The Scenes of Genocide I Saw in Israeli Morgues
This wasn’t an emotional frenzy of killing like the pogroms of the 1880s. It was methodically planned.
A fetal heartbeat flutters and then stills, a bullet lodged in the embryonic heart. The mother survives the shooting and her child’s stillbirth. A body that has been decomposing for almost three weeks lies on the autopsy table, riddled with knife and bullet wounds. Another is nearby, the man’s bluetooth receiver still clipped onto his shirt. Death came as a surprise.
This is Israel. I arrived on Oct. 19 to spend 10 days as a human-rights observer with the permission of the nation’s Foreign Affairs Ministry and help from Israel Defense Forces officer Kobi Valer. As an observant Muslim, I felt a duty to come and bear witness. What I saw will remain with me forever.
Hamas waged its attacks in the nation’s south, but hundreds of its victims have since been moved north. I encountered many of them at the morgues at the Shura military base near Ramle, some 15 miles southeast of Tel Aviv. I toured the Sammy Ofer Fortified Underground Emergency Hospital in Haifa, visiting the neonatal units whose tiny patients had recently been relocated in anticipation of further conflict. I examined bodies and ashes, incinerated teeth and bones. I saw toddlers, teens and adults, young and old, many of them bound, tortured and burned alive.
One word continually came to mind: genocide. No matter how it emerges, the monster is easy to recognize. As a doctor, I had a rare and panoramic view of the aftermath: the targeted people’s long, agonizing journey to death.
This isn’t the first time I have seen Islamist jihadism or even Islamist genocide. I’ve been to northwestern Pakistan and met child Taliban operatives groomed for suicide missions. I still attend to 9/11 first-responders in New York. I’ve been to post-ISIS Iraq to meet with Kurdish and Yazidi survivors of genocide. I’ve spoken with former ISIS child soldiers and the Peshmerga veterans of that brutal and bloody three-year war.
The Oct. 7 genocide was different, more barbaric than anything before it. The attacks were cloaked in the language and metaphors of Islam, yet corrupted with cosmic enmity for the Jewish people, Judaism, global Jewry and the Jewish state. They revealed again that Islamism is a virulent impostor of Islam with intentions anathema to the faith. And there was no doubt of Islamism’s guilt: I saw real-time footage generated by the Hamas commandos’ own
cameras. I heard phone calls exclaiming the Shahadah—the Islamic declaration of faith—as they murdered, executed, burned, pillaged and then broadcast their crimes.
There is a commonality I have found in the face of such destruction. People struggle to find the words to describe what happened. Israelis I met were still searching for how to recount their experiences. Some talked about a second Shoah, a second Holocaust. One Israeli detective disagreed: “We can’t call this a holocaust—not because of the numbers—but because the Nazis were systematic and institutionalized the killing, and we can’t call it carnage, because ‘carnage’ is too nice a word.” He looked at me with a painful gaze. I found my own words strangled in silence, except one: genocide.
Article 6 of the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court defines genocide as a crime against humanity in terms identical to the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Its essential element is intent “to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”
The Oct. 7 attack was premeditated, organized and targeted, seeking to destroy as many Israelis as possible. Hamas tortured and immolated its victims, including children, pregnant women and the unborn. Its men intentionally captured hostages, around 240 in total, reportedly from more than 40 countries.
They had intent. Eyewitnesses told me the terrorists came with tablets loaded with maps of the kibbutzim, blueprints and floor plans of homes, names of families and specific knowledge of service records and where Israeli veterans were living. Others told me that some of the terrorists spoke Hebrew and lured the unwitting out of their safe rooms into certain death.
This wasn’t like the pogroms of the 1880s, a frenzy of killing with rabid emotion. This was a methodically planned genocide. No such circumstances apply to Israel’s operation in Gaza, and so the description must not be the same. The sovereign state of Israel is destroying Hamas because Hamas is threatening Israel, which is working to mitigate civilian losses. The country has a duty to prevent further genocide against its people. Saying so doesn’t detract from the suffering of Palestinians who are captives of Hamas.
Two weeks after the attack, Queen Rania of Jordan suggested that the butchering of children had yet to be “independently verified” as I examined images of their remains in Ramle. The deceit felt as barbaric as the atrocities. There is no context, no nuance, that justifies genocide. Its intention is the same throughout the ages: the destruction of a people.
Israel, the West and the Muslim world must respond with necessary moral clarity: Define the Oct. 7 attacks as genocide. Legally designating the horrors as such ought to become a priority, independent of the war against Hamas, because the attacks need to be documented and prosecuted as crimes against humanity. Doing so is a matter of Jewish survival. The world has been silent in the face of Jewish genocide before. When we now say never again, we must mean it.