The brutality of Hamas in the first hours when the localities around Gaza were left vulnerable to marauding gangs will soon be forgotten. The mass murder of defenseless civilians, mostly families with children and elderly people, including Holocaust survivors, will quickly fade from the headlines, replaced by the familiar accusation of disproportionality in Israel’s response to Hamas’s attack. This is not a frivolous prophecy but a reflection of past experiences. Historically, when Jews were slaughtered without defense, it stirred little global concern. And if it did, it was often long after the events, when the victims were beyond help, not to mention the deniers or minimizers of the genocide of European Jews.
The crucial difference between then and now is that Israel can defend itself. Of course, this doesn’t align with the worldview of declared antisemites and so-called anti-Zionists. Already, there are voices criticizing Israel for a supposedly disproportionate retaliation. The Israelis will be pressured to halt their fight against Hamas & Co., with accusations of excessive revenge. This cycle, which automatically kicks in after every conflict in Gaza, will stereotypically repeat itself. The question is whether Israel will succumb to the pressure or do better this time by seeing the job through to the end. Hopefully, Israel will not be deterred from militarily defeating Hamas and preventing its resurgence. How this will happen is a matter for Israeli military strategists to figure out. It won’t be easy.
The civilian population in Gaza will inevitably suffer greatly from the Israeli military action. This unfortunately does not only refer to those, who elected and support the actual leadership. The population density is high, and there are few escape options for civilians. Hamas fighters often take refuge in civilian facilities, using their own people as human shields. The abduction victims will suffer the most, as they will be the first to bear the brunt of the retreating Hamas’s vengeful actions. Israelis must grapple with the question of how much damage to their reputation and moral burden they are willing to bear.
Ending the military action prematurely may provide some relief in the short term, but it won’t pay off in the long run. Hamas will recover from the blows, gather strength, and rekindle its aggression. With 2.3 million of inhabitants and an efficient indoctrination system for the younger generations, the enclave has no shortage of recruits. Material losses can be compensated for with generous support from Iran and other sources. It’s only a matter of time until Hamas will be able again to present a threat to the inhabitants of Israel. Causing and enabling so called “collateral damages” is always a sever burden for an army with moral standards as the IDF. But it is a fundamental question whether the occurrence of innocent victims must halt a necessary military intervention. I believe that for the greater good – which is a lasting safety for the involved population on both sides – a painful decision in favor of continuation of the military intervention must be accepted.
Undoubtedly, Israel will face the fierce backlash of public opinion from both friends and foes. However, what matters is how long this resistance to public opinion can be sustained and whether there will be enough time to see the job through to the end. There is no sustainable alternative.