Opinion | We Israelis Need Moral Clarity—Not Revenge

By | Oct 24, 2023
A woman in a white shirt and blue jeans lies still on a white sheet covered with red paint, surrounded by onlookers.

As a Jew and an Israeli, I want revenge.

I am in deep, endless mourning for the barbarous loss of life on October 7, which we now refer to as the Black Sabbath. I fear for the lives of the children, mine and others’, who may be going into an all-out ground war at any minute. I fear for the life of my country. I have been flung back into the most horrifying collective memories of the Holocaust, and the images of the Hamas murderers have melded with the images of the Nazis. Historical scars, burned into me before I was born, have begun to bleed again.

I have never felt so existentially alone, abandoned by the world that claims to support justice and human dignity; by lawyers who criticize Israel for violations of international law but ignore worse violations when they are committed against Jews. As a feminist, I have been betrayed by the feminists who decry gender-based violence but have remained silent.

I am enraged because I know that in very profound ways, nothing here will ever be the same again.

And for all these reasons, and many more, I want revenge.

I know that this is a natural reaction. But I also know that while revenge may provide a distraction from the pain and an outlet for the rage, it will not help any of us to rebuild our lives, and it will not lead anyone in the region to a better future. I want revenge, but as my country prepares to invade Gaza, and as Hamas continues to shoot their missiles at Israeli civilians and toy with the prisoners, including infants and the elderly that they abducted, and as Hezbollah revs up its aggression in Lebanon, I know that what we need is moral and political clarity.

[Access Moment‘s ongoing coverage of the Hamas-Israel war here.]

Instead of clarity, we’re being offered certainties. My government is certain that that it will “wipe out Hamas once and for all.” The so-called progressive left is certain that the murder of innocents in Israel is part of the decolonization struggle and believes that the Hamas attack was inevitable and even morally justified, as if the murder of infants is a way to kickstart a struggle for liberation. (I am appalled by their blindness to their own racism of lowered expectations—as if Palestinians cannot be expected to conduct their justified struggle in any justified way.) And so-called pro-Israelis are certain that “There are no innocents in Gaza. They supported, they poisoned the minds of their children, who are going to be murderers,” in the words of well-known novelist who wrote on Facebook.

When I can tune out the din of these certainties blasted at me on social and mainstream media, some things do become clear. And that clarity leads to even more questions.

It is clear to me that Hamas is an evil entity that has repeatedly committed crimes against humanity and blatantly and proudly promises to continue to do so. The assumption that Hamas could be bought off with money and the trappings of civilian control over Gaza was a dangerous delusion, promoted by my government, the world peace community, and international governments. Hamas could have used the billions of dollars it received from Qatar and the rest of the international community to build schools, hospitals, infrastructure and the foundations for a healthy civil society. Instead, it built tunnels and amassed weapons of war.

Hamas is not only my enemy; it is the enemy of its own people. The effort to kill off Hamas and its supporters is morally justified. But that effort will certainly lead to the deaths of Israeli soldiers and countless thousands of Palestinian innocents in Gaza, since Hamas will use their own children as human shields. And unlike the pseudo-certainties of the so-called pro-Israel camp, it is clear to me that there are innocents in Gaza.

All of which leaves me with very troubling questions.

Can the international community be enlisted to help prevent another massacre of Jews in our own homeland and the sacrifice of Palestinian civilians? Will the international community finally step up to its moral and political responsibilities? Can leaders be counted on to conduct negotiations to remove the Hamas leadership, like the PLO was forced to leave Lebanon in 1983, and restore control to a bolstered and legitimate Palestinian Authority? Can it be persuaded to conduct a disarmament program in Gaza while providing Marshall Plan-like funding for rebuilding?

Maybe the ground war cannot be avoided. No country could be expected to forgo retaliation for the vicious, murderous attacks on innocent citizens in its own territory. But what are the long-term strategic goals?  Is it even possible to eliminate a dedicated Islamic-Jihadist movement? Even if we blaze through Gaza, Fallujah-like, will they disappear? And who will replace them?

What about the future? None of our leaders, on either side, have ever offered us a future that isn’t built on hatred and mutual-rejection. Is it possible to envision, and work towards, a future that will keep us all safe in our homes, communities, and peoplehoods?

On Black Sabbath, the Hamas murderers committed crimes against humanity. But even as we mourn, bury the dead, and try to overcome the dread that has penetrated into our souls, I refuse to give in to my very real thirst for revenge, or to allow them to destroy my trust in humanity and hope for a better future.

Access Moment’s ongoing coverage of the Hamas-Israel war here.

Top image: A woman poses as a murdered body at an October 14 Tel Aviv demonstration for the release of the Israeli hostages in Gaza. Credit for all photos: Lizzy Shaanan via the PikiWiki. Creative Commons.

One thought on “Opinion | We Israelis Need Moral Clarity—Not Revenge

  1. Susan Stein says:

    I support a two-state solution and if I was Israeli I would vote for Meretz. You can disagree with what the Israeli government is doing in Gaza but it’s not revenge. It’s about trying to destroy Hamas’s ability to attempt another massacre. Indeed a Hamas leader has said Hamas will create repeats of Oct 7 until Israel is destroyed.

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