Hostage-taking: Soon to Be a Worldwide Threat

Ever think what a state would look like without criminal law? As Thomas Hobbes put it, it would be “the war of all against all” scenario. This is what the world would look like if the international law and principals are not enforced. It is what the world looked like before the foundation of the United Nations.

Mass hostage-taking is unlawful, it undermines human rights, human security, and international humanitarian law, with the potential for threatening international peace and security. Not enforcing the international law on the violators sends a clear message to future violators that this is a legitimate act, thus putting in danger all citizens around the world.

On October 7th, Hamas terrorists brutally attacked Israeli villages, slaughtered hundreds, and abducted over 200 innocent citizens, amongst them many women, children and elderly, from their homes in their pajamas into Gaza. Today, 120 of them are still held hostage by Hamas.

For a by-stander the hostage-taking of dozens of citizens might seem like another bleeding chapter in the book of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. What this by-stander does not take into consideration is that by acting as it did, Hamas not just invented a new weapon of war, that of mass abduction and hostage-taking, but tested it and received confirmation, by the international community, that it is legitimate and very effective.

From now on, unless critical actions are taken, terror groups will know that the surest and fastest way to reach their political goal is by abducting the citizens of whatever sovereign it is they want to influence. Yes, they might hear voices saying it is “morally wrong”, maybe some TV show hosts will shed a tear but eventually the hostages will become a priceless token for exchange in a deal to receive whatever political goal they aim at, thus making the mass hostage-taking of citizens a legitimate tool of war. One does not need to be a prophet to predict what colossal harm such tool can bring about for the entire world community.

The first mistake is the assumption that what happened on October 7th is an attack on Israel solely, the second mistake which stems directly from the first, is that the reaction to the violation is Israel’s responsibility.

In fact, what should have happened was an immediate and uncompromising international response that sends a clear message – mass abduction and hostage-taking of citizens as a tool to achieve political goals is unacceptable. Such a response would not only have served to end the bloody tragedy that is currently taking place, in which more and more human lives are being lost every day. Rather, it would illustrate and thus strengthen the basic principle on which international law was founded. According to this principle, the international community draws red lines, anyone who crosses them finds himself facing a coalition of the world’s most powerful countries and not just the country attacked.

In order to illustrate this, I turn for a moment to the criminal law, to which every citizen is subject in relation to his country. The criminal justice system is regulated on the principle that when a citizen violates the criminal law, which each country sets according to its standards, he is not only facing the victim of the crime but the entire country. It is not for nothing that the lawsuit filed against him will be under the name “State of XX v. so-and-so”. The message here is clear, beyond the harm you caused to the victim, your behavior harmed all of us because it undermines the fundamental agreements that allow us to conduct ourselves as a society, agreements that without their existence we would be in a state of “all-out war”.

If so, from the moment that citizen A violated the criminal law, the treatment of him is transferred to the state and in fact leaving the victim out of the picture. This situation achieves two critical goals, the first is that the criminal is much more deterred by the power that the state has over him than by the power of the victim over him. The second is that the state’s involvement prevents a never-ending “bloodbath” that may arise in the event that the victim takes the law into his own hands and works to avenge the offender himself. In fact, the presence of the state is not intended to serve the victim per se, but all citizens who may find themselves victims of similar crimes.

If we return for a moment to the international arena, and to the crime of mass kidnapping committed by Hamas, the state here is the United Nations, the perpetrator is Hamas and the victim are the innocent citizens. From the example I gave above we understand that if the United Nations had responded decisively and deterred Hamas, it would have made Israel’s need to respond redundant to the attack itself. The international community should have sent Hamas the message that mass kidnapping of citizens is not, and cannot be, a legitimate act in the international arena. The necessary steps should have been taken to isolate Hamas, and all its supporters, from the international community, and there should have been a demand, backed by the threat of action, to return all the hostages immediately and unconditionally.

Such actions would not only have saved thousands of human lives, which are, and are still, being lost while Israel tries, by force, to return its hostages, but would also protect the international community and all the citizens of the world from the repetition of these acts.

As long as the UN avoids taking adequate actions, it sends the opposite message – the international community allows mass hostage-taking as a tool to achieve political goals. And so, apparently, begins a very bloody chapter in the history of the world.