Aris Messinis/AFP via Getty Images
Faced with an army roadblock on Route 232, the highway that runs roughly parallel to the Gaza border, our driver, Tomer, makes a sharp left onto a side road.
“Let’s see if we can get into the kibbutz,” he says, pointing the car at the gate of Mefalsim ahead of us, driving a bit too fast.
Drawing close to the gate, half a dozen M4s leveled themselves at us from behind shrink-wrapped pallets of concrete sacks being used as an improvised fortification. As with every kibbutz we’d visit that day, many of which had been attacked in what was now referred to as “Black Saturday” (literally, “Black Shabbat”), this one was heavily defended by an infantry platoon concealed behind a wall of building materials.
Tomer slams the brakes, and waves his upraised hands in front of his face and out the window to indicate we’re civilians. The rifles don’t move as Tomer starts announcing nervously who we are in Hebrew.
As I slowly get out on the passenger side, it occurs to me how comical it would be, after all these warnings from soldiers along the way about sniper and antitank missile fire from the Palestinians, to get waxed in a friendly fire incident with jumpy reservists.
“Cigarette?” I offer, gesturing with a packet of Marlboros I’d bought in Tel Aviv airport’s duty-free shop.
“We prefer weed,” one of the reservists joked from behind the piled concrete sacks, now much more relaxed.
“Didn’t manage to bring that,” I replied.
They shouted at us to clear the approach to the kibbutz (and their field of fire) by parking over to the right alongside other vehicles. As we’d see in most clearings used as improvised parking lots close to Gaza, this one contained a mix of reservists’ cars who’d driven the scant hour from Tel Aviv, cars shot to pieces by Hamas that had been dragged and abandoned there, and a pile of donations from civilians. On the ground and out of place, on the remains of a wooden crate, there was a 120 mm artillery shell with scrawled Hebrew: “For my wife Shirley, my kids Aimri, David and May, from Daddy.” That’s when I looked around and finally noticed that we were standing next to a number of tanks.
You’d think a 60-ton thing would be hard to hide, but you absolutely did not see them from the highway, tucked away behind trees as they were. The sharply sloping turret and engine exhaust up front indicated this was an Israeli-made Merkava Mk 4, the main battle tank of the IDF. The tanks’ crews were relaxing in a circle alongside their war chariots. You kind of imagine a tank as being the scale of a large truck or SUV, but up close and personal, these felt like the size of a yacht or RV: an imposing conveyance which an entire crew occupied as they rode off to combat.
We milled about the shot-out cars, tanks, and the infantry unit that now totally ignored us, wondering what to do next as we heard the rumble of either artillery or air strikes in the distance. We were just over a kilometer from the Gaza fence, in the northeast corner of the Gaza Strip, close to Beit Hanoun, where the IDF was softening up the battlefield (and from where they’d launch their initial assault a couple days later). Eventually, a commander showed up and told us to get the hell out of there: Journalists weren’t supposed to be hanging around army units, and we beat a hasty retreat back on the 232 to find a more circular route to Be’eri, the kibbutz that suffered tremendous losses in the Black Saturday attacks.
The last time I was in Israel, a few months ago, the Israeli drama du jour was not war, but a wonky constitutional crisis over whether the Supreme Court could override parliamentary laws. In a flipped version of the U.S. political system, the court is a bulwark of the political left, and the country’s largely secular elites were having a meltdown over losing power in the face of an increasingly right-wing and religious Israeli legislature.
This time, hundreds of thousands of reservists were mobilizing for war. In the literal span of an hour after the Black Saturday attacks, the civil society organizations that had sprouted as part of the judicial protest movement pivoted entirely to helping Israeli civilians impacted by the attacks and supporting the war effort. One of the largest such organizations, Brothers in Arms, went from organizing protests in front of the Knesset or ministers’ houses to organizing donations for soldiers, and delivering them under armed guard to the south where the war was brewing.
In the tense first hours of the Hamas attack, much of the defense came not from the IDF, which failed miserably to protect civilians, but from individuals who’d grabbed a car and whatever firearm they had and rushed down to save a family member. Israeli media abounded with stories of such individual heroism. Similarly, the same groups that until Black Saturday were relentlessly attacking the government and its reform plans, dove into the wartime breach created by an overwhelmed government.
The Expo Tel Aviv, a sprawling conference-center park on the north side of the city, was the hub of the civilian relief effort. A WeWork-like coworking space there called Mixer—the visual language of kombucha taps and exposed concrete beams is apparently universal—had been transformed into a war room organizing food, clothing, and lodging for impacted families, many of which now found themselves as internally displaced refugees. All was energy and commotion in the former coworking space as Keren Levy, one of the leaders of Hamal Ezrachi (“civil war room” in Hebrew) showed me around the various teams, composed mostly of volunteers from Israel’s large tech industry.
The Expo’s large subterranean parking garage had been transformed into an immense warehouse of donated goods, organized neatly into categories like baby strollers or women’s clothing. It reminded me of similar distribution centers I had seen in western Poland at the start of the Ukraine war when half of Europe showed up with donations, except this was in a country of 9 million the size of New Jersey.
Israelis are incredible at self-organization and getting things done quickly in a pinch, with minimal guidance and under conditions of uncertainty. I would see it again and again, from restaurant owners who became impromptu military cooks and managed to get their food to the front lines, to tech executives like Levy who suddenly ran civilian rescue operations instead of online payment companies. It’s no wonder the country excels at startups: Operating autonomously in the balagan is a national sport.
Israel had mobilized itself into total war, with every sector of society reorienting itself toward one goal: victory against a neighboring enemy. In Tel Aviv, normally a lively hedonistic city reminiscent of Miami, streets were empty and bars were closed, due to lack of both clientele and staff (Jews were called up for reserve duty, and the Arabs made themselves scarce). Those that stayed open were quiet places, often full of foreigners, with servers telling you where the mamad (safe room) was without you asking.
To someone who’s never experienced such a national mobilization, it is heady in its totalizing omnipresence: Gaza, the war, the hostages, the looming invasion everyone knew was coming, again the hostages, fucking Bibi, the atrocities, the friends and family every Israeli knew who’d been murdered or kidnapped, what unit everyone’s friends were serving in, whether you were able to find body armor, the war again … it was all anyone could think or talk about. It was the only thing that mattered.
Compared to the parade of nonstop bullshit that constitutes life in the stagnant West, life in Israel pulsed with an inarguably real vitality. Americans live in the Fukuyaman “end of history,” bouncing hysterically between current things happening inside optional realities, atomized, pissing their lives away in manufactured status contests.
Israel still lived in the capital “H” History of ethnoreligious conflict, societywide mobilization, and a transcendent and overriding sense of purpose. It would be hard to imagine Google VPs taking over San Francisco’s Moscone Center and organizing thousands of Silicon Valley techies for a nationwide war effort if the U.S. ever suffered an attack of similar scale. It would be hard to imagine Americans in 2023 managing anything like what the Israelis were handling with such collective resolve.
Back in southern Israel, we backtracked to regional hub Sderot to find a way around the army roadblocks. Driving through what felt like a dusty frontier town, now even deader-seeming with the population evacuated, I recognized the first scene of the attacks: a bus stop piled with dead civilians. I got out and, almost like macabre silhouettes, the ground was smudged with the puddles of blood outlining where the dead had fallen. A couple of candles sat under the communal bookshelf hung on the side of the bus stop (the neighboring building is Sderot’s public library).
Wandering around, we found the city center where the Sderot police station once stood, which is now a field of rubble. In one of the dramatic scenes of the Oct. 7 attack, Hamas militants murdered all the police inside and then engaged in a ferocious firefight when the IDF appeared. After a pitched battle, the Israelis simply demolished the entire station with the terrorists still inside. The area around was strewn with shell casings and broken glass from the battle.
As we’d see in every town in southern Israel, streets and parking lots were often jammed with the bullet-riddled cars of civilians who’d been targeted; they either sat where their owners were murdered, or were dragged there by cleanup crews and abandoned. One car next to the station was absolutely Swiss-cheesed by gunfire. In the back, there was a baby seat, and all the seats and doors were caked in the streaked ochre of dried human blood. Even two weeks later, it was covered in flies and reeked of death.
On the way out, we saw a tragic play in two acts: A bullet-riddled Toyota lay crossways in the right lane, partly blocking a highway underpass. We got out to investigate and saw that none of the shots traversed the passenger compartment, and the usual blood stains were absent. Not more than 10 meters away, we see a migunit, one of the omnipresent concrete bunkers that dot the landscape and provide shelter if you’re caught outside during a rocket attack. They’re usually covered in murals painted by local artists, an attempt to make art out of an eyesore.
The muraled exterior of this one was pockmarked with bullet strikes, and inside it looked like someone took a jar of pasta sauce and threw it against the wall. In reality, we were probably looking at what happens when you fire a 7.62 mm round through a human head at close range. Some poor soul survived the initial fusillade aimed at their car, ran out, and took shelter in the only structure around, only to die inside this dark concrete box in a hail of rifle fire. Their car registration (presumably taken out by first responders to identify the body) still rustled in the breeze alongside other personal effects spilling out of their car.
Heading south and taking the long way around, we managed to avoid the army roadblocks preventing civilian cars from getting too close to Gaza. The risk was antitank missiles fired from Gaza, and indeed, an Israeli tank got hit that day right around Re’im, another kibbutz we passed along the way to Be’eri.
The IDF was jamming GPS (our phones said we were in Tel Aviv), which made navigation a somewhat approximate affair. Scanning the landscape for signage, I again recognized features of a place I’d never visited. The now-familiar signs of debris and mopped-up blood indicated this was another Hamas killing field. Farther out, I saw the remains of tents and awnings and realized this was the site of Nova, where hundreds of Israelis were murdered at a music festival. We pulled over, avoiding some of the personal effects still scattered about (Hamas booby-traps them). A bulldozer was busily burying something farther up the hill when suddenly …
The loudest explosion I heard among many in Israel erupted from behind the treeline. We almost hit the deck, it was so damn loud. Clearly, one of the huge 155 mm self-propelled howitzers we’d seen dug-in here and there was nearby, and just fired off a shot at Gaza. I doubted Hamas was capable of counter-battery fire, but I didn’t want to find out, and we skedaddled back to the car and got out of there fast.
Finally pulling up to Be’eri, it was like every other kibbutz we encountered, but even more swarming with IDF defenders. Miraculously, my Israeli press pass actually got us past the gate, and we sat in gridlock with army vehicles streaming in. Like every kibbutz in southern Israel, it felt lush and well-manicured, the dusty desert landscape giving way to a verdant oasis.
We pull up to what looks like a generic office building in Silicon Valley, except that its glass facade is shattered here and there with gunfire. This is the famous Be’eri print house, where all of Israel’s driver’s licenses (and much besides) are printed. It’s a showpiece of the kibbutz movement’s industry and entrepreneurship in staying relevant in the modern age. The reception is abuzz with activity, but mostly of soldiers rushing in and out. While we waited for our local contact, a tired-looking soldier dragged in an M249 light machine gun (with trailing ammo belt) and hotfooted it inside.
Eventually, a man in his 60s, his face a grim mask, emerges. Alon Kislev, a sales manager for the printing house, agreed to talk about life in Be’eri after the Hamas attack.
“I was born here,” he told me. “My parents were among the pioneers of Be’eri when this was nothing but desert in 1948. My mother, children, and grandchildren live here. Everything in my life is connected to this kibbutz.”
One-tenth of the kibbutz’s population was murdered by Hamas, dozens of homes burned to the ground, and an unclear number of residents kidnapped. I didn’t have the nerve to ask him if his family survived (he would later volunteer that they did).
“We were printing again one week after the attacks … many people who work in the printing press were killed or injured. We evacuated the entire kibbutz, only the army is here now … but we have contracts we must deliver against. If we continue to run the printing factory, we can show that life can come back. But the government must make people feel safe.”
Alon’s face remained absolutely expressionless and his gaze wandered off into the middle distance as he spoke. The term “shell shocked” came to mind.
“I was a soldier in the Yom Kippur War,” he continued, “and saw a lot, and lost lots of friends. But this is like nothing I ever imagined.”
The kibbutzniks lean left politically, and what strikes you from the biographies of many of the dead is how many had worked to normalize relations with the Gazans. Some of the terrorists were found with the green ID cards granting them permission to come work in Israel in the adjoining communities. Given the exceptionally accurate intelligence Hamas seemed to have had on the area, it’s clear many of those terrorists worked alongside Israelis one day, and then conspired and acted to brutally murder them the next.
“Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt,” intones Deuteronomy, about another such atrocity in roughly this corner of Israel. “How, undeterred by fear of God, he surprised you on the march, when you were famished and weary, and cut down all the stragglers in your rear.”
Outside the printing house, I watched as a dozen ZAKA folks gathered. These are religious Jews who volunteer for the admirable but messy task of collecting human remains according to Jewish law following accidents or attacks. After offering us plastic cups of Coca-Cola, the group paused to say Kaddish for the victims whose remains they were about to transport. Their peyos streamed out from under their helmets and caps, and their tzitzit poked out from under their vests; several were armed, and one had a painter’s mask dangling around his neck (presumably due to the stench).
A hundred yards away in an open field, yet more Merkava tanks were staging for the eventual Gaza incursion. Meanwhile, artillery barrages from the howitzers just down the highway roared like a thunderstorm in the distance. Infantry squads in heavily armed Humvees, machine-gunners alert in their roof turrets, were rolling in and out constantly. Like everything else in Israel, the place was abuzz with movement: You felt the thrill of something historic brewing.
It was smooth driving back to Tel Aviv, taking the army roadblocks in the reverse direction. The radio was constantly interrupted by the uniquely jarring siren used in all attack announcements, from the mobile app on your phone to TV. Like skittish Pavlovian experiments, Israelis are trained to jump for shelter the moment they go off, and my adrenal glands were already attuned. WAH! WAH! WAAAAH! ... and then the announcer would indicate the target of the attack: Sderot, Netivot, a missile strike against a tank in Re’im.
In the West, war is a media abstraction conveniently outsourced to the proles, who politicians and influencers alike exploit to spin narrative (remember Baudrillard’s The Gulf War Did Not Take Place?). In Israel, war is like a job: It’s something everyone you know personally does, and which you can commute to and from fairly easily. Within an hour, we’d gone from a war zone to posh Bograshov Street in Tel Aviv where I was staying.
There, I strolled past French bakeries, yoga studios, and wine shops, alongside tattooed hipsters wearing Lululemon. Squint and ignore some of the 1970s-era Tel Aviv architecture, and this could have been the West Village in New York or the Mission in San Francisco. It struck me how Western elites increasingly sympathize with those who seek to destroy the only country in the region they’d ever deign to live in. Put a gun to a Westerner’s head and ask them: “You’re forced to raise your daughter in either Tel Aviv or Gaza City, which is it?” and the answer will be transparently clear, and yet public sentiment in the West is typically contrary. So why is Israel losing the media battle?
Part of Israel’s PR problem is that Israelis don’t realize just how odd they are to Western eyes.
During the tizzy of patriotism that followed the Black Saturday attacks, former Prime Minister Naftali Bennet posted a photo of a wartime wedding: a young, uniformed Israeli woman and man—rifle slung around the groom’s neck, bunch of flowers in the bride’s hand—surrounded by their colleagues in arms. Bennett encouraged Israelis to marry and have children while they’re “unleashing hell” on the enemies of Israel.
Or take a video that made the rounds of a bar mitzvah that an army unit held when a reservist father couldn’t make the ceremony: a male coming-of-age ritual, complete with joyful dancing and the Torah, everyone in uniform, ready to head off to battle in defense of their religious ethno-state.
Imagine trying to explain this scene to an ethnic studies class at Yale.
Not that the Israeli left understands the pickle they’re in much better. Trying to explain to an Israeli friend how the Western left can side with the genocidal theocratic death cult of Hamas over the Israeli left, which is a true crunchy collectivist kibbutz left, is an intellectual journey
“You know BLM and the George Floyd thing, right?” I ventured by way of explanation, to the founder of a Tel Aviv tech startup. “Now imagine that was the entire moral prism through which you see the world, and you applied it without any knowledge of the Middle East to Israel.” He didn’t follow, because it made no sense, but there were all the waving Palestinian flags alongside the usual activist suspects.
Consider some of the most indelible and shocking images of Western rejectionism of the Zionist cause: endless videos, the world over, of often educated university types tearing down the KIDNAPPED posters featuring the faces of Israeli hostages held by Hamas. We’ve seen this in every major city in the U.S. and Europe. What exactly is going on here?
It’s quite simple if you’ve spent years living inside the Western political zeitgeist: The oppressor/oppressed dialectic is the regnant moral standard in the West, and all moral valence stems from proximity to the “oppressed” side of that duality. Inside such a worldview, gatekeeping access to that victim pedestal from which moral demands can be made is the utmost political concern. Establishing and curating that moral pedestal, and haggling over who’s got a seat on it, is the entire raison d’être of the sprawling “diversity industrial complex” that rules all of academic and corporate life.
The poster-rippers are merely physically enacting what most of the Western left thinks, which is that Jews cannot play the role of victim, no matter what atrocities they’ve suffered. Their ethnic antagonists, the Palestinians, have that role reserved for them, so don’t bother us with your tales of woe, Israeli Jews, no matter how sinister.
At an even simpler level, the kaffiyeh is what the Che Guevara T-shirt used to be, and the Palestinian cause is the new Cuba among the socially mobile elites-in-training. My 20s were spent in endless hours of screaming arguments with deluded lefties who thought Cuba a socialist paradise, when it was really a nightmarish police state everyone tried to flee on anything that floated. We’re going to have years of the same absurd debate with the “Queers for Palestine” crowd: The very bourgeois brats who’d have been sent to the gulags under Cuban Marxism are now the progressive strivers Hamas would throw off buildings or drag behind motorcycles.
Progressive Jews living in the West are getting the shock of their lives with all the poster-ripping, pro-Palestine marches, and vandalism of Jewish property: They were willing to be hated as white Western males, but they’re not so comfortable being hated as Jews. Consider all the Jewish donors of Ivy League universities who are shocked, shocked to discover the radical politics that prevail there. How naive of them to be surprised that the radical left-wing kitten they helped nurture for so many years in academia and government should one day grow up to become the leopard that rips their faces off.
No amount of braying about how Israel has Arab parties in the Knesset is going to convince the average Ivy League midwit to abandon their luxury beliefs around “Israeli apartheid.” It’s simply our era’s chorus of delusional stupidity which will be replaced by yet more asinine rhetoric among the intellectually fashionable in the next generation.
Contemporary society lives in a miasma of showy hypocrisy. Elites talk of diversity and inclusion and then send their kids to private schools. Everyone among a certain class tweeted out #BLM and “defund the police,” and then protected themselves from the resulting wave of urban violence, which impacted mostly minorities, by living in upscale neighborhoods. Similarly, Western political elites will clamor for a “two-state solution,” but it will be Jewish children whose heads will be bashed in if the approach fails (as indeed it did, and they were). The two-state solution is not the way out of the current situation: It’s how we got here.
Westerners view the Middle East with a new wokified Orientalism: It’s an exotic stage on which to project (if not enact) their own political dramas around identity and oppression. The problem is that the liberal mind cannot imagine what’s inside the illiberal mind; the entire thrust of a liberal education ensures that impossibility. So you have well-meaning (neo) liberals like Noah Smith who propose that simply lifting Gaza’s per capita GDP will pacify it forever. If only they had a bit more disposable income, they’d beat their swords into plowshares (to echo Isaiah), or their AK-47s into iPhones. The liberal who loves life inside our capitalist society of spectacle has a bit of trouble understanding a populace who’d really rather kill, rape, and plunder a sworn ethnic enemy while screaming “God is great!” at the top of their lungs than founding a Y Combinator startup.
Never mind that the United States’ own misguided attempt to turn Iraq into a Jeffersonian democracy caused more civilian deaths—roughly 200,000 by most accounts—than 10 Israels would cause in a decade. Why doesn’t everyone want what we want?, laments the well-meaning liberal, as yet another crusading liberal experiment abroad fails miserably.
Israel is now an outcast among nations for the same reason the Jew was an outcast among European peoples: a stubborn refusal to abandon his traditions and peoplehood, and an equally stubborn refusal to take up the universalist crusade of the Christian gospels and its secular descendents like liberalism and wokeness.
Surmising, correctly, that Israel was losing the media war a few short days after the largest pogrom since the Holocaust, the IDF conducted a screening for journalists of footage of the attack captured from Hamas. The footage has since been shown to the Knesset, and even Gal Gadot is putting on screenings in New York and Los Angeles.
The cold open involved Hamas operatives opening gaps in the fence with bulldozers and howling the first “Allahu akbar!” of many as they rushed into Israel atop four-wheel-drive trucks.
The frenetic start then slowed to a tension-building pause: the terrorists tiptoeing through the various kibbutzim close to the Gaza border. It’s in this suspenseful buildup (you know how the movie ends) that you contemplate just what mini-utopias these kibbutzim were, and why so many young families endured waiting lists to live there. Comfortable-looking homes, their patios sporting all the details of happy domestic life—children’s toys, large dining tables where meals were shared, quirky decorative touches—opening onto a common lawn where one imagines children and pets played amid a buzzing communal life.
Then the terrorists started shooting everything that moved.
A shuffling, hunched-over figure appears in a sliding glass door—you get the impression it’s a startled grandmother wondering what the commotion is—and the terrorist coolly lines up the sights of his AK-pattern rifle and ... BANG. BANG. BANG. The figure slumps to the floor.
So the slaughter begins.
From the security camera around a kibbutznik’s house, we see a father in underwear rushing with his two boys to his safe room adjoining the back patio. A terrorist tosses a hand grenade through the safe-room door, and in the ensuing blast, the father is blown clear out the door and collapses in a heap. His two dazed, blood-covered sons emerge, and the terrorist pushes them to go back inside the house. There, one boy tells the other “Daddy … Daddy is actually dead, it’s not a joke. He’s dead.”
The terrorist ambles in very leisurely, opens the family’s refrigerator and helps himself to water while the boys try to console each other. The older boy, age 6 or 7, wails in despair: “Why am I alive!? I don’t want to be alive!”
Like a perverse first-person shooter video game, the footage cuts to various scenes of bodycam-wearing terrorists, alone or in groups, either mowing down sleepy kibbutznikim in their homes or ambushing civilian cars on roadways. Many of the cars even slowed down as they approached what they assumed were IDF soldiers, whereupon driver and passengers were efficiently murdered by rifle fire, the car crashing to a stop in the ditch. Any survivors were executed at close range, followed by an ambush of the next car.
This is how the first scenes of carnage we all saw were created: bunches of cars in what looked like a multicar pileup, but the crash scene littered with facedown bodies gushing blood on the asphalt. The terrorists then lit the cars on fire—one is seen using an aerosol can and lighter to ignite the engine compartment—to sow more terror. (Recovered instructions from Hamas encouraged attackers to do just that.)
In an effective bit of editing, the IDF spliced in Israeli civilian footage—shaky phone footage taken by terrified people—right before Hamas’ own post-atrocity footage of the same scene. Thus do you see crying, panicked faces turned into charred remains, or a bloody pile of bodies, in a single jump cut.
In one example, a clutch of Nova concertgoers, assaulted on all sides and with nowhere to run, take refuge inside a dumpster to escape the terrorists. One moment, you see them desperately trying to hide under sacks of garbage, and in another, you see their half-burned, half-liquified remains forming a crust over the incinerated refuse. Human skin stretches taut and charred when partly burnt, the yellowy subcutaneous fat gleaming through the brown exterior.
A slim, young woman reclining on the ground, her skirt hiked up to her hips, completely naked below that with her thighs widely splayed. From her shoulders up she’s burnt completely, and her arms still held up in an X-shaped gesture as if fending someone off. Around her are the other dead and burnt bodies from the concert where almost 300 Israelis were murdered.
Two human figures, their blackened faces burnt to cinders, wearing what seem like demonic smiles in the back of a car that had been set ablaze.
A baby no older than a few months, still in a onesie with a diaper on, the rear of his skull missing and his brains spilling out, from what looks like blunt trauma. Either the newborn was shot through the head, or he was bashed in with a rifle butt.
Two bullet-riddled and blood-soaked Israeli soldiers on a sidewalk, their heads missing, the terrorists taunting and kicking their inert bodies.
One of the most striking pieces of media was verbal instead of visual.
It’s the recording of a terrorist (he claims he’s in Mefalsim) excitedly calling his parents on the phone of an Israeli woman he’s just killed:
“Dad! Dad! I killed 10 Jews! With my own hands … I killed 10 Jews! Are you proud of me? Be proud of me!”
The father utters unending recitations of “Allahu akbar!” while the mother gets on the phone and tells her son to come home, as if he’s late for dinner. What peace is possible with a people whose children excitedly call their parents to report the murder of Israeli civilians at their own hands? What peace is possible with neighbors who gleefully organize a parade of horrors—bashing in the heads of newborns, raping women before setting them on fire—the moment there’s a gap in the fence separating the two sides?
This is what spoiled Westerners, comfortable in their liberal redoubts, don’t understand. At the violent fringes of the liberal order, showy social justice crusades and appeals to universalist notions of democracy aren’t a priority: Survival and the maintenance of civilization are. A society in which statements like “words are violence” are taken seriously is no longer capable of comprehending a blood-soaked child’s bed, much less the mentality of the man who shouldered a rifle, pointed it at the face of a terrorized child, and smiled as he pulled the trigger.
The Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security agency, recently announced it was organizing a team to assassinate every Hamas terrorist involved with the Black Saturday attacks. Given Hamas’ penchant for livestreaming their atrocities, they’ll have lots of information to go on. “As your sword has bereaved women, So shall your mother be bereaved among women,” said Samuel to the king of the Amalekites before slaying him. And there will be many bereaved mothers of Hamas terrorists soon.
This is a repeat of the legendary Operation Wrath of God, when the Mossad systematically assassinated nearly all the terrorists involved in the 1972 Munich Olympics attack, a process which took years. The Hollywood version of the Wrath of God story, the very watchable Munich from Steven Spielberg, ends with an interesting Socratic dialogue between the leader of the assassination team, Avner (played by a moody Eric Bana), and his Mossad handler (played by a phlegmatic Geoffrey Rush). With a computer-generated 1970s-era World Trade Center as symbolic backdrop (the movie is from 2005), the two men debate whether the violent saga of their operation was worth it.
The disillusioned Avner: “Did we accomplish anything at all? Every man we killed will be replaced by worse.”
To which the Mossad man drily replies: “Why cut my finger nails? They’ll grow back.”
That world-weary acceptance of the endless nail-cutting required to keep the Zionist project going was the tone I heard from most Israelis when I asked how this would all end. Nobody had any idea, but right now the only goal was the elimination of Hamas. “The Lord will be at war with Amalek from generation to generation,” says Exodus, and every Israeli generation has had to make war against some existential threat or another.
A Gaza whose biggest export is violence now faces off against an Israel which made the desert bloom into an economy as prosperous as Germany’s. A military that uses civilians to shield its soldiers will now fight against one that deploys its military to protect its civilians. All the men ululating “Allahu akbar!” in those videos, who thought themselves so brave and heroic for their butchery of unarmed Jewish women and children (Father be proud of me!) will now confront in violent combat the well-armed fathers, husbands, and sons of those same victims.
In a rousing speech to the Israeli army amassed on Gaza’s northern fringe, General Yaron Finkelman addressed the troops about to battle Hamas:
“My brothers in arms, the residents of Be’eri, Sderot, Nir Oz, Kfar Aza, and the West Negev Communities, and alongside them all the people of Israel, are all looking at us now … we have one goal: Victory.”
Let the Americans and Europeans project their neuroses and have their Twitter fights over posters. For them, this conflict is little different than a football match: something two sides witness on the sidelines with signs and slogans, shouting pointless abuse at each other. In Israel, the war is very real, and its goal is best expressed by another Jewish military commander, this time Moses in Deuteronomy:
“You shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.”
Antonio García Martínez is a technologist and the author of Chaos Monkeys, a memoir of life inside Facebook and other startups.