Orr Scharf

Torpor Undercuts the West’s Moral Stand

A 'Shabbat Dinner' table at the Tel Aviv Art Museum plaza, with more than 200 empty seats, representing the hostages and missing held in Gaza. Photo by: Yossipik. Used under the following Creative Commons license:

Isolated from the world, at the complete mercy of their abductors, closely guarded, hidden behind a curtain of chilling silence, an estimated 220 captives are held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Being held in captivity by this fundamentalist, murderous organization is the nightmare that Israelis do not dare dream; the sheer horror of the experience was probably beyond the realm of possibilities for the non-Israelis abducted alongside their fellow Israelis. In violation of every conceivable basic code of human conduct, the terrorists that loaded open trucks and vans with innocent civilians, took an estimated number of 30 children to captivity. This statement must be repeated: an estimated number of 30 children were kidnapped and are currently held hostage under conditions that no one other than Hamas knows what they are. Elderly women and men, patients suffering from chronic illnesses, work migrants living in Israel to earn a living, tourists, young music lovers, are now Hamas’ best kept secret. Its “prized asset” in a sadistic war that wreaks woe, destruction and grief on all parties involved in it.

There is a direct line connecting the unprecedented humanitarian crisis Gazans are suffering and the captives’ abduction. Hamas’ ideology is premised on a worldview whereby people are a mere means to its ends; note people, rather than Israelis, Jews, or simply “the enemy.” In the same way that Hamas terrorists are trained to execute suicide missions, its leaders lack a minimal regard for or interest in human suffering, including of the population they purport to lead and administer.

Tragically, the voices in the West demanding an immediate alleviation of food, water and medication shortages in Gaza seem ignorant of, indifferent to, or at best mildly cognizant of the acuteness of the hostage crisis. And it is particularly grieving to witness leaders of the highest calibre downplaying the severity of Hamas’ abduction of innocent civilians, as they rush to address Israel’s humanitarian responsibilities. In his speech yesterday, UN Secretary General António Guterres briefly condemned the kidnapping of civilians, listing it alongside Hamas’ October 7 attack and launching of rockets. Guterres’ statements whereby, “all hostages must be treated humanely and released immediately and without conditions,” seemed like a pale lip service in comparison to a much longer description of the immediate needs of Gaza residents, and the massive displacement of more than a million of them from the north part of the Strip to its south.

Former president Barack Obama’s post, also released yesterday, seems to echo the Secretary General’s fleeting mention of the hostage crisis, by stating at the outset that he fully supports, “… facilitating the safe return of hundreds of hostages to their families.” Nowhere else in the 1,065 word-long post is there a reference, subtle or explicit, to the predicament of the civilians held in the clutches of Hamas. At no point in the piece does the former president pause to reflect on what the jailing of dozens of innocent children, highly likely underground and in many cases cut off from their parents, means – to their well-being, to their families, to their nation, and to Palestinians. Obama rests content with a mild suggestion that, “Hamas’ military operations are deeply embedded within Gaza — and its leadership seems to intentionally hide among civilians, thereby endangering the very people they claim to represent.” As president, Obama was privy to intelligence of the highest quality on Hamas’s leadership and activities, which as the current war demonstrates, is simply incongruous with the equivocation of its heinous policy of using civilians – Palestinian, Israeli and of other nationalities – as human shields.

Guterres spoke before the UN General Assembly in the presence, according to him, of hostage family members. Obama wrote his post far from the war zone. Neither, it seems, had the gumption to look up the names and faces of helpless hostages such as Doron Katz Asher and her two daughters, Aviv (4) and Raz (2), snatched by terrorists as they came to visit their grandmother in Kibbutz Nir Oz; or of 85-year-old Yaffa, whose captors videoed and aired her abduction; or of siblings Erez, Sahar and Ofer Kalderon who were taken from Kibbutz Nahal Oz, leaving their mother, Hadas, without the faintest life sign to hold on to. In their calls to let humanitarian aid into Gaza, Guterres and Obama neglected to mention Hamas’ refusal to provide humanitarian aid to its captives. They probably did not give second thought to the fate of Tamar Gutman, 27, who suffers from Crohn’s disease, and will not survive long without suitable medication. (details taken from the social media pages of hostage families’ organization Bring them Home Now – on Facebook and X).

Inconsolably, the list goes on and on. The refraction of the personal and national dimensions of the catastrophe in one another deepens the pain. Yet, the mantle of impartiality so many in the West choose to assume somehow sequesters the hostage crisis as an internal Israeli affair, or as one item on a list of Hamas’ violations of international law.

Unfortunately, there is no ridge on which one can walk between the humanitarian crisis on the Palestinian side and the Israeli side, only a precipice. This precipice is the work of Hamas’ basic worldview that people are means to its ends. The meticulous planning of the October 7 onslaught and its aftermath included careful calculations of the humanitarian crisis in the Strip, and its optimization as leverage against Israel’s military retaliation. In the same way, the exploitation of civilians in captivity, including young children, as pieces on a gameboard is a calculated measure employed with the darkest of intentions. The expectation, or worse still demand, from Israel to address Gazans’ plight separately from Hamas’ jailing of innocents, is a flabbergasting show of incomprehension of what is at stake right now in the war that is raging between the terrorist organization and the sovereign state of Israel. Such torpor in the face of the hostage crisis undercuts the moral stand of the West.

About the Author
Dr. Orr Scharf is a lecturer at the Cultural Studies M.A. Program, The University of Haifa and a scholar of intellectual history.
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