What President Obama SaidJan Heine
On October 7, Hamas terrorists mounted a horrific attack on Israel that killed 900 civilians, as well as 300 Israeli soldiers, leaving the world shocked. Since then, Israel’s military response has killed more than 10,000 people in Gaza, including 4,000 children. According to the United Nations, 1.5 million people are now internally displaced in Gaza out of a population of 2.3 million. With water and electricity cut off, the humanitarian situation in Gaza is getting more precarious by the day.
Growing up in Germany during the reckoning with the Nazi past, I learned that remaining silent is not an option. The heroes of my childhood were those who spoke out against the atrocities that had happened decades earlier, hidden in plain sight. And since moving to the United States, I have met many whose grand-parents died in the concentration camps. That has put a human connection to those numbers I was taught in school. To what I witnessed when I stood in Dachau and looked at the machinery of death, speechless and in tears. All this has heightened my resolve: Never again—no matter who is doing the killing and who is being killed. To be clear: Nothing, absolutely nothing, compares to the Holocaust.
In recent weeks, it has been hard to find the right words. President Obama recently posted “Thoughts on Israel and Gaza.” He wrote:
“Israel has a right to defend its citizens against such wanton violence. […] Even as we support Israel, we should also be clear that how Israel prosecutes this fight against Hamas matters. In particular, it matters — as President Biden has repeatedly emphasized — that Israel’s military strategy abides by international law, including those laws that seek to avoid, to every extent possible, the death or suffering of civilian populations. Upholding these values is important for its own sake — because it is morally just and reflects our belief in the inherent value of every human life. Upholding these values is also vital for building alliances and shaping international opinion — all of which are critical for Israel’s long-term security.”
President Obama cautioned that “it is possible […] to oppose certain Israeli government policies in the West Bank and Gaza without being anti-semitic.” He admonished against anti-semitism in all its forms, but also to “guard against dehumanizing language towards the people of Gaza, or downplaying Palestinian suffering — whether in Gaza or the West Bank — as irrelevant or illegitimate.”
President Obama’s words appear to be directed at Israel’s defense minister, who has said “We fight against human animals, and we act accordingly.” 1 At a major general, who wrote: “Gaza will become a place where no human being can exist.” 2 At the government’s official policy of working toward annexation of the West Bank. At a ‘concept paper’ from an Israeli ministry that proposes relocating the inhabitants of Gaza to the desert of Egypt.3
Words like those from officials, especially when they are tolerated and repeated, rather than repudiated, make us wonder. Are the civilian casualties really accidental? Or are they part of the (stated) goal?
More than a third of all buildings in North Gaza have been destroyed or severely damaged.4 These are not surgical strikes. If this war continues, there will be little left of Gaza. Whether that is the goal, as the statements above suggest, or not—that is the reality.
There are other reasons to be concerned. Last week, the Israeli government expelled 27,500 guest workers and returned them to Gaza. If the goal is to separate Hamas fighters from the civilian population of Gaza, this would be counterproductive. Usually in wartime, able-bodied adults are not allowed to return home: They could pick up arms for the other side. (During World War II, German citizens living in the U.S. had to surrender their passports, so they could not leave the country.) The Israeli government has said that it will not govern Gaza once this war is over, but has shown little interest in figuring out who will and how. This should be an essential part of the strategy—unless there will be nothing left to govern.
At this point, we have to ask ourselves: Can we continue to support this war? Or do we say:
We stand with Israel. We stand with Jews everywhere. We condemn anti-semitism in all its forms. But the killing of innocents has to stop. Now.
In this post, I speak only for myself, not for Rene Herse Cycles or its employees. This post has been updated with recent developments, as well as the Israeli government’s new, lower estimates of casualties of the horrific attacks on Oct. 7, 2023.