Pro-Hamas protest in the USA
Pro-Hamas protest in the USACarin M. Smilk.

Nobel laureate Herta Muller is one of the greatest contemporary German writers and has written a shocking wake-up call to the West. Muller read this text aloud at the October 7 Forum of “Jewish Culture In Sweden” in Stockholm on May 25.

They turned into monsters

In most narratives about the war in Gaza, the war does not begin where it began. The war did not start in Gaza. The war began on October 7 - exactly 50 years after Egypt and Syria invaded Israel. Palestinian Hamas terrorists committed an unimaginable massacre in Israel.

They filmed themselves as heroes and celebrated their bloodbath. Their victory celebrations continued back home in Gaza, where the terrorists dragged severely abused hostages and presented them as spoils of war to the jubilant Palestinian population. This macabre jubilation extended all the way to Berlin. In the Neukölln district there was dancing on the streets and the Palestinian organization Samidoun distributed sweets. The internet was buzzing with happy comments.

More than 1,200 people died in the massacre. After torture, mutilation and rape, 239 people were abducted. This massacre by Hamas is a total derailment from civilization. There is an archaic horror in this bloodlust that I no longer thought possible in this day and age.

This massacre has the pattern of annihilation through pogroms, a pattern that the Jews have known for centuries. That is why the whole country has been traumatized, because the founding of the state of Israel was intended to protect against such pogroms. And until October 7, it was believed to be protected. Although Hamas has been sitting on the state of Israel’s neck since 1987. The Hamas founding charter clearly stated that the destruction of the Jews was the goal, and that “death for God is our noblest wish”.

Even though there have been changes to this charter since then, it is clear that nothing has changed: the destruction of the Jews and the destruction of Israel remain the goal and desire of Hamas. This is exactly the same as in Iran. In the Islamic Republic of Iran, the destruction of the Jews has also been state doctrine since its foundation, that is, since 1979.

When talking about the terror of Hamas, Iran should always be included in the discussion. The same principles apply, which is why big brother Iran finances, arms and makes little brother Hamas its henchman. Both are merciless dictatorships. And we know that all dictators become more radical the longer they rule. Today, the government of Iran consists exclusively of hardliners.

The state of the mullahs, with its Revolutionary Guards, is an unscrupulous, expanding military dictatorship. Religion is nothing more than camouflage. Political Islam means contempt for humanity, public floggings, death sentences and executions in the name of God. Iran is obsessed with war, but at the same time it pretends that it is not building any nuclear weapons. The founder of the so-called theocracy, Ayatollah Khomeini, issued a religious decree, a fatwa, stating that nuclear weapons are un-Islamic.

In 2002, international inspectors had already uncovered evidence of a clandestine nuclear weapons program in Iran. A Russian was hired to develop the bomb. The expert from Soviet nuclear weapons research worked in Iran for years. It seems that Iran is seeking to achieve nuclear deterrence, following the example of North Korea – and that is a scary thought. Especially for Israel, but also for the whole world.

The mullahs’ and Hamas’ obsession with war is so dominant that – when it comes to the extermination of Jews – it even transcends the religious divide between Shiites and Sunnis. Everything else is subordinated to this obsession with war.

The population is deliberately kept in poverty, while at the same time the wealth of the Hamas leadership is increasing immeasurably – in Qatar, Ismael Haniye is said to have billions at his disposal.

And the contempt for humanity knows no bounds. For the population, there is almost nothing left except martyrdom. Military plus religion as a complete surveillance. There is literally no room for dissenting opinions within Palestinian politics in Gaza. Hamas has driven out all other political currents from the Gaza Strip with incredible brutality. After Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2007, Fatah members were thrown from a fifteen-storey building as a deterrent.

Our feelings are their strongest weapon

This is how Hamas seized control of the entire Gaza Strip and established an unchallenged dictatorship. Unchallenged because no one who questions it lives long. Instead of a social network for the population, Hamas has built a network of tunnels under the feet of the Palestinians. Even under hospitals, schools and kindergartens financed by the international community. Gaza is a single military barracks, a deep state of anti-Semitism underground. Complete and yet invisible.

In Iran, there is a saying: Israel needs its weapons to protect its people. And Hamas needs its people to protect its weapons.

This saying is the shortest description of the dilemma that in Gaza you cannot separate the civilian from the military. And that applies not only to the buildings, but also to the personnel in the buildings. The Israeli army was forced into this trap in its response to October 7. Not lured, but forced. Forced to defend itself and to make itself guilty by destroying the infrastructure with all the civilian victims. And it is precisely this inevitability that Hamas wanted and is exploiting.

Since then, it has been directing the news that goes out to the world. The sight of suffering disturbs us daily. But no war reporter can work independently in Gaza. Hamas controls the selection of images and orchestrates our feelings. Our feelings are their strongest weapon against Israel. And by selecting the images, it even manages to present itself as the sole defender of the Palestinians. This cynical calculation has paid off.

"Ganz Normale Männer“

Since October 7, I have been thinking again and again about a book about the Nazi era, the book “Ganz Normale Männer” by Christopher R. Browning. He describes the annihilation of Jewish villages in Poland by the Reserve Police Battalion 110, when the large gas chambers and crematoria in Auschwitz did not yet exist. It was like the bloodlust of the Hamas terrorists at the music festival and in the kibbutzim. In just one day in July 1942, the 1,500 Jewish inhabitants of the village of Józefów were slaughtered. Children and infants were shot in the street in front of their houses, the old and sick in their beds. All the others were driven into the forest, where they had to strip naked and crawl on the ground. They were mocked and tortured, then shot and left lying in a bloody forest. The murder became perverse.

The book is called “Ganz Normale Männer” (Quite Normal Men) because this reserve police battalion did not consist of SS men or Wehrmacht soldiers, but of civilians who were no longer considered suitable for military service because they were too old. They came from completely normal professions and turned into monsters.

It was not until 1962 that a trial began in this case of war crimes. The trial records show that some of the men “got a huge kick out of the whole thing”. The sadism went so far that a newly married captain brought his wife to the massacres to celebrate their honeymoon. Because the bloodlust continued in other villages. And the woman strolled around in the white wedding dress she had brought with her, among the Jews who had been herded together in the market square. She was not the only wife who was allowed to visit. In the trial documents, the wife of a lieutenant says: “One morning, I was sitting with my husband in the garden of his accommodation, having breakfast, when a simple man from his platoon approached us, took up a stiff posture and declared: ‘Mr. Lieutenant, I have not yet had breakfast! When my husband looked at him questioningly, he explained further: ’I have not yet killed a Jew.'

No longer realizing their freedom

Is it right to think of the Nazi massacres on October 7? I think it is right to do so, because Hamas itself wanted to evoke the memory of the Shoah. And it wanted to demonstrate that the State of Israel is no longer a guarantee for the survival of the Jews. That their state is a mirage, that it will not save them. Logic forbids us to be close to the word Shoah. But why does it have to forbid it? Because the feeling that you have cannot avoid this pulsating proximity.

And then there’s something else that occurs to me and reminds me of the Nazis: the red triangle from the Palestinian flag. In the concentration camps, it was the symbol for communist prisoners. And today? Today, it can be seen again in Hamas videos and on the facades of buildings in Berlin. In the videos, it is used as a call to kill. On the facades, it marks targets that are to be attacked. A large red triangle looms over the entrance to the techno club “About Blank”. For years, Syrian refugees and gay Israelis danced here as a matter of course. But now nothing is a matter of course anymore. Now the red triangle screams over the entrance.

A raver whose Jewish family comes from Libya and Morocco says today: “The political climate awakens all demons. For the right, we Jews are not white enough; for the left, we are too white.”

The hatred of Jews has taken root in Berlin’s nightlife. After October 7, the Berlin club scene literally cowered. Although 364 young people, ravers like them, were slaughtered at a techno festival, the club association did not comment on it until days later. And even that was only a perfunctory exercise, because anti-Semitism and Hamas were not even mentioned.

I lived in a dictatorship for over thirty years. And when I came to Western Europe, I could not imagine that democracy could ever be called into question in such a way. I thought that in a dictatorship, people are systematically brainwashed. And that in democracies, people learn to think for themselves because the individual counts. Unlike in a dictatorship, where independent thought is forbidden and the forced collective trains people. And where the individual is not a part of the collective, but an enemy.

I am appalled that young people, students in the West, are so confused that they are no longer aware of their freedom. That they have apparently lost the ability to distinguish between democracy and dictatorship.

It is absurd that homosexuals and queer people, for example, demonstrate for Hamas – as they did in Berlin on November 4. It is no secret that not only Hamas, but the entire Palestinian culture, despises and punishes LGBTQ people. Just a rainbow flag in the Gaza Strip is unimaginable. Hamas’s sanctions for gays range from at least a hundred lashes to the death sentence. In a 2014 survey in the Palestinian [Authority] territories, 99 percent of respondents said that homosexuality was morally unacceptable. You can also take a satirical approach, as blogger David Leatherwood does on “X”: demonstrating for Palestine as a queer person is like demonstrating for Kentucky Fried Chicken as a chicken.

I also wonder whether the students at many American universities know what they are doing when they chant at the demonstrations: “We are Hamas” or even “Beloved Hamas, bomb Tel Aviv!” or “Back to 1948”. Is that still innocent or already moronic? Although the massacre of October 7 is no longer mentioned at these demonstrations. And it is outrageous when October 7 is even interpreted as a staged event by Israel. Or when not a single word is said about demanding the release of the hostages. When, instead, Israel’s war in Gaza is portrayed as an arbitrary war of conquest and annihilation by a colonial power.

Do young people only ever watch clips on Tiktok? Meanwhile, the terms follower, influencer, activist no longer seem harmless to me. These sleek internet words are serious. They all existed before the internet. I translate them back to the time. And suddenly they become rigid as sheet metal and overly clear. Because outside the internet they mean followers, influence agents, activists. As if they had been taken over from the training ground of a fascist or communist dictatorship. Their suppleness is an illusion anyway. Because I know that the words do what they say. They promote opportunism and obedience in the collective and spare people from taking responsibility for what the group does.

I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the demonstrators were students who, just a few months ago, were protesting against the oppression in Iran with the slogan “Women, Life, Freedom”. It appals me when the same demonstrators today show solidarity with Hamas. It seems to me that they no longer understand the abysmal contradiction of the content. And I wonder why they don’t care that Hamas would not even allow the smallest demonstration for any women’s rights. And that on October 7th, women who had been violated were paraded as spoils of war.

On the campus of the University of Washington, protesters play the group game “People’s Tribunal” for entertainment. Representatives of the university are put on trial for fun. And then the verdicts follow, and everyone roars in chorus: “Off to the gallows” or “guillotine”. There is clapping and laughter, and they baptize their campsite “Martyr’s Place”. In the form of happenings, they celebrate their own collective stupidity with a clear conscience. One wonders what is being taught at universities today.

It seems to me that since October 7, anti-Semitism has spread like a collective finger snap, as if Hamas were the influencer and the students the followers. In the media world of influencers and their followers, only the quick clicks of the videos count. The flutter of the eyelashes, the tapping of lively emotions. The same trick works here as in advertising.

Is the susceptibility of the masses, the reason for the disaster of the twentieth century, taking a new turn? Complicated content, nuances, contexts and contradictions, compromises are foreign to the media world.

This is also evident in a stupid call from internet activists against the Oberhausen Short Film Festival. It is the oldest short film festival in the world and is celebrating its seventieth anniversary this year. Many great filmmakers started their careers here with early works. Miloš Forman, Roman Polański, Martin Scorsese, István Szabó and Agnès Varda. Two weeks after the Hamas celebrations on the streets of Berlin, the festival director Lars Henrik Gass wrote: “Half a million people took to the streets in March 2022 to protest against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. That was important. Please let us now send an equally strong signal. Show the world that the Neukölln Hamas friends and Jew haters are in the minority. Come all! Please!”

This prompted a hostile response on the internet. An anonymous group accused him of demonizing solidarity with the Palestinian Arab liberation. The group assured him that it would “encourage” the international film community to reconsider its participation in the festival. A veiled call for a boycott, which many filmmakers followed and canceled their commitments.

Lars Henrik Gass rightly says that we are currently experiencing a regression in political debate. Instead of political thinking, an esoteric understanding of politics prevails. Behind this is the desire for consistency and the pressure to conform. In the art scene, too, it has become impossible to differentiate between standing up for Israel’s right to exist and criticizing its government at the same time.

That is why it is not even considered whether the worldwide outrage over the many dead and the suffering in Gaza might not be part of Hamas’ strategy. It is deaf and blind to the suffering of its people. Why else would it fire on the Kerem Shalom border crossing, where most aid supplies arrive? Or why else would it fire on the construction site of a temporary harbor, where aid supplies are soon to arrive?

We have not heard a single word of sympathy for the people of Gaza from Mr. Sinwar and Mr. Haniye. And instead of a desire for peace, only maximum demands that they know Israel cannot fulfill.

Hamas is betting on a permanent war with Israel. It would be the best guarantee of its continued existence. Hamas also hopes to isolate Israel internationally, at any cost.

In Thomas Mann’s novel “Doktor Faustus”, National Socialism is said to have “made everything German unbearable to the world”. I have the impression that the strategy of Hamas and its supporters is to make everything Israeli, and therefore everything Jewish, unbearable to the world. Hamas wants to maintain anti-Semitism as a permanent global mood. That is why it also wants to reinterpret the Shoah. The Nazi persecution and the rescue flight to Palestine are also to be called into question. And ultimately, the right of Israel to exist.

This manipulation goes as far as to claim that German Holocaust remembrance only serves as a cultural weapon to legitimize the Western-white “settlement project” of Israel. Such ahistorical and cynical reversals of the perpetrator-victim relationship are intended to prevent any differentiation between the Shoah and colonialism. With all these stacked constructs, Israel is no longer seen as the only democracy in the Middle East, but as a colonialist model state. And as an eternal aggressor, against whom blind hatred is justified. And even the desire for its destruction.

The Jewish poet Yehuda Amichai says that a love poem in Hebrew is always a poem about war. Often it is a poem about war in the middle of a war. His poem “Jerusalem 1973” is reminiscent of the Yom Kippur War:

“Sad men carry the memory of

their loved ones in their backpack, in their side pockets

on their ammunition belts, in the bags of their souls,

in heavy dream bubbles under their eyes.”

When Paul Celan visited Israel in 1969, Amichai translated Celan’s poems and read them out in Hebrew. This was where two survivors of the Shoah met. Jehuda Amichai was called Ludwig Pfeuffer when his parents fled from Würzburg.

The visit to Israel stirred Celan. He met school friends from Czernowitz in Romania who, unlike his murdered parents, had been able to escape to Palestine. Paul Celan wrote to Jehuda Amichai after his visit and shortly before his death in the Seine: “Dear Jehuda Amichai, let me repeat the word that came spontaneously to my lips during our conversation: I cannot imagine the world without Israel; nor do I want to imagine it without Israel.”

Reposted from translation on Truth Of The Middle East