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How the 240 Hostages Became Just Another Subplot
Emotionally, I am completely distraught by this reality. But logically, it (unfortunately) makes perfect sense. Here are four rampant reasons why this has happened.
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In the mere days after Palestinian terrorists infiltrated Israel on October 7th, massacring more than 1,000 people and abducting some 240 more, we saw “pro-Palestinian” demonstrations around the world, both online and offline, calling for more Palestinian terrorism against Israel, the annihilation of Israel, and even the gassing of Jews.
Mind you, these demonstrations occurred a good two-to-three weeks before Israeli ground forces entered the Gaza Strip. And, mind you, during these two-to-three weeks, Israel patiently held off on its real military response to give diplomatic negotiations a chance at returning all the abductees. I can only imagine that, when you’ve been abducted, two-to-three weeks feels like two-to-three years.
In Israel, and among those who cherish it around the world, we knew it was only a matter of days after October 7th that this unconscionable Palestinian attack, and the “thoughts and prayers” for Israel that came with it, would quickly turn into heavily biased and overwhelmingly one-sided empathy for the “poor Palestinians.”
Make no mistake: You can (and ought to) have simultaneous, equal compassion for both Israelis and Palestinians, but that’s not what happened. In many cases, relatively mild concern for Israel was replaced with profuse support for the Palestinians.
“On October 7th, as pictures of Hamas’ depravity went around the world, compassion not only stopped, it went into reverse,” Howard Jacobson, a British novelist and journalist, wrote. “Yes, I know the argument: this had nothing to do with people, it was about an illegal State; you can hate Israel and love Jews, a fallacy that’s been reiterated countless times by people who claim the freedom to lie irresponsibly about Israel without being called to account as racists.”1
Back in Israel, our message stayed (and is still) unmistakably clear: Return all the abductees, immediately and unconditionally, if you want a ceasefire. Until this happens, we reserve the right to both diplomatically and politically (i.e. militarily) vie for their return.
To be sure, many diplomatic and political avenues were exhausted, which is why Israel’s entire active military and some 350,000 reservists largely remained sidelined. Meanwhile, the 240 abductees remained in Palestinian captivity, with the exception of four who were released. In mathematical terms, that’s 1.7-percent of them.
With every day that has passed in this now 37-day war, the abductees have become just another subplot, an afterthought for many people, and even forgotten by several others, in spite of the abductees being one of the two main reasons why Israel is doing what it’s doing in Gaza.
(The other reason, which has been repeated time and again by both Israel and the United States, is to remove Hamas, an openly genocidal terrorist organization, from military and political governance in Gaza, and to replace it with another more respectable Palestinian government, for the benefit of both Palestinians and Israelis.)
As it relates to the abductees, the question is plainly: How could one of the worst hostage situations in modern history become just another subplot, an afterthought, and even forgotten?
Emotionally, I completely resonate with this question, but logically, it (unfortunately) makes perfect sense. Here are four rampant reasons why:
1. News Media and Social Media Illiteracy
There is no better word than “illiterate” to describe the millions (billions?) of people in our world who do not have the skills and abilities to differentiate between facts and propaganda.
What makes this reality even worse is that so many of these people are also intellectually lazy, meaning they don’t take the time and effort to extensively research and then contemplate said research, preferring instead to spend their time on escapism.
Generally, I try not to judge escapism, and to varying extents we all do it. But when the real prospect of a third world war is on the table — and that is very much what is on the table right now — I think it’s pretty important for people to be hyper-aware and engage in extensive research.
I understand it’s increasingly difficult to know which sources to trust and which to not. I find that the best resource is Wikipedia which, contrary to some haters’ opinions, is incredibly well-sourced, not just from articles, but from books and other types of long-form content.
I also want to emphasize that right now is not the time to use social media and soundbites (i.e. short-form content) to learn and relearn about the Israel-Hamas war and its very possible, bigger-picture ramifications. Long-form content (measured in hours, not in minutes) must be made a top priority.
2. Israel’s International Messaging
Israel has always had an issue with international messaging, going back to the 1960s, and perhaps even before. With a professional background in journalism and mass media, I picked up on Israel’s terrible “PR” immediately after I moved to the country in 2013.
Those who represent Israel both formally and informally in the news media and on social media, often try to explain Israel’s legitimacy. This approach actually plays into the hands of those who try to delegitimize the Jewish state, since no other country in the world is focused on legitimizing itself. Additionally, explanations about Israel’s legitimacy go in one ear and out the other for people who never thought Israel was a legitimate country to begin with.
Other “pro-Israel” folks argue that, if you judge any state by the mistakes it makes, the whole world would be rotten. Again, this logic falls on deaf ears because so many people believe that Israel, in and of itself, is one big mistake.
I could go on and on about the seemingly unlimited, yet very much accurate, arguments that we’re all making in the news media, on social media, and in other places. But it’s a mistake, at least for now, to try and tally up as many “pro-Israel” rebuttals as possible.
At the moment, I would advise anyone representing Israel in both formal and informal capacities to maintain and repeat two simple-worded messages:
We will absolutely consider a ceasefire when every single one of the 240 people taken captive has been safely returned to Israel.
Until this happens, Israel will do whatever we feel is necessary to safely return all of these abductees, which I’m sure you’d want Israel to do if your family members or children were taken captive.
Why simple? And why repetitive? Just ask Donald Trump how he of all people won the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and why he — despite his gross political and private transgressions — has a remarkable chance to retake the U.S. presidency in 2025.
It’s literally impossible to touch on every piece of misinformation that is infecting the hearts and minds of people across our world, so I’ll stick to one pertinent example: the accusations that Israel is breaking “international law,” that the country is committing “war crimes,” and that the Israeli response is not “proportionate.”
Under International Humanitarian Law, proportionality requires that any degree of damage (up to and including death) to civilians not be “excessive” in relation to the “military advantage anticipated from a strike against a military target.”2
Simply, and unfortunately, international rules of law recognize that civilians are often killed during war; and, most of the time, these deaths are actually not indicative of a war crime. Instead, the legal test for “proportionality” requires that each individual strike be looked at with a particular balancing analysis: The strike must be intended to achieve a military objective.
Therefore, it is a war crime to strike with the intent of targeting civilians, and without any military objective whatsoever. Under this definition, Palestinians in Gaza (and those who have not publicly condemned their behavior, such as the Palestinian Authority in Judea and Samaria, also known as the West Bank) are guilty of a double-war crime: the intent to target Israeli civilians without reasonable military objectives, and the use of other Palestinians as involuntary human shields.
Under the First Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions of 1977, in both Article 51(5)(b) and Article 52(2), we know that when Palestinians use their own population (and/or the 240 hostages) as human shields — either by using them to shield themselves or to shield their military infrastructure and equipment — Palestinians have, under international law, turned civilians targets into military targets.
This means that when Palestinians, for example, place weapons caches in and under schools, hospitals, and mosques, Palestinians have made each of these places legitimate military targets.
It has been well-known for many years that Hamas purposefully placed its headquarters underground beneath the largest hospital and medical complex in Gaza. In doing so, international law holds that the hospital is no longer just a civilian target; it is a legitimate military target.
This does not give the Israeli military free reign to attack hospitals, schools, and mosques; however, it does mean that an Israeli attack on civilian infrastructure which has been turned into a military target by use of human shields is not illegal under international law.
Instead, such attacks must be analyzed through a balancing test. One part of this test performed by Israel before each strike is to determine whether the human shields in question are being used voluntarily or involuntarily. If they are being used voluntarily — meaning the human shields are there, on their own volition, to deter Israeli strikes — the target remains a completely legitimate military target.
If the human shields are being used involuntarily — meaning Palestinian combatants are forcing people to act as human shields to protect themselves and/or their military infrastructure or equipment — the Israeli military must go back to the balancing test to determine whether the anticipated military advantage of a successful strike would outweigh the reasonably anticipated loss of civilian life.
Importantly, Israeli military guidelines state that if it cannot determine whether a human shield is being used voluntarily or involuntarily, military personnel must presume civilians are being used against their own will. In other words, the Israeli military treats such civilians as involuntary participants.
Assuming that there is a military target and that there may be human shields who are there involuntarily, the next step in proportionality analysis for each individual strike is an effort to determine the likely amount of damage to civilians and/or civilian property that would result from a strike.
In other words, under international law, Israel must be able to give a “value” to the anticipated impact on civilians (including potential civilian deaths) and civilian property. Simply, a smaller number of anticipated civilian casualties may make the strike proportionate if there is a significant military advantage to be gained by conducting the strike.
However, if Israel determines that the anticipated impact of a strike could cause many civilian casualties, it must make the difficult determination of whether the anticipated military advantage is so significant that it warrants carrying out the strike anyway.
For instance, if Palestinians have a weapons depot underneath a house with two civilians inside, and this house has been used to fire 500 rockets indiscriminately at Israeli civilians, and it is reasonably expected that there are hundreds more rockets under that house, Israel can almost certainly carry out the strike within the confines of international law.
If that same house, however, had 10 families living inside, including many children, it could — and likely would — tip the scales of a proportionality balancing test toward Israel not being permitted to carry out the strike, even though the house has been used to attack Israeli civilians indiscriminately and is expected to continue to be used to carry out attacks against Israeli civilians indiscriminately.
Now, that balancing test can always change. If that same house is being used to fire long-range, precision-guided missiles at Israel’s major population centers in places like Tel Aviv (effectively putting millions of Israeli civilians in danger), the balancing test might tip back in favor of Israel being legally permitted to carry out the strike.
This all suggests the third and final step in a proportionality balancing test: The Israeli military must determine and place a “value” on the anticipated military advantage that would be gained if it was to carry out a particular strike.
An attack on Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad leadership and/or their weapons manufacturers would be considered a high-value target. An attack on a single Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad member who has no special skill, would be a much lower-value military target.
Similarly, an attack on a small cache of mortars would have less military value that an attack on a large cache of advanced rockets which can reach large Israeli civilian population centers.
Once the Israeli military determines an anticipated “value” of the likely effect on civilian persons and property, and the anticipated “value” of a likely military advantage to be gained if a strike is carried out, a balancing test is performed, and a certain amount of judgment goes into determining whether that strike would or would not be “proportionate.”
This decision is so vital that the Israeli military does not permit a single soldier on the ground or in an aircraft to have their hands on the proverbial (or actual) “trigger” to make such a determination. In fact, the decision of whether a strike is proportionate is not relegated to military officers or even generals.
Instead, before any Israeli strike can take place, Israeli military guidelines provide that proportionality balancing tests must be presented to and analyzed by Israeli military lawyers who then determine whether a strike is legally permissible as “proportionate” under international law and the rules of war. These military lawyers are not easily manipulated to simply “rubber stamp” Israeli military requests.
As a matter of fact, Israeli military lawyers work in complete independence of the Israeli military. They are outside the chain of command and do not answer to anyone in the military, including generals. Plus, every military lawyer is personally accountable if they make wrong decisions based on evidence available at the time.
Furthermore, the decisions to be made while balancing the likely military advantage against the likely civilian casualties can sometimes be so difficult, that the legality of the strike is first brought to the Israeli Supreme Court for instant review.
Another important concept: The comparison of civilian body counts of Israelis versus Palestinians (to the extent those numbers can be trusted since they come directly from Hamas-only sources) is not relevant to a proportionality analysis. Each strike must be viewed individually to determine proportionality. It is not a test of the cumulative nature of Israeli versus Palestinian strikes, or Israeli versus Palestinian civilian deaths.
Also, by simply comparing body counts, it does not factor in how many people killed were actually Palestinian terrorists and how many terrorist collaborators were there voluntarily. And it does not consider what military advantage was gained by Israel carrying out any individual strike.
As Israel is now in the process of seeking to secure the military advantage of preventing Palestinians from having the capacity to carry out repeated attacks of the kind and nature seen on October 7th, Israel is permitted to act proportionately insofar as necessary to achieve that military objective. In other words, the political and military elimination of Hamas and other Palestinian terrorists organizations in Gaza.
One more important fact that many people do not know, and that they should: According to United Nations statistics on global conflict, the average civilian-to-combatant killed ratio is a rather appalling nine civilians deaths for every one combatant killed.
This is why civilian body counts in and of themselves are never indicative of a war crime. Each individual strike has to be analyzed, and unfortunately civilians always suffer disproportionately in military conflicts.
In fact, while Israel is routinely criticized for any of its strikes that kill civilians, you may be surprised to know that Israel’s civilian-to-combatant ratio is routinely much lower than the nine-to-one average. In the very last operation carried out by the Israeli military prior to October 7th (in Jenin), 0.6 civilians were killed for every one combatant killed. In that operation, the Israeli military managed to kill more combatants than civilians, which is extremely rare.
This is all to say that, right now, we are not witnessing Israel breaking international law, committing war crimes, going beyond a “proportionate” response. Instead, we are on the front lines of intense Palestinian psychological warfare and propaganda designed to demonize and delegitimize the State of Israel in the court of public opinion, thus turning the critical issue of the 240 abductees into just another subplot.
4. Pure and Utter Antisemitism
Oh boy, where do we start? Back in the “good old days” antisemitism was so blatant, so obvious, you immediately knew it when you saw it. Nowadays, so much of antisemitism is so subliminal, intellectualized, and dressed up in academia, that so many Jews — let alone others — don’t even recognize it.
But for the sake of keeping things blatant, let’s start with the posters of Israeli children and other abductees being torn down just hours after they are put up.
“Sometimes it’s the smaller acts of violence that tell you most about man’s inhumanity to man,” Howard Jacobson noted. “That for many there is no such thing as an innocent Jew is a terrible truth I've grown accustomed to. What defies comprehension is the darkness of the human heart that rejoices in destroying or defacing posters of children whose only crime is to have gone missing.”
There are also the ongoing blood libels being lofted at Israel, such as when Palestinians falsely claimed Israel bombed a hospital and killed 500 people. Not only did people refuse to do the basic mental arithmetic of how you can count 500 casualties in a matter of mere minutes, but media outlets, governments, thought leaders, and influencers broadcasted this blood libel literally around the world.
On Friday, November 10th, French President Emmanuel Macron launched another blood libel against Israel on primetime TV, saying that Israel is “killing women and babies” in Gaza.
Is it not antisemitic to wish Israel could find some other way of destroying Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups in Gaza.
“But it is antisemitic to rush to false judgments about Israel’s actions and intentions, to blame them for what they do not do, and to refuse to understand the existential fears that drive their actions,” Jacobson wrote. “And it most decidedly is antisemitic to say: ‘There you are — didn’t we tell you that Jews love killing babies.’ This might be the most diabolic antisemitic trick of all — reactivating the blood libel that has killed millions of Jews so far, and still counting.”
This is why I contend that we are in the process of reliving Nazi Germany. The only problem, at least for us Jews, is that this antisemitic tumor is not confined to one country; it is alive and kicking across North America, South America, Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East.
With the exception of North America, Jews have been expelled from all these regions, from one country after another, spanning thousands of years. Inquisitions. Pogroms. Excessive taxation. Barred from owning land and working in many jobs, guilds, and workplaces. The Holocaust. October 7th. Was all this not enough?
Yet still, today, all over the world, all over social media and, more alarmingly, in the middle of major “liberal” cities, you hear thousands of people explicitly calling for more death to more Jews. Will only complete Jewish extinction be enough?
“Of course not,” many people will tell you. “I just don’t like when Israeli Jews do what they do!” In other words, a classic gaslighting ploy to make it about “anti-Zionism” — a lame attempt to differentiate Israeli Jews from other Jews — which every educated Jew knows is the newer, more socially acceptable rendition of antisemitism.
And when us Jews try to defend their beloved, absolutely necessary, and also quite ordinary country, they continue to gaslight us with words like, “Oh, so you support the occupation.”
You don’t have to support Israel and the Middle East’s complex realities — and the occupation is indeed a complex reality — to understand the Jewish state’s grave necessity and admire the miraculousness of its founding. Again, if you judge any state by the mistakes it makes, the whole world would be rotten.
Yes, Israel has greatly changed since its founding in 1948, and the Palestinians’ complete refusal since the 1930s to peacefully share the land has naturally played a part in hardening what some call Israeli “hardline” positions. In recent years, Israel’s policy to effectively enable Hamas as the governing power in Gaza must also be cause for tremendous concern.
However, you won’t find in much of the news media, on social media, and in classrooms and other places these vital nuances, the historical missteps by both Israelis and Palestinians, and the grotesque institutionalized antisemitism still predominantly within the Palestinian territories and across Middle Eastern countries (antisemitism that far predates the State of Israel).
Even with all these complicated realities and histories that blame and responsibility can perform in the name of antisemitism, “the one you never expect to see is unrestrained delight in an atrocity, praise for the perpetrator, and callous scorn for the victims, as though their victimhood is all the proof of their culpability you need,” as Jacobson so accurately put it.
“Ask what it takes for a feminist in London to applaud a rape, or a MeToo revolutionary in New York to dance a jig in celebration of the abduction of a woman and the mutilation of her baby,” he wrote. “How many lecturers in human rights partied through the night after being shown the footage of Israelis denied their right to live?”
Surely, this is victim-blaming, Jacobson added, “were the victims not guilty without trial of being Jews.”
“We ask ourselves how ordinary Germans could stand idly by in the 1940s. Today, we must ask: How can so many stand idly by and applaud?” The Daily Mail. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-12708791/Howard-Jacobson-offers-scalding-critique-Israel-Booker-Prize-winning-author.html.
Captain Allen on Twitter.