Joël De Ceulaer is a senior writer at The morning.
If the world were a gearbox, it would be in reverse. Terror, war and suffering have always been there – but anyone who made an effort could look away from it. This has become more difficult since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. War on the European border: anyone who cherishes a utopian view of humanity no longer thought it possible. What was still possible was to believe that Western superpowers have some kind of moral compass. These days that illusion is being bombed to scrap in Gaza. And the whole world is watching.
What Hamas did on Saturday, October 7, was raw horror. Unfortunately, so is the Israeli government’s response, with the support of the United States. There is a limit to the number of bleeding or dead babies one can see half buried in the rubble. There is a limit to the number of white body bags that one can see passing through, neatly arranged next to each other, every day News and Journals. The crater left by Israeli bombs in the Palestinian refugee camp Jabalia can symbolize the disproportionality of this war: how many innocent people may die if collateral damage in taking out a Hamas terrorist?
A war also has rules. These are not followed here, international human rights organizations seem to agree on this. There must be a ceasefire, a pause that Israel and Western democracies can use to take a moral breather, so to speak. To find the first forward gear again. Because this war seems to be an exercise in revenge. And revenge is counterproductive.
Anyone who knows human nature and accepts its tragedy knows that feelings of revenge are very powerful. When one’s own group is threatened or attacked, a strong leader can score with the promise that he will destroy the enemy until nothing remains. That’s what George W. Bush did after the attacks of September 11, 2001. Bombs on Afghanistan. Bombs on Iraq. And behold: the Taliban are in control again in Afghanistan. As for the invasion of Iraq, it was not only based on a lie – in an ideal world Bush and his British companion Tony Blair would have appeared before a war tribunal – but the mess Bush made of Iraq was also the basis of Islamic State.
The fear of a new wave of terror in the West is justified. Feelings of revenge are mutual. Jewish people in our country must now be protected at all costs. It is the Israeli state, more specifically the Israeli government, that must be held accountable. And they must know that you cannot eradicate a terrorist organization by making ordinary citizens pay, but that you actually make them stronger by doing so. Western democracies must realize that support for violations of the laws of war, or a failure to condemn them, endangers their citizens. Anyone who believes that all this is happening far from our bed is mistaken. This is about all of us and our children.