October 25, 2023

ABULOF | Slaughterhouses-Twenty-Three

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Living in Jerusalem, close to the 1967 line, I can see from our balcony the village of Issawiya and the Shuafat refugee camp. Since the carnage of Saturday, Oct. 7, every night is greeted with joyful shots and fireworks. Many Palestinians celebrate the massacre. “They have a stockpile of firearms,” I told my wife, “It’s a five-minute walk from here. They can easily try something similar in our neighborhood. Why wouldn’t they?” After hesitating, she agreed that we take our children to stay with my parents, who live in a safer part of the city. 

A day later we brought them back. I am still worried. It can happen at any moment. If a couple of hundred armed men decide at dawn to go on a rampage of bloodshed, they would likely succeed. I still wonder: Why wouldn’t they? Nothing here can really stop them — except themselves. Fear? If so, I hope, perhaps foolishly, that it’s also fear for their own humanity, fear of becoming evil.

On Oct. 7, Hamas terrorists seem to have lost that fear, and there’s nothing more frightening. They did not seek a mere military victory, taking over IDF posts, killing and kidnapping soldiers. They sought the debasement of as many Israeli civilians as possible, treating them as playthings for torture and humiliation and the ultimate gratification of power: killing them at will. This is evil.

Yet Hamas’s evil is not a demon; it’s driven by all-too-human ideas. As its antisemitic Covenant (1988) clarifies, the goal is genocide through politicide, the elimination of the Jewish State. But it is also driven by politics, and psychology. Hamas has shown itself capable of making pragmatic realpolitik calculations, adjusting to shifting balances of power and interests

Psychology is pivotal too. The modern condition is to escape the human condition — in vain. Whether we chase godlike power, or retreat into doglike predicament, it’s our humanity, with its burden of freedom and frailty, that we try to run away from, yet never can. A popular panacea to this inevitable failure and the ensuing anxiety is imagining ourselves heroes, which often demands sacrificial devotion.

Radicalism lurks, and obviously not just for Palestinians. It could manifest, as for some academics, through the exaltation of an intellectual construct (“shifting the balance of power” against the oppressor, as Cornell Professor Russell Rickford passionately pronounced). 

Or it could also be, as for Tzvika Mor, the binding of his son, now held hostage by Hamas. In a TV interview, Mor proclaimed: “If I have to choose between the love for my son and the love for the nation, I choose the love of the nation. I did my part. I raised a family, eight children. And I’m ready to replace my son, I’ve been preparing for this all my life… if the sacrifice has to be made, we will make the sacrifice… we need to raise children here who are ready for what this land demands of them…” 

As hard and horrid as this may sound, we must recall that this is how monotheistic civilizations started. Sacrificing your son to God, and His promised land, might be the closest one can get to God.

Back to Hamas: The orgiastic slaughterhouse uncovered the terrorists’ deeper urge for a momentary bliss of omnipotence by all but devouring your oppressor, experiencing complete control over those who supposedly control you, who have godlike power over you. It goes beyond genocide and politicide to a savage deicide – the murder of God.

While driven by genocidal ideas and ideology, shifting politics and a troubled psyche, and possibly boosted by drugs (Captagon), Hamas’s evil, like others, is the work of people. Who then are its agents? There are over two million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. About two thousand Hamas terrorists infiltrated into Israel on Saturday. That’s a tenth of one percent. They should be located, isolated and eliminated, as should Hamas leaders who spread its genocidal ideas, those who ordered the attack, and members of Hamas (and, later, the mob) who partook in the atrocities. Hamas should rule Gaza no more.

But what about the rest? What about a Hamas terrorist who realized his comrade just murdered a young girl, and mumbled, “may God forgive you, what we’re doing is wrong”? What about a Hamas police officer who did not partake in the slaughter, but rejoiced when he learned about it? What about the elderly women crying “God is great” at the sight of the mutilated bodies? What about everyone else — hundreds of thousands of Gazans who depend on Hamas for their livelihood, and the other two million Palestinians — civilians, men and women, old and young, including children?

And what about us? What about a political leader who shies away from killing but treats his own people as things, to gain and sustain his personal power? What about the people who support him and their state’s policies that effectively foster evil? 

Uriel Abulof is the Israel Institute Visiting Professor in the Department of Government, College of Arts & Sciences at Cornell University and Princeton University. He is an Associate Professor of Government and International Affairs at Tel-Aviv University. His research focuses on the politics of fear, happiness and hope, legitimation, social movements, existentialism, nationalism and ethnic conflicts. He can be reached at [email protected].

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