Skip to content
What, Exactly, Should Israel Do?
Go to my account

What, Exactly, Should Israel Do?

A sincere question for those who think Israel shouldn’t respond to Hamas.

A display of empty chairs with photos of children kidnapped on October 7 near an elementary school, Jerusalem. (Photo by Yahel Gazit/Middle East Images/AFP/Getty Images)


Let me explain why I think calls for a ceasefire are so misguided and, in some cases, grotesquely evil. 

Let’s start with the evil grotesquerie. On October 6, there was a ceasefire. Even that is generous—to Hamas. The terrorist group had been firing rockets into Israel prior to October 7. All Israel did was shoot them out of the sky as best it could. 

Then on October 7, Hamas launched a massive invasion into Israel, raping, murdering, and torturing men, women, and children. They butchered the young and old, at least one pregnant woman, and gleefully slaughtered children in front of their parents and parents in front of their children. They stole babies to use as bargaining chips and human shields. 

Among the immediate responses from Israel haters and Jew haters alike was to demand that Israel not retaliate. For instance, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called for an immediate ceasefire at 3:37 p.m. on October 7, about 40 minutes after Ilhan Omar did. At least they deplored the violence. Others celebrated it and reserved their anger for the Jews and friends of Jews who were dared to be offended by the slaughter of Jews. 

Indeed, calls for a ceasefire intensified before Israelis did much of anything other than kill terrorists still in the process of kidnapping, butchering, and raping on Israeli soil. Never mind whatever cockamamie theory of “resistance” to colonial settlerism you subscribe to. These were crimes. The only possible sense in which they are not war crimes is that war crimes are constructs of international agreements and Hamas adheres to no treaties or conventions that make war crime a relevant term. But by any definition they were acts of barbarism and terrorism. 

So when you say that Israel should turn the other cheek—an ironic demand for the Jewish state—you’re in effect saying, “Shut up Jews. You deserve it.” This is all the more the case because Hamas leaders said in the days after the pogrom that they’d do it all over again and again until Israel was purged from the river to the sea. And, again, outright Hamas defenders and tacit enablers, said almost immediately that any response from Israel was unjustified and “genocide.”

Now, you can hate the fact that Israel exists and you can have boundless empathy for Palestinians. You can assign blame for their plight however you like. But if you argue that Israel should be forced not to respond, you are objectively arguing that Hamas’ behavior should be rewarded. You’re also implicitly arguing a lot of other horrendous things. But let’s stay on point.

Amazingly, there are Very Serious People who think that Hamas should not be bound to any of the requirements of the laws of war, but they should benefit from all of them. Forget how morally depraved this is. It’s suicidally stupid. For rules to work, there need to be incentives to adhere to them. If you argue that terrorists should automatically be granted all of the protections of the rules without any obligation to conform to them, you are arguing that all’s fair for our enemies but not ourselves. And yet, Israel observes the rules, in part because it wants to be a good and decent country and in part because it understands that it will always be held to the short end of the double standard anyway. 

Russia vs. Hamas.

It should not be controversial to note that America and the civilized world have a tangible interest in saying Hamas’ behavior should not be rewarded. One of the most amazing things about today’s “debate” is how so many of the people calling for a ceasefire understand this point when it comes to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine—and how many of the people opposing an Israeli ceasefire don’t understand this point when it comes to Russia. 

The Russians are raping, torturing, and murdering, too. Russia, too, wants to erase Ukraine from the map. At least their behavior can be called a war crime because Russia is a nominal signatory to various conventions covering the rules of war. But the basic point is the same. Illegally crossing borders to rape, murder, and commit genocide is something we don’t want to countenance or encourage. 

I always want to ask the nice folks who support aiding Ukraine but blanche at supporting Israel to imagine if politicians and whole faculties had demanded that the Ukrainians agree to a ceasefire the day or week after Russia invaded. Imagine if all around the world various radical ghouls and academic gargoyles proclaimed that they were ecstatic over the invasion and insisted that Ukrainian Americans should be bullied and shamed for expressing support for Ukrainian resistance to Putin. Imagine if they tore down “Missing” posters of the thousands of Ukrainian children stolen by Russia as “provocation” and propaganda.

I’m a big fan of norms and I get a lot of grief for it. Well, there are international norms too. And one of them is that when a country is attacked—brutally and criminally—it has not only a right but an obligation to defend itself. If you can understand that principle when it comes to Ukraine, but not Israel, or vice versa, then you don’t actually understand, or subscribe to, the principle.

The motivations aren’t perfectly symmetrical, but they are both sufficiently villainous.  If you’re against cross-border illegal atrocities when Ukrainians are the victims, but not when Israelis are, you are objectively for such atrocities against “Zionists.” That’s morally grotesque. I don’t think (most of) the people who are blasé about Putin’s invasion subscribe to the anti-Ukrainian equivalent of antisemitism or anti-Zionism. But the people who make apologies for Putin’s crimes are guilty of utter indifference to Ukrainian lives and Ukrainian national dignity. They implicitly think that Putin has a right to destroy Ukraine and Ukrainians.

Letting either Putin or Hamas get away with their evil is not just morally wrong: It’s not in our interest. 

Which brings me to the merely misguided but well-intentioned folks who think they’re taking the courageous moral high road by calling for a ceasefire. 

I don’t begrudge people who look at the carnage in Gaza and recoil in horror. I share that horror. I suspect the casualties are inflated by Hamas, but there’s no disputing that thousands of innocent Gazans have been killed in the crossfire. But Hamas wants it that way. They’ve shot people trying to get out of harm’s way because they were leaving Hamas terrorists exposed. They use schools and hospitals as weapons depots, bunkers, and most crucially, as shields. This is a war crime. You know what isn’t a war crime? Firing upon military positions. And when you use such facilities as military assets they are … military assets according to the laws of war

But Hamas knows—from years of experience—that this tactic works. They know that people of good will as well as vast cadres of Israel-haters in the media, at the U.N., and elsewhere, will come to their defense, saying that nothing justifies shooting at a school or a hospital. I get it. But taking this position basically means that Hamas should be allowed to get away with war crimes. 

What’s your answer?

This raises the fundamental question: Do you think it should be against the law to use hospitals and schools as weapons depots and terrorist bases? Or forget law. Do you think the norm of not using children as human shields is one we should encourage? If your answer is no, okay, cool. We can have a really interesting talk about your nihilism and barbarity. If your answer is yes, then you need to answer the question: What, exactly, should Israel do?

And don’t change the subject to stuff about a two-state solution or some time-machine-requiring nonsense about going back to 1948 and doing something different. Right now: What should Israel do, on the ground? I know the answer from the people who support or dismiss what Hamas did on October 7. But if you’re someone who grants that Israel has a right and obligation to ensure that Hamas doesn’t get its way and commit more such atrocities, what do you think Israel should do?

This is a practical, real-world military question. Under the laws of war, Israel would arguably be within its rights to simply carpet bomb Gaza, or at least Al Shifa hospital if it is the command center for Hamas (as it almost surely is). If Hitler’s bunker was in a hospital in 1945, you can be sure we would have flattened it from the air (no doubt after dropping leaflets—just as Israel has). But Israel has not done that. Nor should it do anything of the sort. They sent troops in—carrying incubators by the way—to minimize collateral damage.  

If you have some military insight, some greater grasp of tactics than the IDF or the Pentagon, I am honestly interested in what this better way is. 

But none of these people offer any such solutions to the very real problem of Hamas using Palestinian babies to protect their murderers and rapists. They’d prefer to reward Hamas’ policy of using civilians to protect their terrorists and condemn Israel’s policy of using soldiers to protect civilians. They’d rather pretend that blame for these tragic casualties is Israel’s alone. 

If the misguided got their way, Hamas would do it all again. And, no doubt, the righteously misguided would once again call upon Israel to show restraint in response to rape and slaughter until, finally, the champions of outright evil won. At which point the merely misguided people would surely say they never actually intended for Hamas to get its final solution to the problem of Israel. And that would probably be true. It would also be true that they did nothing to prevent it.

Click here for more coverage of the Israel-Hamas war.

Jonah Goldberg is editor-in-chief and co-founder of The Dispatch, based in Washington, D.C. Prior to that, enormous lizards roamed the Earth. More immediately prior to that, Jonah spent two decades at National Review, where he was a senior editor, among other things. He is also a bestselling author, longtime columnist for the Los Angeles Times, commentator for CNN, and a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. When he is not writing the G-File or hosting The Remnant podcast, he finds real joy in family time, attending to his dogs and cat, and blaming Steve Hayes for various things.