Perry Raphael Rank

The politics of choosing death

The Hamas invasion of Israel on October 7, 2023, was celebrated by pro-Palestinian groups, and Hamas itself, as an unqualified victory. That it escaped detection by Israeli and American intelligence is certainly humiliating. Coupled with the Israel Defense Force’s (IDF) unimpressive mobilization, both failures demand a full and painfully honest investigation in months to come. Still, a cold military assessment of the assault would cast much doubt over what was actually accomplished. The invasion damaged no military posts of significance, took out no essential governmental infrastructure, and though some heavy weaponry was blown up or disabled, none of the terrorists’ actions constituted wins that would qualify as military victories. The invasion was more of a mob riot and its description as a pogrom is thus fitting. Taking hostages is, according to the International Court of law, a war crime, so the taking of some 240 hostages would be 240 war crimes. Were there a qualitative metric that assessed the atrocity level of taking some hostages over others, the capture of babies, toddlers, and the elderly would make the crime all the more heinous. If the actions of October 7 were meant to achieve anything, they were meant to terrorize and infuriate Israelis. That they did, and more. With a few blatant exceptions, Jews around the globe are united in their outrage over what Hamas did, and continues to do.

The reports out of Gaza these days focus on the deaths caused by Israel’s relentless bombing. These are grim statistics largely provided by the Hamas-run Health Ministry. Contrary to its name, the Health Ministry proved itself a propaganda machine after its bogus reporting on the hundreds killed with the Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital. The hospital itself was not bombed, hundreds were not killed, and the bomb that fell in the hospital’s parking lot was a faulty Hamas missile, not Israel’s. In utter disregard of the truth, the statistics were inflated and disseminated to the media almost immediately. The wildly distorted casualty statistics and the incendiary accusation that Israel was responsible, before any investigation could take place, should be understood as a sign that these reports are manufactured for a purpose other than historical record or honest accounting. As the old adage goes, the first casualty of war is often the truth, and Hamas has clearly taken it hostage as well.

As Israel’s air strikes continue and the ground offense evolves, there is sure to be casualties and deaths that mount. That is the nature of war. War is miserable. And this war has the potential to grow worse. Hamas makes sure that the world knows how deeply the Gazans are suffering—inadequate food, decreasing water supplies, diminished fuel, etc. Reports typically include some variation of at least 50% of those killed are children, a refrain repeated as part of the unsubstantiated reports of the Health Ministry.

Granting the Health Ministry some small measure of integrity in reporting the suffering of innocent Palestinians, there is a way to substantially change the harsh character of this war. Israel has stated that it would abate air strikes once the hostages are released. Why not unload these hostages already? Any government intent on protecting its people would certainly choose accordingly. Yet Hamas refuses. In a most telling revelation of how Hamas understands the role of civilians in this war, the IDF reports Hamas’ attacks on the very humanitarian corridors the IDF has opened for Palestinians to get out of harm’s way. In other words, Hamas sabotages the safe passage of its citizens, exposing them to the very dangers from which they run. What all this adds up to is a political, not a military strategy. Hamas cannot defeat Israel militarily, but by exploiting the safety of its own people while wildly disseminating unsubstantiated figures of carnage, it can generate world-wide condemnation of Israel. Hamas can capitalize off the antisemitism that has infected the world over with hopes that the international community will turn on Israel and thus salvage Hamas’ evil-to-the-core grip on power.

One of the most powerful passages in the Torah is a charge that Moses gives to the Israelites at the end of the 40-year trek in the wilderness. He says, I call, this day, the heavens and earth to witness that before you I lay the blessing and the curse. Choose life, that you and your children may live (Deuteronomy 30:19). Some might think the choice absurdly obvious. Who wouldn’t choose the blessing and life? And the answer, sadly, tragically, is there are plenty of people who do not choose blessings or life. Life is a choice, as is sometimes death. And when a government chooses death for its people—forcing them to die, enforcing the policy when they try to escape—it has trampled on its most basic function, which is first and foremost to protect them from harm. Hamas fails the most fundamental test of what constitutes responsible government, and the world, blindly accepting Hamas’ fabricated and distorted reporting, is complicit in a future where Israel enjoys no peace and Palestinians enjoy no freedom. In another time and place, these international pro-Palestine demonstrators would have been labelled “useful idiots” by the Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924), who also needed the unthinking masses to support his questionable cause. One thing remains undeniable: any nation that suffered what Israel suffered on October 7 would be justified in wiping out the perpetrators. Hamas must go.

There are many useful idiots around the world right now, screaming at the Jews and telling us how horrible we are. They fail to distinguish between those who are dragged into a war and those who celebrate murder and parade rape victims through the streets. They fail to differentiate between an Israel whose GDP has soared over the years through the invention of marketable technologies and solutions to world problems, and an organization that has stolen millions of dollars in humanitarian aid in order to fund an impossible battle against its successful neighbor. So no matter how loudly or frequently or passionately the world may scream at us, we must do what is right, dismantle the terrorist infrastructure, restore security to Israel, free Gaza of the terrorists that control it, and let the haters, the bigots, the antisemites, and the useful idiots be damned. The heavens and earth will be witness to which side chooses life, and which death.

Dedicated to Ira Kohler,

son of Michael Kohler and Beth Weinstein Kohler,

one of the very fine young people of Midway Jewish Center, Syosset, NY,

who graduated college, made aliyah, joined the IDF,

because he wants to do his part in defending the Jewish State.

We love you, Ira!

And may God protect you and your fellow soldiers.

About the Author
Rabbi Rank was a pulpit rabbi for over 40 years and is presently rabbi emeritus of Midway Jewish Center in Syosset, Long Island. He served two other pulpits in Montclair and Springfield, NJ. He was the chair of the Rabbinic Advisory Committee for the Solomon Schechter School of West Orange, NJ and was a member of the Ethics Board of Oyster Bay, Long Island. He was president of the NJ Rabbinical Assembly and between the years 2004-2006, served as the president of the international Rabbinical Assembly. He is co-editor of Moreh Derekh, a life-cycle manual for rabbis and author of A Full-Figured Faith—The Expanding Effects of Doubt and Skepticism on an Evolving Jewish Faith.
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