OpinionIsrael at War

Why this war is different from other wars

This is not a conflict between two civilized belligerents who agree on the value of human life.

Israeli soldiers in the Shati Camp in the northern Gaza Strip, on Nov. 16, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Israeli soldiers in the Shati Camp in the northern Gaza Strip, on Nov. 16, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Zachary R. Goldsmith
Zachary R. Goldsmith is the author of Fanaticism: A Political Philosophical History.

One of the most evocative photographs documenting the Holocaust depicts no dead bodies, gas chambers or smokestacks. It is a photograph of a floor upon which two Yiddish words were hastily written in blood: “Yidden, Nekamah!” (“Jews, Revenge!”).

The U.S. Holocaust Museum notes that this inscription was “scrawled in blood on the apartment floor of a Jew murdered in the Slobodka pogrom.” It explains, “On the night of June 25-26, 1941, one day after the German occupation of Kovno, Lithuanian nationalists unleashed a massive pogrom in the district of Vilijampole, known to Jews as Slobodka. Over 800 Jews were murdered in their homes in the most savage manner without any interference from Lithuanian or German authorities.”

I’ve been thinking of this image a lot since Oct. 7. I think of it when I hear the growing calls for a “ceasefire,” “peace” and an end to the “conflict” between Israel and Hamas. To those making such proclamations, I would answer with the story of this image, because it illustrates the unique nature of Israel’s war against the terror organization.

Hamas’s brutal massacre of 1,200 innocents, women and men, young and old, sick and well, proves that this is not a war like other wars. It is not a war between two civilized belligerents who roughly agree on a set of values regarding human life and the customs and constraints to be observed in war.

It is inconceivable, for example, for there to be anything like the now famous Christmas Truce observed on the Western Front during the First World War, epitomized by stories of British and German soldiers laying down their arms to play soccer. Such extraordinary behavior requires that each soldier recognize the common humanity of the other, anchored in the mutual belief that the other cherishes and values human life and other sacred values. The actions of Hamas on Oct. 7—as well as the subsequent defenses of those actions by several senior Hamas terrorists—prove that Hamas rejects these values. They have removed themselves from the brotherhood of humanity.

The fanatics of Hamas do not butcher women and children in the hopes of creating a Palestinian state. They do not behead children to secure their purported rights to national self-determination. They do not hide among the civilians of Gaza, wearing no uniforms and observing no laws of war, in order to promote the cause of human rights. Instead, they act according to a fascistic worldview built atop a blend of radical Islam and Jew-hatred.

Hamas’s founding covenant makes this clear, as do the writings of the founders of the larger Muslim Brotherhood movement that gave rise to Hamas and other groups like it. Indeed, Hamas’s charter includes a quote from Hassan Al-Banna (1906-1949), the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, which reads, “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.” But Hamas does not just want a total war against Israel but the total extermination of all Jews.

Hamas’s charter proves this by making no distinction between “Israel,” “Zionists” and “Jews.” Despite feeble attempts at obfuscation, several passages clearly point to Jews as the ultimate target, such as “Our struggle against the Jews is very great and very serious. The day that enemies usurp part of Muslim land, jihad becomes the individual duty of every Muslim. In face of the Jews’ usurpation of Palestine, it is compulsory that the banner of jihad be raised.” Elsewhere, it states, “Israel, Judaism and Jews challenge Islam and the Muslim people. ‘May the cowards never sleep.’”

Hatred of Jews and unremitting jihad is central to Hamas’s religious worldview. Its covenant makes this clear by quoting a particularly gruesome hadith that states, “The Day of Judgment will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews; when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say, ‘O Muslims, O Abdullah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.’” Thus, to Hamas, the killing of every Jew and all Jews is the duty of all true Muslims and an eventuality already foretold. Clearly, by its own admission, Hamas is fighting a “holy war” against Jews, who are seen as cosmic villains.

Given all this, the idea of “peace” without the total defeat of Hamas is not only illusory but rather a guarantee of more terror against Jews.

The promise and the purpose of the State of Israel is that Jews will never again be left scattered and helpless. Never again will Jews be subjected to butchery with recourse only to feeble messages scrawled in their own blood. Collected into a nation-state, the Jewish people live and possess the inalienable right to defend themselves in the face of evil and aggression. 

This is the truth philosopher Hannah Arendt recognized in her reporting on the trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann. Her message to Eichmann applies to every Hamas member today: “Just as you supported and carried out a policy of not wanting to share the earth with the Jewish people … we find that no one, no member of the human race, can be expected to want to share the earth with you. This is the reason, and the only reason, you must hang.”

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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