73 million Israelis, the safety of Jews worldwide, and the fate of our 3,000-year-old people. Those are the proportions with which we view this war.

While some may see only Hamas, we see Iran, a state 73 times larger than Israel with ten times the population, vast oil wealth and a highly developed military capacity. Iran has repeatedly promised to “wipe Israel off the map”. We’ve learned to take that threat seriously. Especially since Iran is no stranger to mass murder on the largest possible scale. Over the last 12 years, Iran’s troops and funds have enabled the massacre of half a million Sunni Moslems, most of them civilians, in Assad’s Syria. Millions more Syrians were sent into exile. Israelis have witnessed the world’s relative indifference to this genocide unfolding right across our northeastern border.

Hezbollah, which participated in the massacres in Syria at the behest of Iran, and whose 150,000 missiles are pointed at Israel, is an Iranian proxy. So is Hamas. Israel cannot tolerate a murderous force sworn to its destruction on its borders. If Hamas is allowed to regroup and rule again in Gaza, Iran and its proxies will be emboldened in their goal of dismantling the Jewish State and massacring or exiling its inhabitants.

But what about the Gazan civilians? Their deaths are a tragedy that Israel does not benefit from and did not choose. Hamas started this war. They then escaped back to their Gazan command center in a warren of tunnels located beneath hospitals, schools, and apartment buildings in one of the most densely populated metropolitan centers in the world. Racing back to their tunnels with 242 hostages, including dozens of toddlers and children, they continued to shoot missiles at an Israel reeling from shock and grief.

A government that cared for its people would have actively encouraged civilians to leave that battle zone – especially in a war that they had knowingly provoked. Israel has repeatedly asked Gaza City residents to evacuate for their safety to the south where humanitarian relief is being concentrated. But Gazans heading southward have been stopped by Hamas roadblocks, threatened, and may even have been shot, according to reports from within Gaza and from Israeli and US sources. Hamas needs Gazan civilians in harm’s way so they can continue to use them as human shields and as proof of Israel’s maleficence. Israel, in contrast, has moved hundreds of thousands of its citizens to the center of the country, away from the barrage of missiles in the south and the face-off with Hezbollah in the north.

What if there was a way for the next part of this war to unfold without the loss of innocent life? In fact, there is such a way. Those rightly concerned with the suffering of Gazans should first of all demand that Hamas allow civilians to leave the battle zone, stop shooting missiles at Israel and release the hostages. Even better, the world should pressure Hamas to negotiate terms of surrender. This would stop the war immediately. Israel should do everything it can to minimize civilian casualties, and to alleviate the impending humanitarian disaster. But ultimately, the death of Gazan children is on Hamas, and on those who fail to call them out.

But isn’t the occupation the real problem? Hamas began blowing up women and children in buses and cafes in 1993, demonstrating the genocidal intent documented in their charter. Right after Ehud Barak’s offer to create a Palestinian State in 98 percent of the West Bank and Gaza and all of Arab East Jerusalem, Hamas intensified its suicide bombing campaign, murdering more than one thousand Israelis. For every suicide bomb that detonated, ten more, that Israeli forces managed to prevent, were planned. The occupation didn’t create Hamas’s murderous policies or its antisemitic ideology. Quite the opposite: Hamas’s targeting of civilians for mass murder has prolonged the occupation and driven Israelis rightwards.

Israel left Gaza in 2005, all the way to the 1967 lines, dragging settlers from their home, while simultaneously withdrawing from northern Samaria. This was a clear signal that even after the disaster of post-Oslo, Israel was willing to take risks for peace. Palestinians could have transformed Gaza into a thriving Mediterranean coastal city-state. If that had happened, withdrawal from the West Bank would almost certainly have followed. Instead, Hamas took control, used pipes meant to bring water to thirsty Gazans to fashion rockets, and started shooting missiles into Israeli cities. They spent billions on arms, tunnels and missiles while leaving the majority of Gazans in poverty.

Make no mistake about it. Israel will not stop until Hamas is decisively defeated. We are fighting for our lives, for the future of the State of Israel and of the Jewish people. The demonstrators who chant “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” — they know the dimensions of this fight. So do the Jew-haters marking homes with the Star of David in Los Angeles, Toronto, Berlin and Paris. Those who preach “proportionality” are either willfully ignorant or are masking a darker agenda by pretending not to understand what is at stake.

About the Author
Micha Odenheimer is a journalist, rabbi, and social entrepreneur. Micha founded the Israel Association or Ethiopian Jews, the first advocacy organization dedicated to changing absorption policies, and Tevel b'Tzedek, an Israeli organization working with impoverished subsistence farmers in the Global South. Micha has written for numerous publications, including Haaretz, the Washington Post, and the Jerusalem Report from Ethiopia, Somalia, Iraq, Burma, Bangladesh, Indonesia and other countries.
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