The Israeli Iron Dome missile defense system intercepting rockets fired by Hamas (right) as seen in the sky above the Gaza Strip on May 14, 2021 (Photo/JTA-Anas Baba-AFP via Getty Images)
The Israeli Iron Dome missile defense system intercepting rockets fired by Hamas (right) as seen in the sky above the Gaza Strip on May 14, 2021 (Photo/JTA-Anas Baba-AFP via Getty Images)

Vengeance is not the only way to respond to this horror 

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I am a civil rights lawyer and a member of the board of directors of the New Israel Fund. I have visited Israel more than a dozen times, including three times in the past year.  Earlier this year I met with Israeli leaders and activists, both Jewish and Palestinian, working to improve civil society and principles of democracy, equality and freedom.  I participated in demonstrations against the occupation in Sheikh Jarrah, where I experienced police brutality, and on Kaplan Street in Tel Aviv protesting Netanyahu’s “judicial coup.”

I consider myself politically progressive, both in the United States and in Israel. But it’s been hard to stomach recent statements and marches that under the guise of supporting the human rights of Palestinians — a cause that I strongly support — gloss over, ignore or even praise the Hamas murders and kidnappings of Oct. 7. Conflating support of the Palestinians with Hamas’ atrocities denigrates universal human rights.

The incomprehensible horror of Hamas’ intentional and brutal murder of more than 1,400 people in Israel, and the kidnapping of 200, has shaken us to the core. Most victims were civilians: women, children and the elderly in their homes, and hundreds of young people gathered at an outdoor dance party. The loss of each life on Oct. 7 robbed us of unfulfilled potential and tore apart families, friends and co-workers. Even 7,500 miles away, we are overcome by grief, anger, sadness, hopelessness and fear.

The scale of the loss is staggering. Israel’s population is 9.6 million.  An equivalent terrorist attack on the U.S. population of 332 million would be 46,000 killed and 6,600 people kidnapped in a single day. Can you imagine?  The United States’ response to Sept. 11, when nearly 3,000 were killed, and the 1979-80 Iran hostage crisis, when 52 people were held captive, changed the course of history, and not for the better.

The Hamas terrorist attacks were carried out by a government: a planned military operation to kill and kidnap civilians. These are war crimes. There must be a universal rejection and condemnation of Hamas and its leaders, and a demand that the Hamas officials who planned and executed these atrocities be brought to justice before an international tribunal.

Rather than let our fear, anger and grief stew into a desire for vengeance, we need to ask: How can we respond to this horror and evil? What can we expect of Israel and the United States at this moment? What can we do as individuals for the Israeli families and friends who are grieving for loved ones and praying because their loved ones are held hostage or missing?

Even 7,500 miles away, we are overcome by grief, anger, sadness, hopelessness and fear.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on terrorism, military tactics or diplomacy. Like many of us, I have friends and family in Israel and am experiencing profound grief and loss. Nor would I ever claim to have a solution to the crisis in Israel. But there are things we can do: Support organizations that are helping the families and communities that were devastated by the Hamas attacks. Demand the immediate return of the hostages.  Support organizations that are working to reinforce solidarity between Jews and Arabs, and that are working to counter racism, extremism and intercommunal violence.

And, finally, protect civil and human rights in Israel and the United States. Oppose government efforts to use terrorism to justify taking away our freedoms and rights — censoring the press, spying on our communications, arresting without probable cause, restricting the right to speak and protest.

New Israel Fund has already implemented an Emergency Safety Net program in response to the terrorist attacks that has been providing grants to care for the most vulnerable and affected, to prevent intercommunal violence, to combat hate speech and misinformation, to provide trauma counseling and to respond to human and civil rights violations. NIF’s Bring Them Home program is supporting the families of the hostages, as well as an international campaign seeking to bring every hostage home safely.

Some Israeli leaders have called for wiping out Hamas and support a full-scale ground invasion of Gaza. That is the expected and natural human reaction to violent trauma. People lash out when they are wounded and humiliated, and Israel’s military and political leadership, already weakened, desperately wants to project strength. The Israeli people have been egregiously hurt, so many want to inflict massive pain in Gaza.

But that is the script that Hamas wrote. It is doing everything in its power to bait Israel’s leaders to play their part. I pray that they don’t fall into this trap. Inflicting massive retaliation on Hamas and Gaza will dramatically increase the likelihood that Hezbollah will increase its activity on the northern front, that violence in the West Bank will escalate and that the hostages will die. We need to find a path to end the ceaseless cycle of violence and suffering of Israelis and Palestinians.

As Thomas Friedman noted, if Israel announced that it was forgoing a full-blown invasion of Gaza, even temporarily, Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran would be disappointed.

Israel should demand that Hamas return all of the hostages and stop firing rockets. Israel in the past has traded more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for one Israeli soldier. Let’s put the lives of the hostages first and focus the world’s attention on Hamas and its despicable atrocities. Let’s do the unexpected. Let’s rewrite the script.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of J.

Michael Bien
Michael Bien

Michael Bien is a partner at the San Francisco law firm Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld LLP, practicing civil rights and constitutional law, and a member of the board of directors of the New Israel Fund.