Editor’s Note: The following Op Ed commentary by Daniel Staffenberg appeared in the Nov. 2nd issue of the Richmond Times Dispatch
The single deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust occurred on October 7th. The radical Islamic terrorist organization Hamas committed atrocities against Israeli civilians, resulting in the murder of over 1,400 people, the kidnapping of more than 220, including foreign nationals, and over 3,500 injured.
No citizen of Israel escaped unscathed, as family, friends, and communities were changed forever. Locally we await and pray for the release of Richmonder Hersh Golberg-Polin, severely injured during the attacks and now a hostage of Hamas terrorists.
In a murderous rampage, the terrorist group Hamas shot entire families in their homes, took civilians hostage, burned down homes, and stalked innocents fleeing for their lives. Holocaust survivors, the elderly, and young children are among the casualties and hostages, as were dozens of Arab Israelis. The Red Cross has been denied access to ensure their fair treatment and safety, a standard practice among parties in a conflict.
Israel’s focus is on eradicating Hamas, not at war with Palestinian civilians. Hamas has historically shown no interest in negotiations, compromise, or peace settlements.
Elected by the people of Gaza, Hamas explicitly seeks Israel’s destruction and the killing of Jews worldwide—a goal laid out in its charter. Hamas embraces the use of innocent people as shields, and has a documented history of manufacturing, storing, and firing their weapons from hospitals, schools, and mosques.
The Hamas regime has diverted humanitarian aid for military and terror purposes, while its wealthy leadership, not living in Gaza themselves, squander urgent resources. Israel uses its army to protect its people, while Hamas uses its people to protect its terrorists.
Hamas is counting on civilian deaths to turn public opinion against Israel and foment global antisemitism.
In response to the October 7th attack and the kidnapping of innocent civilians, the Israeli military (the “IDF”) is carrying out strategic airstrikes against Hamas tunnels, bunkers, administration offices, and weapons storehouses in the Gaza Strip, which Israel handed over to the Palestinian people in 2005.
The IDF is focused on rescuing the hostages and eliminating Hamas’s capacity to continue their decades-long firing of rockets and incursions into Israeli communities.
Israel has repeatedly warned Gaza’s civilian population to evacuate to avoid being caught in the violence. Hamas has ordered residents to stay, condemning their own people to die. Clear evidence has emerged of Hamas blocking evacuation routes.
Thanks to a new wave of access, influence, social media, and a lack of verification by credible news agencies, Hamas and its supporters across the globe are adding gas to already historic levels of antisemitism locally.
Synagogues around the world have been attacked, burned and defaced, and suffered bomb threats.
Here in Richmond, flyers and messages of hate have increased substantially with many Jews increasingly scared for their own safety.
On college campuses throughout the Commonwealth, Jewish students have been attacked physically and verbally for supporting Israel.
Our Jewish agencies and Synagogues have had to dramatically increase their security protocols, diverting critical resources from social services to keep worshipers and the thousands of Jewish and general community members who benefit from their work safe.
Yet, in the midst of the most difficult and darkest period in a generation for Jews around the world, many members of the Jewish community continue to voice support for innocent Palestinians, betrayed and victimized at the hands of Hamas.
Jewish tradition teaches us to value life above all. Every civilian life lost in Gaza is a tragedy, and is not celebrated, but mourned by the global Jewish community.
A stark contrast to the celebration and jubilant return of Hamas terrorists in Gaza, where they receive payments and honor.
There is no moral equivalence between Israel and Hamas.
Hamas intentionally targets Israeli civilians, regardless of faith, and does not value the lives of their own, seen as pawns to sacrifice in their terrorist mission. Israel is acting in self-defense against those who want to slaughter its citizens and wipe it from the earth.
We are grateful to the many Virginia federal, state, and local elected officials, religious and community leaders who have raised their voices to stand with Israel and denounce terrorism.
We must stand together in demanding the release of all hostages and the dismantling of Hamas. Doing so will benefit both Israelis and Palestinians.
This might be the first step in achieving a true, lasting peace.