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How soon we forget: October 7 provided a brief moment of clarity

By Alan Stein

Four months ago, on October 7, Hamas led invaders from Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Fatah, along with thousands of ordinary Gaza civilians, as they broke through, under and over the fence separating Israel from Gaza and proceeded to murder 1,200 people, brutalize thousands more and kidnap 240 people, taking them – most brutalized but alive, with some already murdered – into Gaza as hostages.

Most of the victims were Israelis, but dozens were foreign workers, visitors and citizens, including a significant number of Americans, some still being held hostage in Gaza.

Even while it was still in progress, the pogrom provided a moment of clarity.

Peace-loving Israelis were disabused of the misconception that it was possible to live next to a de facto terror state ruled by Hamas. They realized providing food, fuel, water and power to Gaza, transferring massive amounts of goods every day and providing well-paying jobs for thousands of Gazans would never moderate Hamas and would neither make their neighbors appreciate the benefits of living in peace with Israel nor stop trying to destroy it.

Israelis realized there is no alternative to eliminating Hamas, rendering it incapable of keeping its leaders pledge to repeat the October 7 massacre again and again.

Israelis recognized they are in a war between good and evil and they need to prevail, decisively.

Most leaders of democratic nations quickly came to the same realization, not just for the safety of Israelis but also for the safety of their own counties.

President Biden reacted quickly, emotionally and decisively. He came to Israel just eleven days later, the first president ever to travel to Israel during a war, and pledged to stand with Israel forever.

Since then, we have learned the barbarity of the Gaza terrorists was even worse, far worse, than initially known. Unfortunately, memories fade. As is always the case, initial support waned as the war progressed and Israel has again been pressured to stop short of victory.

Early on, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby rightly praised Israel for the lengths it was going to minimize civilian casualties in Gaza, saying it was doing more than even America would be doing.

This is borne out by the historically low proportion of civilian casualties. While the United Nations expects nearly nine non-combatant deaths for every enemy combatant killed in urban warfare, and former American soldiers in Iraq have said it was considered acceptable if nine civilians were killed for every enemy combatant, in Gaza fewer than two civilians have been killed for every terrorist eliminated.

Hamas’ network of tunnels is more extensive than the New York City subway system. It cost Hamas an estimated billion dollars to build and is strategically concentrated in civilian areas. There are close to ten thousand entrance shafts inside homes, schools, mosques and hospitals, in order to make it impossible for Israel to defend against Hamas without civilian casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure. The underground labyrinth presents a challenge no other military in history has faced. Military academies in other democratic states will undoubtedly study and learn from the innovative ways Israel developed to deal with it.

Here are two examples, out of many, of the way Hamas uses what is sometimes referred to as its “dead baby strategy.”

A young woman pushing a baby carriage called out to Israeli soldiers for help. As one of the soldiers came to help, she signaled a terrorist, who emerged from a nearby shaft, killed the soldier, and escaped down the shaft.

A young boy called out to Israeli soldiers, asking for water. One of the soldiers brought him a bottle of water. As the soldier approached, the young boy detonated the suicide belt he was wearing. The soldier was lucky; he was seriously injured, but not killed. The young boy who blew himself up is undoubtedly counted among those children Hamas claims were killed by Israel.

John Spencer, the Chair of Urban Studies Warfare at the Modern War Institute at West Point and one of the world’s leading experts on urban warfare, recently wrote “Israel has taken more measures to avoid needless civilian harm than virtually any other nation that’s fought an urban war” and “Israel has taken precautionary measures even the United States did not do during its recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.” (Israel Implemented More Measures to Prevent Civilian Casualties Than Any Other Nation in History, Newsweek, January 31, 2024)

Spencer credits Israel with taking many measures to protect civilians which had never before been taken by any army.

Unfortunately, despite those facts, Hamas’ “dead baby strategy” has been effective in subverting support for Israel.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his State Department keep repeating the mantra that far too many Palestinians have died and Israel must do a better job. Even President Biden is waffling on the support he pledged when he came to Israel. 

During his generally positive speech in Israel on October 18, the president announced he had prevailed on Israel to agree to the delivery of humanitarian assistance to Gaza. Recognizing Hamas had traditionally stolen much of the aid delivered to Gaza – the tunnel network was largely constructed using such aid – President Biden said “Let me be clear: If Hamas diverts or steals the assistance, they will have demonstrated once again that they have no concern for the welfare of the Palestinian people and it will end.”

Sixty percent of that aid has been stolen by Hamas. Rather than helping the civilians in Gaza, it has strengthened Hamas, inevitably costing lives. But rather than ending the aid, as he said he would do if Hamas stole it, President Biden keeps pressuring Israel to allow even more.

In most wars, people quickly lose interest in the suffering of the people. There are still millions of Syrians who were displaced from their homes during their civil war and have been living in tents for a dozen years, but nobody pays attention to them.

But there’s a special twist when Israel is attacked by barbaric terrorists who have the overwhelming support of the Arab population – polls indicate 98% of the Arabs in Judea, Samaria and Gaza are more proud of being Palestinian thanks to the October 7 Massacre. Many quickly forget what was so obvious when the Palestinians started the war, ignore the continued suffering of the Israelis and obsess over the suffering the aggressors brought upon themselves.

Kfir Bibas was nine months old when he was kidnapped by Hamas, along with his four year old brother Ariel and their parents, Shiri and Yarden. Shiri’s parents were murdered. Kfir is now thirteen months old and their remaining living relatives have no idea of whether Kfir, Ariel, Shiri and Yarden are dead or alive.

How many people who obsess about the suffering of Gazans thanks to the war they started ever think about the Bibas family?

What was so clear in the immediate aftermath of October 7, about Israel being in a war of good versus evil, hasn’t changed, even as memories have faded.

For good to prevail over evil, Israel must do what President Biden recognized must be done, totally defeat Hamas and render it and the other terror groups in Gaza incapable of resurrecting themselves and repeating their barbaric slaughter.

This remains a necessity not only for Israel, but for America and for the entire free world.

Alan Stein, Ph.D. is a former long-time resident of Waterbury. He and his wife currently split their time between Netanya in Israel and Natick, Mass. He is president emeritus of PRIMER-Connecticut (Promoting Responsibility in Middle East Reporting) and the founder of PRIMER-Massachusetts and PRIMER-Israel.

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