Israel has been launching airstrikes upon targets in Gaza City
MAHMUD HAMS/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
Ihave some questions for those urging Israel to exercise restraint as it responds to the worst single-episode massacre of Jews since the Holocaust, to those insisting its reprisals be no more than is “proportionate”. What exactly is proportionate to genocide? What restraint is someone obliged to show towards an enemy who has as his stated objective the elimination of your entire race?
Hamas is institutionally committed to the eradication of every last Jew from the Earth. Last weekend it made a significant down payment on that commitment by machinegunning young partygoers at a peace concert in the desert; slitting the throats of family members waking up on a Sabbath morning; murdering dozens of babies in a kibbutz; seizing and gleefully parading Holocaust-survivor grandmothers for the cameras before absconding with them to hold them hostage in some dark pit in Gaza. All in all, as many as 1,200 Jews were slaughtered in acts of savagery that the darkest demons of Isis and al-Qaeda can only ever have dreamt of.
I had — foolishly — imagined that, after an atrocity of this scale, the usual chorus of media and political figures seated comfortably far from the killing fields of the Levant, ready to take up their pens to issue stern warnings to Israel not to overreact as it goes about avenging its losses, might just sit this one out for a few days.
Evidently, I have an overly vivid imagination. The calls for Israel’s military to stay its hand in pursuit of the malefactors began even as it was still trying to mop up the remains of the thousands of Hamas sociopaths — “militants” is a media euphemism, “terrorists” (forbidden by the same media) doesn’t really convey the full extent of the psychosis — who invaded, raped and murdered a people last weekend.
Diplomats in President Biden’s administration rushed out two statements at the weekend that called for an immediate “ceasefire” and urged “restraint”. Their statements were both eventually deleted but the instinctive urge to issue orders to Israel on how to conduct its own defence was instructive. Much worse, of course, are the large numbers of people and organisations who don’t believe Israel has the right to respond at all, “disproportionately” or otherwise, since — apparently — the annihilation of its own civilians is mainly Israel’s fault.
The depths to which putrid antisemitism has penetrated the consciousness of the political left in much of the West has been on vivid display this last week, including, perhaps most unexpectedly, here in the United States. American university administrations — the same ones that instantly issued passionate statements of support for the Black Lives Matter movement and denounced so-called white supremacist violence in the wake of the George Floyd murder in 2020 — fell oddly silent as the campus radicals they coddle issued bloodcurdling denunciations of the Jewish state. One organisation representing Harvard students said it held “the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence”. The Black Lives Matter chapter of Chicago was more vivid, posting a silhouette of a Hamas terrorist paragliding toward his target, under a flag bearing the message: “I stand with Palestine.”
To his credit, Biden gave a clear indication that he at least gets what’s at stake for Israel. On Tuesday he issued one of the most morally unambiguous declarations any president has uttered. In remarks that seemed addressed as much to some in his own party as to the world, he described the attacks as “pure unadulterated evil” and said: “Let there be no doubt. The United States has Israel’s back.”
The question is, for how long? We know from previous Israeli wars against terrorists that western support for its struggle — first in Europe, then in the US — crumbles quickly. Under relentless barrage from a credulous media, the West quickly turns against Israel’s efforts to defeat its enemies. This is because Hamas murders twice over: they kill Jews to prompt a response from Israel that will kill Palestinians. They position innocents by military targets then wave the bloody shrouds in front of the world’s TV cameras.
The irony is that Israel does, of course, exercise restraint. If they could, the Israel Defence Forces would pursue their military objectives while avoiding any loss of noncombatant lives. But last weekend was a searing reminder of a truth many of us had almost forgotten: the Jewish state is surrounded by people who want it eliminated. Ah, but the restrainers say, that will only play into the hands of Hamas. As William Hague, the former foreign secretary, wrote in these pages, Hamas wants to make Israel lash out in a way that starts a conflagration. But does this mean Israel is obliged to play by Hamas’s rules? Because Hamas deliberately exploits its own people’s lives — and deaths — for propaganda purposes, must Israel back off? No one wants a single innocent life lost but we know from our own history that sometimes, try as we might, when faced with an existential threat from psychopaths who want to destroy us, sadly the innocent do die.
Israel has learnt bitter lessons from exercising restraint in response to international demands. As Michael Oren, former ambassador to the US and a historian of Israel’s wars, told me, in 1967 it “tried to gain American and international favour by not launching a pre-emptive strike against Egypt and Syria. And Israel has regretted that decision every single day since.” As Israel goes about its righteous task in the weeks ahead, as Hamas manipulates the watching world, all of us — including those who are not Jews — should heed the timeless words of Ecclesiastes: “For everything there is a season.” For Israel, this last week has been a time to weep and a time to mourn. What comes now is a time for war; a time to tear down before, some day, a time to build up again. For the rest of us, it is a time for silence.