There is no hierarchy of suffering – Intention defines evil

Whose suffering should we feel most sympathy for? The little Israeli girl kidnapped or murdered by Hamas? Or the Palestinian at risk of being killed by Israeli bombs. This question is often posed on social media, almost rhetorically, implying that the two sides of the conflict – Israel and Hamas – are equally guilty.

The answer and truth is that there is no hierarchy for suffering and human tragedy. The life of a child living in a kibbutz in southern Israel, a suburb of Tel Aviv under fire from Hamas rockets, or in Gaza surrounded by Hamas militants and under the terror organization’s oppression are all equal. It is not possible to pit these lives against each other.

The tragedy of every innocent life lost is the same no matter who it is or where they reside. This applies when Assad and the Russian air force bombs hospitals and villages in Syria, it applies in the Congo and in other African republics involved in the cruelest of wars. And it is also true in Ukraine, where bombs and missiles are deliberately fired at hospitals, shopping malls, and residential areas. This tragedy also applies to the Ukrainian soldiers who, on duty and in the defense of their country, are shot to pieces by an invading military force that has no right to be in the country. Yet even the bombs intended for soldiers can end up taking young innocent life.

Anyone who attempts to grade the value of a life will ultimately buy into the logic of hatred.

The intent behind a death determines accountability and guilt. If we remain indifferent to the question of intent, we turn a blind eye to the evil behind the cause of death. Intent defines evil, as well as accountability and guilt. However, both in the editorial pages and on social media, the question is posed as if one can ignore the difference between those who kill for the sake of killing and those who seek to stop murderous intent. The rhetorical question, posed as if the effort to fight Hamas in Gaza is based upon a hierarchy of an individual life’s value, buys into the logic of violence.

The burned villages, the murdered children and their parents, and all the slaughtered youth at a music festival were killed because they were Jews. Their homes and residences were burned down because they were Jews. It is the same hate that once lay behind the evil of the Holocaust.

Hamas did not even try to conceal this evil. They relished and celebrated it. People cheered when young children, their siblings, and parents were executed, mutilated, burned, or kidnapped. This is pure evil. The intention to kill for killing’s sake. The jubilation and triumph of death. This is barbarism.

The atrocities that took place in the villages, the kibbutzim, and the music festival is what Hamas wants to see occur throughout Israel. An annihilated nation, extinguished communities, and the triumph of having murdered Jews. There is no limit to that triumph, and it is an existential threat that Israel has constantly had to live with.

Hamas knew that Israel must combat such terror. And Hamas knew that October 7th would bring war to Gaza and that civilians would be killed. That was the point. To force Israel into war at the expense of Gaza’s own population. It was not a thoughtless actThe war that followed was not a surprise. Hamas wanted to see dead Jews and Palestinian victims. This is what the brutal dictatorship of Hamas looks like. I am surprised so many people remain silent on this issue.

Knowing that their opponents do not rejoice in human death and destruction, but come from a democratic society where human life has value and where people who commit crimes against it are held accountable, Hamas has systematically chosen to place missile launchers, military installations, and command centers under the protection of human shields.

They use the lives of the little girls as means to protect themselves. The victims of war are a victory, demonstrating to the world that it is the enemy, the one who they want to exterminate, who is cruel.

For me, and I don’t think I am any different from the large majority of average people, it is painful to witness the suffering in Gaza, where homes are destroyed and society breaks down due to the lack of healthcare, water, and other basic needs. Hamas has taken control of fuel, medicine, and water. The situation for the hostages who are locked in hellish underground passages , the images of the massacred victims, and the continued bombing of targets in Israel is what makes it necessary for the Israeli Defense Forces to defend their country and fight Hamas.

It is also a disgrace that there are those in Sweden today, and in the world,  who actually celebrate and want to see more Jews killed. There is however no one who would come up with the idea of celebrating Palestinian suffering. There are still far too many who are indifferent to their oppression and the fact that they are used as human shields by a regime that is a carbon copy of the Iranian dictatorship.

Those who rejoice over murder are lost souls from whom Swedish politics must distance itself in terms and clarity that match the unacceptable barbarism. Painful in its own way when this is not done, it also opens the door for anti-Semitism that deeply harms Swedish society.

It is truly worrying that so many of our serious intellectuals actually think they are adding nuance to the discussion by pitting Israeli and Palestinian suffering against each other, letting both sides equally share the blame for the tragedies befalling innocent Israelis and Palestinians.

It is even more disturbing that quite a number of columnists and op-eds suggest that Israel’s self-defense against murder is the reason for the suffering, not Hamas’s dictatorship and use of human shields. Israel has a responsibility to adhere to international law and reduce the risk of civilian casualties to the greatest extent possible. Yet, Hamas has an even more fundamental responsibility: Not to deliberately expose civilians to the consequences of war.

In a more fundamental sense, perhaps most concerning are those who argue that the massacre on October 7th should be seen against the backdrop of Israeli settlement policy. There is every reason to criticize these policies, but there is nothing that can justify or excuse murdering children, mutilating pregnant women, and executing their families because they are Jews. Those who seek to nuance barbarism will end up meeting it.

Gunnar Hökmark

Chairperson Stockholm Free World Forum