Home inSight The Rafah Operation and Yom HaShoah: What’s the Meaning of ‘Never Again’?

The Rafah Operation and Yom HaShoah: What’s the Meaning of ‘Never Again’?

Shoshana Bryen

Israel’s opening entry into Rafah in Gaza coincided with International Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah). Israel’s plans and the Biden administration’s response should be understood in light of history and its lessons.

Before the Rafah operation, Israel closed down Al Jazeera, the ostensibly independent media outlet that is, in fact, wholly owned by the government of Qatar. Then, having worked for weeks to establish a temporary refuge outside the Rafah corridor for Gazan civilians, Israel began alerting Palestinians to move to safer quarters — by phone, email, text, loudspeaker, and leaflets — with maps and routes defined. This is in line with its previous efforts to minimize civilian casualties.

John Spencer, chair of urban warfare studies at West Point, wrote, “Israel has done more to prevent civilian casualties in war than any military in history — above and beyond what international law requires and more than the U.S. did in its wars in Iraq & Afghanistan.”

As the bombing began, the White House released President Joe Biden’s statement, mourning “the six million Jews who were killed by the Nazis during one of the darkest chapters in human history” and recommitting to “heeding the lessons of the Shoah and realizing the responsibility of ‘Never Again.’”

But as events unfold, the administration’s actions belie the president’s words and the “lessons of the Shoah” appear unlearned. The crucial first lesson is that “Never Again” is a pledge that Israel will defend the Jewish people.

The government of Israel articulated three goals after the Hamas-induced pogrom of October 7: to eliminate Hamas’ military and governing capabilities, to secure Israel’s borders and thus its people, and to rescue any surviving Israeli hostages. The rescue of Gaza civilians from their terrorist overlords would be a byproduct.

For the US, the articulated goal has become to negotiate a ceasefire with Iranian-sponsored, Qatar-financed terrorist Hamas, perhaps forgetting that there was a “ceasefire” between Israel and Hamas until October 6.

Elevating American goals above Israel’s goals misses the first lesson entirely. Israel is an independent, free, and democratic country with a first-class, ethical military. Its ability to make military and political decisions should be respected by its principal ally and others.

But Washington is adamant.

National security adviser Jake Sullivan — with exactly no military background — opined, “A major ground operation [in Rafah] would be a mistake. … [T]he key goals Israel wants to achieve in Rafah can be done by other means.”

He declined to specify the means.

Israel declined to substitute Sullivan’s judgment for its own.

The Biden administration then denounced the closure of Al Jazeera. White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre said, “We believe in freedom of the press. It is critically important, and the United States supports the critically important work journalists around the world do. That includes those who are reporting on the conflict in Gaza. … [F]reedom of the press is important.”

Yes, it is. But the “journalist” tag can be — and has been — misused by propagandists and terrorists, including on October 7. While media outlets may not have been aware of their freelancers’ freelancing with Hamas, the free movement of Al Jazeera “journalists” can expose Israeli military information to Al Jazeera’s owners and thus to others. It should be noted that there have been closures and restrictions on Al Jazeera in countries including Australia, Bahrain, India, Kuwait, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Syria, Tunisia, Ukraine, the UAE, the UK, and the United States.

The administration’s insistence that humanitarian considerations trump military reality is a mistake with larger ramifications. Trying to “protect” civilians in the middle of the battle actually prolongs the war and increases casualties. But Biden demanded supplies, built a $320-million pier off the Gaza shore (taxpayer money and US service personnel), and failed until this week to recognize publicly that Hamas was stealing aid that entered Gaza. Taking the mantle of “guardian of Palestinian civilians” in the middle of a war for Israel’s current and future security fails to heed the lesson of “Never Again.” It is a publicity stunt at Israel’s expense.

The UN noted in August 2023 (well before Israel’s entry into Gaza) that 35 million people were on “the edge” of famine in seven countries: Afghanistan, Haiti, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Yemen, and Ethiopia. It later changed the number to 98.8 million people facing famine in nine countries, adding Syria and the Democratic Republic of Congo to the list.

The administration has contributed to international aid organizations, certainly, but has done nothing directly to alleviate conditions for those 98.8 million people at the level it is advocating for the Palestinians — and only the Palestinians.

President Biden has been rhetorically good on Israel’s security requirements since October 7, and the coordination of Israel’s defense against Iranian attack was excellent. But its undermining of Israel’s decision-making is a mockery of the “mourning” on Yom HaShoah, as is his recent decision to withhold arms from Israel unless it does what Biden wants.

That’s not the lesson Biden — and certainly Israel — should take away from Yom HaShoah.