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War and peace in the Middle East

5 min

War – even just war – is the business of destroying and killing, and it is very difficult to prevent, while in action, unwanted deaths. 

Michel Gurfinkiel 

The October 7 onslaught on Israel has been alternatively compared to Pearl Harbour 1941 (a devastating strike in peacetime) ; Yom-Kippour 1973 (a surprise attack against the Jewish country on a revered Jewish festival – this time Simchat Torah, the Torah Joy Festival) ; 9/11 2001(a massive terrorist aggression against civilians) ; and above all, in view of the systematic murdering, raping, torturing, maiming and abducting of Jews as Jews, whatever their age or gender, that Hamas planned and carried out, to the Holocaust.

However, a fifth comparison should be drawn as well: Kristallnacht 1938. The parallel, here, is not merely about the pogrom the Nazis unleashed on November 9 that year against about one million Jews in the Greater Reich (Germany and the recently annexed territories of Austria and Sudetenland), which brought about the destruction, within hours, of nearly three hundred synagogues and hundreds of deaths, either by beating or suicide. It is also, and primarily, about the pogrom’s aftermath: the perverse Nazi contention that the Jews had in fact “provoked” the unrest and were thus collectively liable to a one billion Reischsmark fine.

Let’s face it. Indeed, the sanior pars of world opinion (mostly but not exclusively located in countries with a strong Judeo-Christian tradition), was appalled by the Hamas atrocities, which were filmed and triumphantly shared in real time on the social networks by the perpetrators themselves, and later confirmed by survivors’ testimonies and overwhelming forensic evidence. Indeed, most Western or Western-style governments immediately endorsed Israel’s right to self-defense against Hamas. 

Indeed, the visits to Israel, right in the middle of the battle, of the president of the United States, Joe Biden, the chancellor of Germany, Olaf Scholtz, the prime minister of Britain, Rishi Sunak, the prime minister of Italy, Georgia Meloni, the chairperson of the European Commission, Ursula Van der Leyen, were unprecedented and unmistakable gestures of support and sympathy.

However, this sanior pars is a limited and even a shrinking part of global world opinion. The much larger insanior pars (if not stultior), to be found in the many revisionist powers that challenge the post-Cold War order, and a riff-raff of lesser polities who tend to follow them – some two thirds of the two hundred existing nations -, simply ignored or denied Israel’s ordeal: no resolution was voted at the UN, neither at the Security Council or the General Assembly, to condemn Hamas, no major human rights NGO rose wholeheartedly on behalf of the hostages, very few global moral authorities denounced the degradation, abuse and murder of Israeli women and children. 

What on the contrary elicited prompt and fiery reaction, and UN resolutions, was, incredibly, Israel’s military response against Gaza, which, by a 1938-like inversion of truth and of ethical standards, was described as “disproportionate” or even “genocidal”.

Under natural law and international law as it has developed over the centuries, a sovereign nation has not just the right to defend itself against blatant aggressions but the duty to do so, in proportion to the aggression’s severity. No aggression can be more severe than October 7.

It is worrying enough that large parts of the international community should descend so low, and that so many world organizations should lose in the process any vestigial legitimacy. It is even more worrying – and ominous – that the West itself is not entirely immune to the insanior pars’ casuistry. Something that may have to do with the remanence of anti-Semitism; or the growing weight of particular immigrant communities; or a Vichyist perception in many places that radical Islam, however unpalatable and frightening, is the wave of the future, and that it should be appeased or accommodated; or in a deeper if related way with the extenuation of Judeo-Christian values, especially among the youth. 

Both in Europe and in the United States, there is a close parallel among non-Muslims between support for Hamas and de-Christianisation). However, the most common reason why Western public opinion may gradually turn away from Israel is “the demon of Good” : pure, abeit misguided, compassion for the civilian population in Gaza, which seems to be caught between the belligerents. Such compassion may turn into pressure on Israel to stop the war too early, and thus, unintentionally, help Hamas to survive and rebuild itself.

Under natural law and international law as it has developed over the centuries, a sovereign nation has not just the right to defend itself against blatant aggressions but the duty to do so, in proportion to the aggression’s severity. No aggression can be more severe than October 7.

Hamas has been very explicit since its very inception about its genocidal aims. Its 1988 charter portrays the Jews, in and outside Israel, as a Satanic, worldwide enemy of Islam, quotes both Islamic teachings and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion to comfort that description and calls for their complete annihilation. 

Some pundits have discarded this manifest as “theoretical” and “utopian”, notwithstanding the fact that the entire educational and propagandist system of Hamas steadfastly refers to it and elaborates on it, even when it addresses the “Zionist enemy”. 

In 2014, Hamas propagandists broadcast a musical video in Hebrew on the Israeli social networks, to depict the coming destruction of Israel and instill a sense of terror among Israeli citizens: “Up, do terror attacks…Eliminate all the Zionists… Burn bases and soldiers…Demolish them down to their foundations…Exterminate the nest of cockroaches…” It reads retrospectively as a detailed blueprint for what Hamas actually did in the Western Negev communities two months ago.

Israel fought several major battles with Hamas throughout the 2007-2023 period, usually as reprisals against large scale rocket or missile bombing of civilian areas (which were genocidal by nature, even if most of the flying bombs were intercepted by the Iron Dome technology) . Political, military and even legal logic would have requested on each separate instance to finish the terrorist organization once and for all. 

The Jewish State refrained from resorting to such extremes, for many reasons: including concern for the Palestinian civilian population in Gaza or at least, as cynics would say, for the outcry that was likely to erupt in front of civilian losses – since Hamas had dispersed its military facilities amidst or under civilian housing. October 7 was however a criminal endeavor of such magnitude that nothing short of the complete dismantlement of Hamas was conceivable from then on, whatever the cost.

War – even just war – is the business of destroying and killing, and it is very difficult to prevent, while in action, unwanted deaths. Numbers of Israelis have been killed by “friendly fire” in the present conflict, including three escaped hostages that were mistaken for terrorists. What an army must do under natural and international law is never to target civilians deliberately, and on the contrary always help civilians to leave the combat zone. 

The Israeli army’s record in this respect is well above anything Western countries have done in their own just wars, from WW2 to the Gulf Wars to the campaign against Daesh, the Hamas-like “Islamic State” in Syria and Iraq.

It might seem counter-intuitive to say so now, but a complete Israeli victory over Hamas would be the opposite of a Palestinian, Arab or Islamic defeat. The dreadful war initiated by Hamas was, among other things, an attempt to thwart an important regional transformation: the Abrahamic peace process started in 2019 by the United Arab Emirates, Bahrein and Morocco that was about to include Saudi Arabia as well. 

Whereas Radical Islam rejects Jews and Christians as infidels in a zero-sum, paranoid, vision of the world, Abrahamic Islam recognizes them as legitimate brothers and partners in a win-win vision. Guess which option, in the long run, will allow Gaza to live and prosper.

By Michel Gurfinkiel & SettimanaNews

Michel Gurfinkiel is a regular contributor to Commentary, Mosaic, Standpoint, The Article, First Things, The Middle East Quarterly, and many other English languages publications.

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