Righteous Media

There is no harder time to have discipline than in the face of atrocity. And yet that is when it is required most.

Oct. 11, 2023, 9:56 PM EDT

By Paul Rieckhoff, political and national security analyst and U.S. Army infantry combat veteran

In 2009, I was honored to lead a group from Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America on a historic trip to Israel. We traveled across the country, toured military bases and historical sites and focused on spending time with Israeli vets and vet-focused programs. I have also visited with, learned from and become friends with Palestinians throughout the region.

The threat that is Hamas must be neutralized. It threatens Israel, Palestinians, America and to the world. Even if you are not normally a supporter of Israel, you must now stand up against Hamas and the culture of war crimes exposed by this week’s violence.

This is Israel’s 9/11. We have already heard that often.

I was there in New York on 9/11 as a first responder myself. I taught a college course on the history of 9/11 to undergraduates who were not yet born on that fateful day. And I have worked in support of 9/11 first responders and survivors ever since.

But I believe what Israel has experienced — and continues to experience — is even worse than 9/11.

9/11 was indescribable. It still is. The surprise, the scope, the scale, the number of civilians and heroes murdered in an instant. And the carnage that only those of us who were up close saw and experienced. I saw gruesome images that will forever be burned into my heart.

But it was not like this.

All of the bodies we found at Ground Zero were those of adults. And after the first few days of rescue operations, we switched to recovery. Anyone who made it out alive was safe. Or at least, safe from the immediate health risks.

But there were no additional planes to watch for. We did not have a stream of rockets raining down on Manhattan and Washington, D.C. The terrorists did not kill and maybe even decapitate, rape hostages or drag kidnapped men, women and children back across our borders. Even today, Hamas’ brutal crimes are ongoing, elongating the suffering and the terror.

After 9/11, America felt like it had to act. Now, Israel is in the same terrible position.

After 9/11, America felt like it had to act. Now, Israel is in the same terrible position. This is the exceptionally hard part. The decisions made now in the face of unimaginable pain and anger will help determine the trajectory of the world going forward.

Hamas does not represent all Palestinians, just as the Taliban did not represent the people of Afghanistan. The challenge now for Israel, for the U.S. and for all nations who stand with them, is to carefully separate the two and eliminate the true enemy — without making more.

Israel must fight tenaciously to hold the moral high ground. IDF soldiers must abide by the Geneva Conventions. Every military unit and member must limit civilian casualties. Israel and its allies must demonstrate a mastery of strategic communications on a level rarely seen before Ukraine’s recent dominance in the fight against Russia for global hearts and minds.

And Israel cannot allow or encourage torture (something U.S. leaders struggled with tremendously and openly debated after 9/11).

Doing otherwise would only encourage more young people in Gaza and around the world to take up arms against Israel and its allies.

Israel’s military and political leaders must learn from America’s mistakes. They can — and must — do better. There is no harder time to have discipline than in the face of atrocity. But that is when it is required the most.

I am committed to helping Israel do that in any way I can. I know other 9/11 survivors and Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are committed, as well.

Because there will be many more dark days ahead. But one day, like now in New York decades later, there can and will be light. Israel and the world can be stronger at the broken places, while always ensuring that the world never forgets.

That is how we truly honor the dead and how we defeat a detestable enemy. That is our way forward: united against those who would (and will) do this kind of unforgivable brutality. Now, and forever.

We can and must be better than Hamas.

This is the moment to prove it.

– Paul Rieckhoff

Paul Rieckhoff is an independent political and national security analyst, frequent MSNBC guest activist, U.S. Army infantry combat veteran, the host of Independent Americans, president of Righteous Media, founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), and the author of “Chasing Ghosts: Failures and Facades in Iraq, A Soldier’s Perspective.”

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