Worldwide horror at the criminal actions of Hamas in slaughtering hundreds of innocent men, women and children is now dissolving in a sea of protest at the plight of the Palestinians. The core of this convulsion lies in an age-old, deeply ingrained prejudice against Jews, the driving force of which is the tendency to seek out a scapegoat in times of crisis.
Those who nurse an irrational hatred for the Jews are able to replace uncertainty about where responsibility for the sufferings of Israelis and Palestinians truly lies with the certainty of finding a soft target in the Jews. At one fell swoop, a ‘resolution’ is found and hatred can be concentrated on the group deemed solely responsible for the crisis. If past history is anything to go by, vilification, persecution, expulsion and mass murder follow one another in dreadful succession.
In my days as a practising psychiatrist I would sometimes encounter a person with a glint in his eye who would coldly inform me that there were agencies ‘out there’ planning to cause him harm. It was a relief to know that such a person was being held in a secure environment, such as a hospital, so that a conversation could take place about the whys and wherefores of his beliefs. The term paranoia is often used to describe this state of mind, although the term by no means lies exclusively within the province of the mental health profession and is widely applicable to societal groups in general.
I am not suggesting that the barbarism of Hamas which has sparked the present crisis was perpetrated by madmen. I simply want to make the point that when we are faced with crimes committed by fanatics who are still free to continue with their policy of indiscriminately murdering Jews, priority must be given to disempowering and apprehending them. In the case of Hamas, this is a task for the military, working under almost unbearable conditions while constrained by their civilised code of ethics.
More ominously, the paranoid mindset is highly contagious. Violence forces people to make ‘either-or’ choices and what we are now seeing is the obliteration of compassion for survivors of the massacre coupled with a wholehearted identification with the Palestinian cause. There is not a shred of awareness for the Jewish tragedy. Large aggregations of protesters are being swept along by blood-curdling Hamas-inspired chants calling for the destruction of the State of Israel.
It should be clear by now that there can be no reasoning with fanatics. Hamas and their fellow criminals, both within and beyond Gaza, are fuelled by an ideological fervour which has as its primary goal the destruction of Jewish life. They must be hunted down, captured and brought to justice.
We have been here before. The full extent of Nazi atrocities only came to light after a war which cost the lives of tens of millions. We are now facing a test to see whether civilisation has moved on. The obsessive insistence on foisting culpability for the evils of society on the Jews will never be entirely extinguished, but we can at least hope that there is enough momentum to confine it to the fringes of society.