Israel: ‘do not destroy your soul’

A 74-year-old Canadian woman named Vivian Silver exemplifies the futility of calling for peace in Gaza. A prominent peace activist living in a kibbutz near the Gaza frontier, she had been a board member of B’Tselem, a Israeli organization lobbying for Palestinian rights. On October 7, Hamas terrorists kidnapped her. She has not been heard from since.

Ms Silver worked for and with Palestinians. Her good intentions did her no good. Along with the 1300 Israelis, old and young, who were slaughtered in the attack, she became a casualty of a vicious war.

Supporters of both sides are passionate and blinkered. They overlook competing arguments. They ridicule objections. There is only black and white, good and evil.  

But the issues behind this war are devilishly complex. It is folly to give uncritical support to either side.

Here are some suggestions on how to read the media in a time of moral anguish.

In war truth is the first casualty. This is a cliché, but it cannot be emphasized too often. The terrible facts are terrible enough without embellishing them with ghoulish allegations. The widely circulated claim that Israeli babies had been beheaded may be true, but it remains unproven.

In the era of social media, mobile phone cameras, and 24/7 reporting, outright lies are not the problem. More important is bias: reading only analysis which confirm our preconceived ideas or supercharges our anger. Believe it or not, both sides have plausible narratives. Try to read widely to understand which is more factual.

Don’t demonise. The savagery of the Hamas terrorists was demonic. But demonizing opponents will justify horrific crimes in revenge. “We are fighting human animals and we act accordingly,” said Israel’s defence minister, Yoav Gallant.

And President Isaac Herzog told a press conference that all civilians were combatants in the war. “It is an entire nation out there that is responsible. It is not true this rhetoric about civilians not being aware, not involved. It’s absolutely not true. They could have risen up. They could have fought against that evil regime which took over Gaza in a coup d’etat.”

Perhaps these words were uttered under pressure, but they are appalling. About 42 percent of Gazans are under 14 years old. They weren’t even alive when Hamas took over. And Hamas runs a vicious, thuggish dictatorship which tortures and kills its own people. How could Gazans throw off its yoke?  

As American defence analyst Ryan Evans tweeted: “I support Israel's right to exist and to defend itself and its people, but my support does not extend to constructs that can justify war crimes.”

Only just wars deserve to be supported. Israel’s agony is excruciating. It lost 1,300 citizens on October 7. In proportion to their population, that would be 45,000 Americans or 3,600 Australians. But in a civilized world, one injustice cannot excuse another. The requirements for a just war, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, are that

  • the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
  • all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
  • there must be serious prospects of success;
  • the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.

The first of these conditions is clearly satisfied. The attack by Hamas is an existential threat to Israel. It holds hostages and continues to shell Tel Aviv. But how about the other conditions?

Are there any other avenues? Is it possible to negotiate through Qatar? Turkey? China? The Vatican?

Will Israel’s impending invasion be successful? That depends upon what “success” looks like. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has vowed that Hamas will be destroyed. Ehud Barak, a former commander of Israel Defence Forces, a former defence minister, and a former prime minister, is sceptical. “What does it even mean?” he says. “That no one can still breathe and believe in Hamas’s ideology? That’s not a believable war aim. Israel’s objective now has to be clearer. It has to be that Hamas will be denied its Daesh-like [ISIS-like] military capabilities.”

Will it produce even more serious evils than 1,300 Israeli dead? Quite possibly. The latest death count is 2,750 killed by Israeli air strikes. When the invasion begins, the number of Palestinian deaths could be astronomical.

The questions raised by these four conditions have to be answered.



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Know your history. Since World War I, Jewish immigrants and Palestinians have been battling over the land which is now the State of Israel. Each side has scores, perhaps hundreds, of stories of assassinations and massacres. Each side has epics of tragedy and heroism. A history which chronicles only the pain suffered by one side is worse than useless; it’s deceptive and cruel.

We cannot avert our eyes from the fundamental question: was it right for Israel to declare its independence as a Jewish state and to expel the Palestinians from their homes? Dialogue between the two sides is impossible unless this ulcer is lanced. 

There is more than one way forward. Ahead are thousands of military and civilian casualties and possibly the total destruction of Gaza. Does it have to be this way? Israel is the aggrieved party but not all Israelis believe that this war will be successful or just. This is what B’Tselem has to say:

Israel has been bombarding the Gaza Strip indiscriminately for a week. The airstrikes have killed more than 2,000 Palestinians, including more than 700 children and dozens of families. Entire neighbourhoods have been wiped out, people are living without water and power, and hundreds of thousands are internally displaced. All this is completely forbidden. A ground invasion will amplify the horror to unimaginable degrees. This must not be allowed to happen.

We must state the obvious: calling on Israel to hold back from revenge does not, in any way, mitigate the horror of Hamas's actions. Criticizing both Hamas and Israel does not form a symmetry or provide a comparison. This is not a zero sum game: the amount of pain and trauma in the world is not finite.

Suffering does not justify suffering and, one injustice does not justify another and one crime does not warrant another. Revenge cannot be a plan of action for a state. We can – and must – demand other solutions: ones that are based not on more death, destruction and loss, but on a fundamental acknowledgement that all human beings are equal and deserve to live. Every single one.

Drawing an historical parallel is like sticking your hand into a nest of scorpions. But perhaps there’s a lesson in a forgotten incident from American history. In 1637, 200 warriors from the Pequot and Wangunk tribes attacked an English village in what is now Connecticut. They killed nine unarmed settlers and took two teenage girls as captives. A militia took just revenge and slaughtered hundreds of Pequots, men, women, and children. The tribe was effectively annihilated. “Sometimes the Scripture declareth women and children must perish with their parents,” wrote one of the soldiers. 

Now that chapter of history is a source of shame for the state of Connecticut. There are calls for statues of the colonial soldiers to be removed from public view. 

I don’t live in Israel. I have never lived in a country where my neighbours hate me and want to kill me. I realise that hard decisions have to be made. I am glad that I don’t have to wrestle with my conscience over a Gaza strategy. I will only quote the advice given by New York Times columnist David French: “the challenge for the Israel Defense Forces in Gaza isn’t simply to win the fight with Hamas within the laws of war. There is a third imperative, one that will define the soldiers who fight and the nation they defend for years to come: Do not destroy your soul.” 

Michael Cook is editor of Mercator  

Image: Gaza turned to rubble / screenshot from The (London) Telegraph 

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  • mrscracker
    “Mensch is actually a German word, that made it into jiddish.”
    I think Jurgen that if I remember correctly, Yiddish is actually a medieval German dialect written in the Hebrew alphabet & incorporating Hebrew & Aramaic vocabulary. Slavic too. The word Yiddish means Jewish German.
    A great majority of those who perished in the Holocaust spoke Yiddish. It’s actually increasingly spoken now in areas with Hasidic communities. A New Jersey Hasidic community in the US has one of the highest birthrates on the planet. So, Yiddish still has a future it seems.
  • Jürgen Siemer
    commented 2023-10-20 17:29:04 +1100
    Mensch is actually a German word, that made it into jiddish.

    In German Mensch means human being. Every Mensch, in my christian view, is born with a dignity inherited from God.

    Morality and integrity, …. Well most of us have damaged those more or less. Nobody is perfect.
  • Jürgen Siemer
    commented 2023-10-20 17:24:06 +1100
    … Who might loose their own souls by denying that their enemies are human beings.
  • Michael Cook
    commented 2023-10-20 17:23:12 +1100
    Nice one.
    “A mensch, in Yiddish, is a person of integrity, morality, dignity, with a sense of what is right and responsible. But mensch is more than just an old Yiddish adage. It is relevant now, across the world, more than ever…”
    - Sydney Holocaust Museum
  • Jürgen Siemer
    commented 2023-10-20 17:05:54 +1100
    Jesus said: love your enemies!

    There is a Jewish / jiddish word that one should always see the “Mensch”, the human being, the mirror image of God in the other human. Or is that word not valid for non-jews?

    Michael, you try to do good. Do not get intimidated by others who might loose their souls.
  • Richard Swier
    commented 2023-10-19 08:53:23 +1100

    A good friend of mine said, “Compromise is the art of losing slowly.!”
  • Michael Cook
    commented 2023-10-19 08:41:08 +1100
    “Hate has found a home on MERCATOR.” That’s a very interesting reading of my article. It’s helpful to know other people’s point of view.
  • Richard Swier
    commented 2023-10-19 06:40:40 +1100

    You are correct. Islam and political Islam are the same ideology.

    They’re inseparable. The goal is world domination by bringing back the Caliphate.

    It’s driven by Fitnah, any and all resistance against Islam. To Muslims Fitnah is worse than the slaughter. In fact any resistance to Islam requires the slaughter of people like one would slaughter animals. Including the beheading and burning alive babies.
  • paolo giosuè gasparini
    commented 2023-10-19 06:23:43 +1100
    This is what terrorists and dictators have always wanted: to drag the entire world into the spiral of war with their criminal designs.

    To create chaos, destroy legality, foment enmities, and erase humanity. The solid point of resistance that needs to be sought lies in the ability not to accept the spread of violence – and therefore to reject these illegal, immoral, and inhumane acts – and in the recognition of the need to find solutions that have been lacking so far for the many hotbeds of tension that exist around the world.

    This ability belongs to politics, which is called upon to imagine solutions where we have failed until now. “Politics is the art of the impossible,” as Vaclav Havel used to say.

    Religion alone can’t do that. The depth and intractability of the conflict is well reflected by the comments of the Salafi Egyptian Islamic scholar and author, Sheikh Muhammad Hussein Yaqoub:

    “If the Jews left Palestine to us, would we start loving them? Of course not. … They would have been enemies even if they did not occupy a thing. … Our fighting with the Jews is eternal, and it will not end . .. until not a single Jew remains on the face of the Earth. … As for you Jews, the Curse of Allah upon you, you pigs of the earth!” (Al-Rahma TV, 17 January 2009, Source: Catholic Herald).

    (Political) reason can avoid that.
  • Richard Swier
    commented 2023-10-19 04:00:22 +1100

    It’s past time for Mercator’s Michael Cook. Cook chose to equivocate.

    Cook choose to appease the terrorists.

    His words will lead to more innocent lives lost.

    Mercator’s leadership has been compromised.
  • mrscracker
    For goodness sakes Mr. Swier, do you think that’s a charitable thing to say? It’s certainly not correct as far as I can see. I wouldn’t bother reading articles on the Mercator site if I thought it was a home for hate.
    We should each look to our own hearts before trying to read the hearts of others.
  • Richard Swier
    commented 2023-10-19 02:52:09 +1100
    It’s interesting how many haters of America and Israel, the only free nation in the Middle East, are commenting.

    I shocked by the Hamas apologists, including the author of this article, there are. They seem emboldened as are the radical Islamists who are marching globally, attacking embassies and American military bases.

    Hate has found a home on MERCATOR.
  • mrscracker
    Trotsky Lives!,
    Consider that Gen. Sheridan was a hero to but one side of the War Between the States. He ordered the burning of almost the entirety of the Shenandoah Valley’s crops, destruction of homes, & the killing of civilians’ livestock.
    I agree, bloodthirsty people of every stripe have existed since the Fall.
  • Trotsky Lives!
    commented 2023-10-18 08:29:18 +1100
    Apropos of “We do not all want to see every Jew killed…. Only Islam want[s] this.” — consider the US Civil War hero, General Philip Sheridan, who reputedly said, “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.” Lots of bloodthirsty people of every faith who want all of their enemy killed. Please consult the Irish about Oliver Cromwell.
  • Richard Swier
    commented 2023-10-18 06:45:43 +1100

    We are all sinners. However, we are not all mass murderers. We do not all want to see every Jew killed. We do not want every Christian killed. We do not want every infidel killed. Only Islam want this. And they will have it unless we stand up against them and call them out for what they are evil.
  • mrscracker
    Mr. Swier ,
    The savage acts you describe have been happening since we left the Garden of Eden. It’s a universal fallen nature issue.
    The Barbary pirates had been in the very same business as the Americans, British, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, & others were, which was slavery. The Barbary pirates were just shipping their captives off in a different direction & markets than we were. When they messed with our merchant ships we took notice.
    I don’t want to hear demeaning things about any people or faith community. I just want to see peace enacted in the Holy Land .
  • paolo giosuè gasparini
    commented 2023-10-18 03:48:25 +1100
    Great article, thank you very much Michael, God bless!
  • Richard Swier
    commented 2023-10-18 03:08:24 +1100
    What has happened since the creation of Islam isn’t a “ cultural blind spot.” Rather it’s a violent movement that seeks worldwide acceptance, domination and acceptance. Islamic nations oppress women, murder Christians and Jews. The beheading of babies, the raping of babies and women isn’t new. It’s been happening since Islam began. Mohammed created his movement not like Jesus but by taking up the sword. Mohammed was a pedophile because he married Aisha when she was 6 years old and consummated her when she was 9 years old. This continues today. Remember that it was President Thomas Jefferson who sent Marines into what is now Libya to free American hostages taken by the bararbry pirates who were Muslims.
  • mrscracker
    Mr. Swier,
    I’m sorry to hear that. We each have cultural blind spots & Muslims are not unique in that. It’s a feature of our fallen human nature.
  • Richard Swier
    commented 2023-10-18 01:31:44 +1100

    Not until every Muslim denounces Terrorism and those who carry it out. This includes but is not limited to Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, ISIS, Iran, Qatar and every organization like CAIR that supports attacks against civilians who are or are not Muslims.
  • mrscracker
    Richard Swier,
    I would agree that terrorism should be eliminated if that were possible, but Muslim people have every right to exist. I hope you believe that also.
  • mrscracker
    The Israeli Defense Forces are not targeting civilians in Gaza nor Muslims. They’re targeting Hamas , an ISIS-like terrorist group running a massive weapons & welfare scam through donated humanitarian funds. Hamas has been holding the Palestinians in Gaza hostage for years, using them as a source of human shields & foot soldiers. They hide their terrorist operations in schools & homes so that when Israel defends itself Hamas can accuse them of war crimes.
    Gaza has been a complete disaster. The best thing that could happen to Gaza would be for Israel to administrate it & send Hamas packing.
    No other nation would put up with this sort of relentless terrorism on every side but somehow people expect Israel to.
  • Marty Hayden
    commented 2023-10-18 00:30:27 +1100
    Thanks Michael, insightful as always.
  • Richard Swier
    commented 2023-10-17 21:41:43 +1100
    In order to protect the World from the Islamists it is both fit and necessary to destroy any and all enemies who seek to destroy freedom and those who embrace it. Roosevelt called for unconditional surrender. Islam must unconditionally surrender or be eliminated.