November 30, 2023

After the defeat and conquest of Nazi Germany, millions of Hitler’s supporters still lingered within the German population. Shockingly, a significant number of them assumed positions within the new democratic German government, which deeply perturbed many observers. This raised concerns in the West and Israel, as some feared that Germany might relapse into Nazism, and the specter of a Fourth Reich attempting global conquest haunted the collective imagination. However, events unfolded in an unexpected manner.

The German populace, once fervent in their support of Hitler during World War II, did not rally behind neo-Nazi parties but instead embraced democratic ones. Even individuals who had once been ardent Nazis were compelled to acknowledge significant flaws in Hitler’s policies. The reason for this transformation was clear: The Allies not only comprehensively defeated Nazi Germany but also subjected its leaders to public trials and executions.

Consequently, even the most fanatical Nazis were forced to confront the undeniable failure of their ideology and act accordingly.

After each of Israel’s previous conflicts with Hamas, the terrorist organization consistently demonstrated resilience and managed to rebuild its strength. This success conveyed an illusion of victory over Israel to the Palestinian and Arab masses, despite the overwhelming might of the Jewish state.

THE TRAGIC events of October 7 served as a stark reminder that coexistence between Israel and a Hamas-controlled political entity is untenable. The costs are simply too steep. The Gaza-area communities can only be rebuilt securely if they are not situated adjacent to a hostile government capable of developing military infrastructure and training commando units for devastating border incursions, bordering on, and at times surpassing, genocide.

Eliminating Hamas as both a movement and an idea is a much more difficult task than toppling its overt rule of Gaza. To even entertain the notion of such a transformation becoming feasible, Israel must convincingly exhibit its capacity to decisively triumph over its adversaries and etch into their collective psyche the specter of an overwhelming and irrefutable defeat, reminiscent of the 1945 defeat suffered by Germany.

One of the strategies to achieve this goal, in addition to gaining control of Gaza and dismantling the Hamas government, involves apprehending as many of Hamas’ high-ranking figures as possible, whether they belong to the military or the civilian sector.

Public trials in Israeli courts

These individuals should be subjected to a transparent and widely publicized trial, similar in style to the Eichmann Trial. It is of utmost importance that these leaders face justice in an Israeli court, rather than an international one, to emphasize Israel’s capability to independently hold accountable those responsible for the harm inflicted on its citizens. This underscores our commitment to asserting sovereignty and demonstrating our self-sufficiency in seeking justice for our people.

The legal foundation for such a move is already in place. Notably, the Nazis and Nazi Collaborators (Punishment) Law of 1950 is a retroactive statute, meaning it extends to offenses committed prior to its enactment.

Given the scarcity of surviving WWII-era Nazis, there exists an opportunity to amend this law to encompass war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide that occurred outside the confines of World War II. This modification would not only satisfy a long-standing demand from legal experts for explicit recognition of war crimes within Israeli law but also empower Israel to try the heads of Hamas for their horrific crimes.

A TRIAL of this nature will serve a dual purpose: it will provide a platform for survivors of the massacre to share their harrowing stories with the world, fostering a process of healing and closure. Additionally, it will present Hamas not only as a ruthless criminal organization, comparable in cruelty to the likes of Nazi Germany or the Islamic State but also as an organization that has been decisively defeated.

Historical precedent reveals that war criminals often appear pitiful and absurd when defending themselves in court, even in the eyes of their own supporters. If found guilty, the appropriate course of action would be to subject them to the same fate as Adolf Eichmann: capital punishment.

Simultaneously, to ensure that our trials leave the intended impact, they must adhere to the principles of fairness and must avoid any semblance of a spectacle. It is only through this approach that we can show the citizens of Israel, the Jewish people, and the global audience that, even as we cannot forget the atrocities committed against us, we maintain our commitment to civility and refuse to descend into a group of ruthless savages. Our pursuit is justice, not vengeance.

The writer teaches military history in the Department of History and the Department of Asian Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His recent book, Fugitives: A History of Nazi Mercenaries During the Cold War, includes an exploration of the effects of the crushing defeat in World War II on the neo-Nazi movement after 1945.