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Understanding terror: how we must condemn extremism and its rhetoric

Avi Zalkin and Dylan Glaser are 11th graders at the Masters School. This piece does not necessarily represent the opinions of the Tower staff or The Masters School. Tower is a community forum in which members of our community can share their opinions as long as they are in the spirit of civil discourse. We welcome responses through the comments section below, or through letters to the editor addressed to Towereditors@mastersny.org. Note that comments are being moderated, emails verified and uncivil responses will not be posted.

On October 7, 1944, nearly three months before the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, a few intrepid young women dared to rebel against the Nazi death camp. They smuggled gunpowder into Auschwitz, wrapped it within their garments, and attempted to destroy the gas chambers used to kill over a million innocents. The Nazis responded swiftly: they killed 250 prisoners in the rebellion and shot 200 more in the aftermath. This is now just another day forgotten to history.

Seventy-nine years later, the fundamentalist terrorist organization Hamas breached the Israeli border, brutally butchering more Jews in a single day than since the Nazi’s systematic extermination. Their goal was clear: dehumanize, terrorize, and destroy the Jewish people. 

Yet, shockingly, while Western governments responded with unequivocal support for the people of Israel, the reaction in Western social media, street protests, and campus demonstrations too often reveled in the news of the massacres and ignorantly applauded Hamas as the defender of Palestinians. 

Do not look away. 

Genocides occur because people are willing to ignore, excuse, and justify extremism. It is vital to understand what you are saying, why you are saying it, and what implications it may have. Before Israel should be judged, it must be understood; before Hamas be judged, it must likewise be understood. 

 Zionism is the idea that the Jewish people have the right to their own state as a haven from genocide. Israel was created by the United Nations on the historical homeland of the Jewish people, a land with Jewish communities continually present since the time of Abraham in 1,800 BCE. Israel’s right to exist should not be confused with the sometimes extreme actions of Israel’s current ‘nationalist maximalist’ administration. 

Criticism of the Israeli government differs profoundly from anti-Zionism: one affirms the right of free people to inveigh against unjust action; the other calls for the destruction of the Jewish homeland— with genocidal implications. 

In a democracy, the right to critique governmental fault is an essential act of patriotism. Anyone who supports the existence of the State of Israel (and this should be unanimous) should condemn Israel when it commits unjustifiable grievances — but should also appreciate the difficulty it faces in responding to terrorist threats whose primary goal is Israeli slaughter and Israel’s destruction.  

Hamas does not represent ‘Palestinian resistance,’ nor have they ever valued the well-being of their people. Since day one, their only goal has been the death of Jews and the destruction of Israel. It is of note that the Gaza given to Palestinians is not the Gaza you see today; it was a vibrant coastal community on the Mediterranean, funded by Western nations and non-profits with billions of dollars to support the Palestinian people. 

Instead of investing in education, infrastructure, or hospitals, Hamas-run Gaza has drained its resources on terrorism and put its citizens in a chokehold of repression.

Since the current onslaught began, Hamas has massacred over 1,400 Israeli civilians: raped women and girls, mutilated and burned infants, and gruesomely murdered parents before the disbelieving eyes of their young children

They have kidnapped two hundred civilians, two hundred people prodded like cattle into dark Gazan tunnels. In constant fear for their lives, these mothers, wives, fathers, brothers, and daughters are yet to be returned.

Take a moment to look away from this paper and truly process what that means. 

Hamas’ horrific actions were predicated on the knowledge that Israel would respond unshakably to protect its people. Rather than caring for its children, Hamas intentionally uses them as human shields. It knows Israel will defend itself: it will bombard the Hamas hide-outs purposely placed in civilian structures like residences, schools, and even hospitals, and this will result in the international condemnation of Israel

The difference is profound: Israel does not seek out the death of innocent civilians; it retaliates to prevent further loss of life and to protect its children. What choice does it have? Hamas plans its operations to slaughter as many Israeli children as possible and sacrifices its own children in an international chess game to draw support for their hatred. As former Israeli prime minister Golda Meir eloquently illustrated, “If the Arabs put down their weapons today, there would be no more violence. If [Israel] put down [its] weapons today, there would be no more Israel.” 

 Devastatingly, their propaganda is working! Students around the United States and the Western world are siding with terrorism and repeating Hamas’ talking points. While many Westerners support  Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (an organization founded to boycott Israel, that claims Israel is an “an apartheid state,” a claim we categorically reject as a lie) as a punishment to Israel, the same people often turn a blind eye to China’s egregious human rights violations against the Uyghur Muslims or Ethiopia’s acts of ethnic cleansing. 

One prominent reason behind this palpable dichotomy is antisemitism woven deep within the fabric of society. This materializes in hate beyond reproach. At UCLA, hundreds of students marched, screaming “intifada, intifada,” which can only be interpreted as a call for mass violence against Jews. During a ‘pro-Palestine’ protest in front of the Sydney Opera House last Tuesday night, over one thousand protestors demanded “gas the Jews.” 

We stand in absolute solidarity with the innocent Palestinian civilians killed under Israel’s justifiable response. However, we believe that our primary focus should not be a condemnation of the Israeli response but must remain the unequivocal condemnation of Hamas terrorism that precipitated it and the proliferation of dangerous anti-Zionist rhetoric providing the necessary oxygen and capital to support such terrorism. 

As affirmed by its covenant, Hamas operates under an identical resolve to that of the Nazis— any attempted excuse fans its flames. 

With so much to stand against, it is invaluable to enumerate those sacrosanct ideals behind which we must rally tirelessly. We stand for the right of a Jewish homeland and of all peoples to be free and prosperous and enjoy the fruits of life. 

Be careful how you act: history is watching. 

Avi Zalkin and Dylan Glaser are 11th graders at the Masters School. This piece does not necessarily represent the opinions of the Tower staff or The Masters School. Tower is a community forum in which members of our community can share their opinions as long as they are in the spirit of civil discourse. We welcome responses through the comments section below, or through letters to the editor addressed to Towereditors@mastersny.org. Note that comments are being moderated, emails verified and uncivil responses will not be posted.

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  • A

    Ahmed Waris al MajidDec 24, 2023 at 2:30 AM

    This didn’t age well. The comparison with Auschwitz and the aftermath is reprehensible. Hamas barely killed anyone beyond a few hundred civilians while they were fighting the IDF and about 350 military personnel (Haaretz reported this), a large number of the civilians that died on that day were by the IDF shooting indiscriminately (the same as the bombing in Gaza, they also killed three hostages who had emerged holding white flags shouting in Hebrew).
    To hear 11th graders speak of the reason why Hamas was established when social media actively tries to censor Palestinian voices demonstrates how misinformed the current generation really has become, the founder and several leaders of Hamas had themselves insisted on a two-state solution within the 1967 borders is an acceptable solution.
    The apartheid nature of Israel is not from the BDS movement or anti-Zionist activists alone, it has been accepted by B’Tselem itself.

    Reply
  • A

    A NoteOct 26, 2023 at 3:27 PM

    Hello, I mean this with all my respect — please be careful the way you speak about Arabs. I’ve been trying to think of how to phrase this for a few days. I’m not going to argue anything on politics though to the point, I do agree with most of the points in this article. Just please be careful with your wording, as an Arab member of this community, it really hurt my heart to read parts of this. In particular this quote very much scared me:
    As former Israeli prime minister Golda Meir eloquently illustrated, “If the Arabs put down their weapons today, there would be no more violence. If [Israel] put down [its] weapons today, there would be no more Israel.” That is very dangerous rhetoric surrounding Arabs. Note how this quote is not saying Hamas, it’s saying Arabs. I doubt you meant it to be interpreted this way, of course, but again, please be mindful.

    This goes for all of the Masters community as well : the language used to discuss this issue (on both sides) has left me alarmed in places. Please, let’s be gentle with each other! All of us are suffering greatly in this and we must be kind and mindful. I lend my heart to all those who are being harmed, it is a tragic situation for everyone. There is no need to villainize one group or another. Often, and in my opinon, in this situation, the blame falls on government systems — not the civilians. Again, we are all suffering. Please be very wary of the way you speak, to clarify, not just about Arabs but about Jewish people as well. Cases of Antisemtism has increased rapidly in only the past two weeks or so. Again, let’s please not blame ordinary people as a whole. We are all human. Not to sound so cliche, but seriously, if you hear your friends or classmates saying bigoted things, PLEASE say something. You do not know who is listening.

    Back to this article, however, I don’t mean this as an attack or anything, just a gentle reminder. I understand where a lot of this phrasing is coming from and I truly mean the best with this. I only want to offer some of my perspective as I’ve been thinking a lot about this article over the past week. I absolutely am not trying to condemn this article or its’ writers and have the utmost respect to them for speaking their opinons. I REALLY wanna emphasis this. I send so much love and affection to all those who are affected by this. Please take care of yourselves and do not be afraid to reach out for help.

    Reply
    • D

      Dylan GlaserOct 26, 2023 at 10:15 PM

      Thank you for that insightful comment. It made me think a lot as well, and I completely agree with everything you said. I want to apologize about that quote– Avi and I always interpreted the quote to mean she was referring to Hamas and other terrorist organizations, but your comment brings up a very important point. In NO way did Avi and I intend for that quote to be hurtful, but we now recognize the gross generalizations it makes. Thank you for the comment and you have my deepest apologies.

      Reply
    • A

      Avi ZalkinOct 26, 2023 at 11:54 PM

      Hi,

      I truly appreciate the civility of your comment. I understand how some of the wording could have been perceived contrary to our intentions— and I would like echo Dylan in apologizing for any emotional harm we may have caused.

      Perhaps since we did not contextualize the aforementioned quote, it left more room for interpretation than we would have liked.

      Golda Meir, the Israeli Prime Minister from 1969-74, was wildly different from the extremist and anti-Arab Israeli politicians today. Most importantly, in the quote we reference, she was referring to the neighboring countries of Israel, which repeatedly waged war against the state with the goal of its complete destruction. She was NOT referencing an entire ethnic group of people or innocent civilians, but rather illustrating the underlying cause for Israel’s (then) unwanted aggressive militarization.

      I thought this quote would succinctly sum up that history, yet I am willing to admit I was wrong. While I believe the quote itself is an apt description of the conflict at large, its words leaves too much room for error in reading. No one should make sweeping claims about Arabs or Jews—that runs anathema to the point of this article. I agree with you utterly.

      Thank you for taking the time to bring your reading experience to our attention, I am very grateful for your comment.

      Warmly,

      Avi

      Reply
      • A

        A NoteOct 27, 2023 at 9:37 AM

        Thank you both for your reply! I am so impressed by the respect and dignity in your responses. I really, really appreciate this.

        Reply
  • O

    Olga GutmanOct 23, 2023 at 12:58 PM

    Thank you very much for a very balanced and researched article on a very important topic.
    Good to hear a calm voice of reason at this difficult time.

    Reply
  • J

    Joshua ThomasOct 20, 2023 at 10:53 PM

    Powerful article that addresses complicated issues with aplomb. The enormity of the situation is hard to grasp, but the writers do it justice.

    Reply
  • E

    EOct 20, 2023 at 9:14 PM

    absolutely reprehensible article. filled with false information.

    you write that hamas’s “only goal” has been death of jews — that’s obviously not true, given that their covenant is more than just one sentence, and their covenant has been changed in 2017 to go from anti-Jewish to anti-Zionist. of course anti-jewish beliefs are wrong, but it’s really damaging that tower allows misinformation like this. you linked the 1988 covenant instead of the 2017 one and made no mention of this change.

    it’s also really important to note that “terrorist” is a politicized word. it was coined to describe irish citizens engaging in anti-colonial resistance to the british government. what israel has done to palestinians for the 75 years would be classed as terrorism if israel wasn’t a state government allied with western countries. israel denies palestinians citizenship, nakba forced thousands of palestinians out of their homes and country to found israel, the idf has killed thousands of peaceful palestine protestors as well as children, and idf soldiers have raped hundreds of palestinian women and children.

    one can be anti-Zionist and not be antisemitic. no group of people has the inherent right to an ethno-state.

    how can tower honestly print something like this? you write: “Israel does not seek out the death of innocent civilians; it retaliates to prevent further loss of life” — which is completely and unequivocally false. palestine has no real army, israel has the might of the western world behind it. israel has the most powerful army in the world and has killed thousands of palestinians in the last 75 years and especially in the last week. you make no mention of the thousands of palestinians killed, making it clear that you don’t care about their lives. you only care about israeli lives.

    you say that are primary goal should not be condemning israel’s response to hamas’s action, but rather should be in condemning hamas’s initial action, yet give no reasons why. one reason why condemning israel’s response is more dire is because it is actively ongoing and because israel has far more power and resources than hamas and has killed far more people.

    i cannot believe this was allowed to be published with no mention of the death toll of the palestinians against whom israel is currently committing genocide. you don’t mention this at all. you don’t mention that the israeli government called palestinians “human animals” and “the children of darkness,” you don’t mention nakba.

    you also fail to substantiate your claim that people who support palestine don’t care about oppression in other places. it’s not true. pro-palestine supporters understand global solidarity for oppressed people everywhere, something this article clearly rejects.

    i am so ashamed to have ever been a part of tower of this is the sort of piece that gets published in response to israel committing genocide against the palestinian people. it’s ahistorical and shameful.

    i am telling you: don’t look away

    Reply
    • P

      PubliusOct 21, 2023 at 6:46 PM

      E,

      While well-intentioned, I am sure, your statements do not align with facts. I will not even attempt to address your argument as a whole: such a response would be juvenile and accomplish nothing. Facts are not opinions, however, and you deserve to be educated.

      Firstly, you are correct that the Hamas Covenant of ‘88 is ‘more than one sentence,’ but its central goals are thus: kill all Jews, eviscerate the State of Israel, and establish a fundamentalist Islamic State. This is not a contentious statement. Mahmoud Zahar, co-founder of Hamas, and many others still stand religiously by the ‘88 text. If this was ever up for debate, the October 7th massacre has fully cemented Hamas’s genocidal intentions– intentions that you apparently fail to acknowledge.

      Your etymology of ‘terrorist’ is false. The term arrived in English from French referring to the patent violence of the Jacobin party. It was used in early America by many founders– often tied with state-sanctioned mass violence.

      Israel is not an ethnostate. The term ethnostate refers to nations which restrict citizenship to one ethnic group of people. In Israel, this is demonstrably false. Non-Jews can have full citizenship.

      Israel does not have genocidal goals. I challenge you to find one piece of Israeli legislation that exists for the certain and sole purpose of killing all Palestinians.

      Israel does not have the most powerful army in the world. There are many nations which have far more powerful militaries. Many lists do not even rank Israel in the top 10. While Palestine does not have a military of comparable size or measure, Hamas tries to kill as many Israelis as they can; your wording would have one believe it is almost pacifist.

      Israel did not call all Palestinians ‘human animals.’ It used this rather unfortunate language referring to Hamas, the terrorist group whose flagitious actions you seem to condone utterly.

      Anti-Zionism calls for the dissolution of Israel. Without Israel, half the Jewish population is at the whim of a proven anti semitic world, one in which further death is an unfortunately large possibility. Is the preventable death of 7.5 million Jews something you could live with? Ponder this honestly.

      The rest of your response is littered with more false and unsubstantiated claims. I am sure the authors of this text did not spend so much time and effort to be bombarded with these lies. Masters should be proud to have students who are willing to stake their reputation against these lies and stand for their beliefs. Now, E, we all know that I am right about the above. “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.” It is no use arguing with these. I for one, I am sick of defending these poor kids. Take a breath, consider we all have our beliefs, and enjoy your existence because that is something many Israelis and Palestinians can no longer do. It is Fall where I am and I suggest you treasure the remaining warmth.

      Dearly,

      Publius

      Reply
    • R

      ReplyOct 23, 2023 at 12:55 PM

      Your claims are not only biased and harmful, but objectively false. You state, “Israel has the most powerful army in the world”. Israel isn’t even in the top five. Your willingness to spread false information disproven by data discounts the validity of your piece. It is obvious that you are speaking solely to cause argument, not to vouch for a cause.

      Reply
    • A

      AnonymousNov 9, 2023 at 7:31 AM

      Hello E,

      You state that Israel/IDF is committing genocide against the Palestinian people. This is outright false and has no proven evidence. Innocent Palestinians are being killed because Hamas sets up their base camps in places where while bombing those bases, IDF can’t help killing civilians. Meanwhile, Hamas (a terrorist organization) has been intentionally killing innocent Israelis. So when Hamas first attacked Israel, they were trying to commit genocide, not the other way around.
      Please consider this

      Reply