Letter to the Editor: Speaking truth to hatred

| Class of 2027

Reading the remarkably disturbing opinion submission from a WashU American Culture Studies lecturer, I could not help but think about a more widespread issue: the troubling narrative being spread about Israel and the implications of that for the Jewish community at large. I firmly believe that anyone who genuinely cares about civilians in Gaza and who chooses to express that care with anti-Israel sentiment is misguided at best and, at worst, is just using this conflict as an excuse to perpetuate antisemitism, completely neglecting to address the evil of the Hamas terror regime.

I am particularly dismayed by the lecturer calling into question the barbarity of Hamas’ attack on Oct. 7 that the terrorists proudly recorded for the world to see, drawing from sources like The Electronic Intifada to make his point. Hamas terrorists broke a ceasefire and proceeded to rape, behead, burn, mutilate, slaughter, and kidnap innocents. I cannot say that I am surprised by the articulation of the world’s reaction to an attack on Israel. Why? Because it is clear that many self-proclaimed anti-Zionists will take any opportunity to vilify the Jewish state in order to make Jewish suffering palatable.

People who are truly pro-Palestinian — or even pro-humanitarian — should be anti-Hamas, which, in my mind, entails support for Israel in its mission to bring the hostages home and dismantle Hamas. Since Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 and Hamas took control in 2007, the citizens of Gaza have been denied the means to create a robust economy and maintain security — basic components of any society that should be the core mission of every government. Granted, the Israeli and Egyptian blockade of the Gaza Strip has, to an extent, adversely impacted the people of Gaza, but the blockade is necessary to mitigate the threat that Hamas poses by restricting their ability to import weapons used to attack Israel. 

Meanwhile, Hamas — the world’s second wealthiest terrorist organization — is diverting economic assistance and humanitarian aid intended to help raise the citizenry in Gaza to fund terrorism. By way of example, Hamas has literally ripped water pipelines donated by the European Union out of the ground and turned them into rockets. Hamas’ rockets are fired indiscriminately at civilian population centers in Israel, targeting Israeli Jews and Arabs alike. What is also very troubling is that, according to Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesman Daniel Hagari, 20% of those rockets fail and fall back on Gaza. Interestingly enough, the Hamas-run Gaza Ministry of Health never attributes the fatalities or injuries from these failures properly and lumps these figures in with those inflicted by Israeli forces. 

With the billions of dollars each year being allocated to Hamas, Gaza should have an infrastructure that rivals even the most advanced Western cities. But by ensuring that the conflict endures and that peace is never achieved, Hamas leaders will continue to line their pockets with billions as money is poured into Gaza. To be crystal clear, the citizens of Gaza are suffering because of the actions and criminal behavior of the terrorist regime in power.

Hamas is a dangerous regime on numerous levels, and, in accordance with that claim, the United States has officially designated Hamas as a foreign terrorist organization. There are no recurring elections that keep Hamas leaders in their positions of power, and there is no mechanism for the people of Gaza to put leaders in power who would better represent their interests. Instead of acting in the best interest of the people of Gaza, Hamas chose to violently eliminate Fatah, the minority coalition, in a civil war in Gaza, aiming to stifle any threat to their grip on power. By contrast, Israel is clearly and fundamentally a representative democracy, with people of diverse backgrounds, including Arabs and Jews, holding elected office.

The lecturer claims that Israel’s characterization of Hamas as using the Palestinians in Gaza as human shields is malicious in that he believes Israel uses the term to justify civilian casualties. He fails to address that Hamas puts civilians at risk. And, unfortunately, that has been a successful strategy. According to opinion columnist Jason Willick, the deterrent effect of human shields has made it incredibly difficult for Israel to press on with an offensive against Hamas. However, the scale of Hamas’ butchery on Oct. 7 left Israeli leaders no choice but to see to it that Hamas is completely destroyed. Because Hamas leverages civilians in Gaza as human shields, all of the blood is on their hands. Tunnels and caches of weapons are stored quite intentionally among the civilian population’s most important institutions — hospitals, schools, and religious sites — all in the name of the terrorist machine bent on the destruction of the Jewish state. This is not Israel’s way of trying to accept civilian casualties — this is simply the reality of the situation. 

Hamas leaders have demonstrated that they are willing to sacrifice Palestinians in Gaza if that means they can make more progress in the destruction of Israel. As articulated by Ghazi Hamad, a senior Hamas official, “We must teach Israel a lesson…The Al-Aqsa Deluge [the name Hamas gave its October 7 onslaught] is just the first time, and there will be a second, a third, a fourth. Will we have to pay a price? Yes, and we are ready to pay it. We are called a nation of martyrs, and we are proud to sacrifice martyrs.” 

As military personnel have highlighted, the State of Israel places a great emphasis on human life. According to John Spencer, the Chair of Urban Warfare Studies at the Modern War Institute at West Point, Israel has taken more extraordinary measures to avoid harming civilians than any other military in history, such as issuing maps alerting the enemy where they would be operating each day in order to mitigate the risk to civilians. Spencer also argued that the Israel Defense Forces seek the destruction of military targets, not civilian targets, and they do so with precision, even while putting the lives of their soldiers at greater incremental risk to ensure such measures are adhered to and implemented.

The Israeli government is trying to balance its aims of quelling the threat to their people while simultaneously trying to limit the civilian casualties of the people of Gaza. The number one priority of any nation should be to keep its citizenry free from harm, whether domestic or foreign. The Israeli government has explained that there is no way to do that if Hamas continues to lead Gaza, so they seek to destroy Hamas permanently rather than risk future attacks.

In short, Israel has determined that it is no longer tenable to have a Hamas-led regime on their border for fear that Hamas will make good on their articulated goal. So, it is indeed a fight for survival. If there is ever a ceasefire, then Hamas will regroup and attack again and again until Israel is wiped off the map. Just look at their track record; we cannot allow history to repeat itself.

It is no doubt devastating that innocent civilians in Gaza have died and will continue to die in the name of war. That being said, at what point can we find common ground in Hamas being the enemy when it is Hamas that is not allowing the people of Gaza to leave the war zone? People are, for good reason, passionately outraged by the civilian casualties in Gaza, but that passion has been misdirected. War brings pain, suffering, and death to those not deserving of such fates, but this war was brought to Gaza by the heinous actions of their government. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken points outthat the world is almost deafeningly silent when it comes to Hamas.” 

Hamas started this war with a brutal terrorist attack, and, just because the terrorists are now losing, that doesn’t make them innocent victims deserving of mercy or pity. Especially now, in light of Iran’s direct aggressions toward Israel, this is Israel’s last resort to ensure its survival, and Israel is trying to fight this justified war justly. There are very few regimes in the world, for instance, that would alert the enemy with such a level of specificity where they will be attacking so as to minimize loss of civilian life and give innocent people time to flee.

The Israeli government, in collaboration with the U.S., has proposed a two-state solution on numerous occasions, but Hamas has rejected such proposals each time. Why? Because they do not want peace; they do not want what is best for their people. As per Hamas’ rhetoric, they want to bring death to the Jewish people and destruction to the Jewish state. Hamas official Fathi Hamad urged Palestinians to “attack every Jew on planet Earth,” explaining that they “must slaughter and kill [Jews], with Allah’s help.” 

Their objectives are clearly spelled out in Hamas’ founding charter: “The Day of Judgment will not come about until Moslems fight Jews and kill them. Then, the Jews will hide behind rocks and trees, and the rocks and trees will cry out: ‘O Moslem, there is a Jew hiding behind me, come and kill him.’” It is not just about the land or anything Israel is doing or not doing. It is not about oppressor states and the oppressed. Rather, this all boils down to the hatred of the Jews and the desire to exterminate them. That shines through even here on campus. This past Saturday, students disrupted an admitted students’ reception by shouting “from the river to the sea” — an explicit call for the genocide of Jews in Israel — and “intifada revolution” — a call for violent uprisings against the Jewish people.

It is important to make the distinction that Hamas brought the war to Israel by slaughtering 1,200 innocent Israeli citizens and taking over 240 hostages, and Hamas leadership knew that they would be putting their citizens in the line of fire in the aftermath of their attacks. As a nation, to definitively solve having a terrorist regime on its border bent on the Jewish state’s extinction, Israel realized that a war against Hamas was necessary in the fight for the Jewish state’s survival.

Antisemitism is really the only reason I can imagine why Israel’s war effort is under so much scrutiny. When terrorists invade a nation, commit mass slaughter, and take people captive, they know they are inviting war — but that seemingly doesn’t matter to the people who will stop at nothing to demonize the only Jewish state. Hateful individuals will continue to find reasons to make Jewish pain acceptable. Sound familiar? It should. Too many times throughout the course of history, leaders have pointed the finger at the Jewish community as a scapegoat for the ills of society only to make their characterization as “the other,” or even their slaughter, palatable. I hope this cycle doesn’t repeat itself again, but if this surge in antisemitism is reflective of a new norm, I fear the worst. 

Let’s not forget why Israel exists. It’s not a mere luxury. It is a necessity. It is necessary for the survival of the Jewish people. Our people have long been subjected to pogroms and persecutions, so it is clear that the Jewish state is the only safe haven for Jewish people when the world inevitably turns on us. As was proven on Oct. 7 and on numerous occasions preceding this latest and most barbaric act, the terrorists don’t stop to consider secular versus non-secular, observant versus non-observant, reform versus orthodox, anti-Bibi or pro-Bibi, empathetic to the Palestinian cause or not. They just see the Jew.

We might get knocked down from time to time, but we consistently get back up and, especially here at WashU, lean even more into our Jewish identities. We are coming up on Passover, another holiday that celebrates the story of the Jews emerging victorious in the face of persecution, and the thing we can learn from our history is how this story — both in terms of the war effort and in terms of the resulting antisemitism — will end like every other: with the Jewish community meeting the challenge and persevering, which is the first step toward everlasting peace.

Editor’s Note: This article was updated on 4/18/24 to fix a minor grammatical error.

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