Washington, DC – Today, Congressman Jamie Raskin (MD-08) released the following statement.

A War Crime, a Crime Against Humanity, and the Worst Mass Murder of Jews Since the Holocaust

The brutal terrorist operation conducted by Hamas against Israeli civilians over the last week constitutes a mass war crime, a shocking crime against humanity, an illegal invasion of a sovereign country, and the most murderous assault on Jewish civilians since the Holocaust.

Israel is reeling from, and traumatized by, this terrorist assault, which has killed more than 1,300 women, men and children (among them at least 29 Americans)—the proportional equivalent of the American population experiencing a dozen simultaneous 9/11 attacks. Taking place 50 years after the launch of the Yom Kippur War, a military conflict which inflicted very few civilian casualties, this mass civilian casualty event has shaken Israeli society to the core. The enormity and savagery of the terrorist rampage on October 7 frame the contemporary crisis.

Israel’s Right of National Self-Defense Against Hamas

Israel has the indisputable right under international law to engage in military self-defense against this explosion of mass terrorist violence. It may act to stop and repel the violence, completely secure its borders and people, and disarm and neutralize Hamas, a terrorist organization which has openly targeted Israel for “obliteration” since 1988 when, as a new terror group fusing Nazi and Islamist ideas, it published its Covenant advocating Jihad against the Jewish people and destruction of the Jewish state. Hamas has circulated the toxic and debunked lies of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, promoted suicide bombing terrorism, and done everything in its power to sabotage diplomacy, nonviolent conflict resolution and the promotion of peace in the Middle East. It has tried to this day to turn the political conflict between Israelis and Palestinians into a religious holy war between Muslims and Jews.               

America is Israel’s steadfast ally, and I strongly support President Biden’s pledge to stand “shoulder to shoulder” with Israel in combating Hamas in a just war of self-defense undertaken pursuant to the requirements of international law and the “rules of war.” Hamas’ murderous terrorism must never be allowed to happen again—against the Israeli people or any people on earth.

 The Laws of War Governing Conduct of the Israeli Response and the Safety of Palestinians

A just war undertaken in self-defense must be prosecuted justly, according to international and humanitarian law, the central purpose of which is the protection of civilian life from military violence. The more than two million Palestinians essentially trapped in miserable and vulnerable conditions in the densely packed Gaza Strip, nearly half of them children, have a right to be kept safe from the terrorist violence of Hamas and from the Israeli military campaign launched in response to it. The Palestinian people are not responsible for the criminal actions of Hamas terrorists, but there have already been more than 2,200 lives lost in Gaza in this first week of aerial attacks, and Israel’s anticipated ground invasion has not even begun.

Under international law, innocent civilians may never be targeted in a military campaign, as President Biden has emphasized in recent days, and state armies and militaries must take great precautions to keep civilians safe during the course of battle. This general principle is difficult but absolutely required by international humanitarian law. It is rigorously tested in the brutal fog and fury of war, but everyone committed to Israeli success in its just war of self-defense against Hamas—and that includes me—must insist upon protection of innocent civilian life every day that the war continues. The ultimate legitimacy of even the most just war depends not only on the original righteousness of its cause but on the legality of its prosecution and the military’s attention to the rights and lives of innocent civilians.

The defense of innocent civilians on all sides is not an obstructive legal doctrine or battlefield annoyance but the entire purpose of a just war against an enemy that has set itself against humanity. Contempt for civilian life is the hallmark of terrorist regimes and actors, not liberal democracies. Unlike the terrorists, we reject all notions of mass guilt, collective punishment and deliberate sacrifice of civilian life for military or ideological purposes. The knowledge that a terrorist enemy displays spectacular disrespect for the lives of civilians—by such means as using them as “human shields” for embedded soldiers—imposes an obligation of extra care not to kill civilians who are being used in this way. Hostage-taking and hostage-killing are war crimes and crimes against humanity that liberal democracies must forcefully oppose and denounce in every context.                  

Hamas’ 150 Hostages Taken to Gaza         

Because hostage-taking is a war crime and a crime against humanity, the current hostage crisis is a global emergency. We must continue to demand, and work for, the immediate safe return of all 150 hostages, among them both Israelis and Americans, who are being held captive by Hamas terrorists in Gaza today. We must place paramount priority on their unconditional release and return to freedom and safety. I have spoken to friends and relatives of the hostages who insist that both the public and government officials not lose sight of this emergency situation for their loved ones and the central human reality and tragedy of the conflict.   

The Path Forward

This is a profoundly difficult time, with grief, rage, and anguish buffeting family life, world opinion and official decision-making. The terrorist atrocities unleashed on Israel by Hamas demand a forceful and strategic response in a just war of self-defense to destroy Hamas, which represents a continuing lethal threat to Israelis and the safety of people all over the world. This war must be carefully contained, limited and focused; it must not be allowed to spread into a regional conflict. A just war at its inception, it must be prosecuted justly, as President Biden has repeatedly urged, according to humanitarian law and the laws of war. The grotesque terrorist crimes of Hamas were not committed by the Palestinian people, and more than two million Palestinian civilians cannot be punished for the grotesque terrorist crimes of Hamas. All of us must work however we can for peace and for a future of mutual security, human rights and decency for the people of Israel, Gaza and the Middle East.