As ever-more-gruesome details continue to emerge about Hamas’s savage October 7 attacks, we must all see ourselves in the mirror of history and know that each of us will be remembered for the role we played during these incomprehensible times: whether as a perpetrator, a bystander or an upstander.
We know who the perpetrators are. They are the terrorists who wore GoPros to document themselves savagely murdering and abducting hundreds of civilians. As we’ve seen from the shocking images, many of the men carrying guns and grenades didn’t wear uniforms because they don’t abide by the rules of war.
New reporting these past few weeks provided even more evidence of the atrocities committed, including that some of the terrorists used nails and box cutters to mutilate women’s bodies as they sexually assaulted them.
In the past three months, it’s also become clear who the bystanders are: those who dismiss acts of terrorism and deny the rape of Israeli women because their worldview dictates that Israel is a colonialist state born in sin and, therefore, Jews are oppressors. In their eyes, Palestinians are the oppressed — and all forms of “resistance” can be justified.
Also among the bystanders are the individuals who abuse their official positions in order to demonise Israel, starting with the those at the United Nations.
There is overwhelming evidence that Hamas used scores of Gaza hospitals, schools, mosques and civilian neighbourhoods for military purposes — thereby turning the sites into legitimate targets for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).
Yet UN officials, such as WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and Special Rapporteur Francesca Albanese, ignore that evidence and flout the UN charter, which requires them to demonstrate “integrity, independence and impartiality” as international civil servants. Instead, they almost exclusively aim their condemnations and vitriol at Israel for its response to October 7 rather than the violations of international law on the part of a terror group.
Then there is the Red Cross, which has not once publicly called on Hamas to release the hostages that it abducted or demanded access to treat the wounded and provide medication for the elderly.
These institutions have provided cover for protesters around the world to aim their outrage wholly at Israel and opened the door to attacks on Jewish students, business owners, and even Chanukah celebrations.
Where the bystanders have failed, we have the opportunity – and obligation — to be upstanders.
Where they muddy the line between right and wrong, we must never confuse the terrorists who target civilians with an army that targets the terrorists who attack its civilians.
Where they tear down posters to erase the crimes of terrorists, we must tirelessly call for the release of the remaining hostages and demand that the institutions mandated to protect their rights — and save their lives — live up to this responsibility.
Where they give licence to acts of antisemitism, we must make clear that targeting Jews and Jewish institutions is not legitimate political protest in response to events in Gaza.
Being an upstander does not mean defending every Israeli action or policy. It doesn’t mean turning your back on the Palestinians’ quest to live in dignity in their own state.
Many aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are open to debate but some things are not open to interpretation. One can be deeply troubled by the Palestinians’ plight and still maintain the moral clarity to denounce Hamas for turning Gaza into a terror stronghold and robbing two million Palestinians of their fundamental freedoms and economic opportunities. Similarly, moral clarity demands that Hamas be unequivocally condemned for perpetrating the deadliest attack on Jews since the Holocaust.
The Jewish people have withstood the enmity of emperors and tyrants, Crusaders and Cossacks, bigots and bullies. Unlike their plight in those previous dark chapters, Jews are finally in a position to fight back, even if the world disapproves.
As former Israeli prime minister Golda Meir once said: “If we have to have a choice between being dead and pitied and being alive with a bad image, we’d rather be alive and have the bad image.”
So when our children someday try to comprehend this incomprehensible period, we will condemn the perpetrators, call out the bystanders, and be able to say with heads held high that we were among the upstanders.
Aviva Klompas is the former director of speechwriting at the Israeli Mission to the UN and co-founder of Boundless Israel, a nonprofit organisation that partners with community leaders in the US to support Israel education and combat hatred of Jews