Some Things Are Unimaginable

Hearing about barbarism is one thing, but staring straight at its rank, naked expression is another. That is exactly why we cannot look away — we need to be changed.

AP/Hatem Ali
Palestinians transport a captured Israeli civilian into the Gaza Strip from Kibbutz Kfar Azza on October 7, 2023. AP/Hatem Ali

Some things are unimaginable because they extend beyond the boundaries of what we allow ourselves to imagine. Yet videos streaming out of Israel over the last two days are tragic reminders that nothing is unimaginable. Jews should already know this, but prosperity has a way of muting memory and encouraging us to live in denial.

Brutal reality has now breached our moated American Jewish minds. The temptation is to avert the eyes. But this is the moment to look directly at barbarism and allow it to change us.

It isn’t possible to watch the video of 25-year-old Noa Argamani being abducted on the back of a motorcycle and to escape her voice crying out in your head at 4 a.m. There has been no movie about pain or fear ever made that has approximated the soul-shredding sound this desperate, innocent girl made as evil came to take her away. 

Yaacov Argamani sobbed on Israeli television after learning of his daughter’s fate. As he spoke, his eyes closed tightly as if he were trying to squeeze the horror of it all out of his mind. 

Another video shows a foreign worker lying on a cement floor. His neon yellow T-shirt is soaked in blood. He appears to be dead but then lifts his hand to his temple as if to protect it.

A garden hoe appears in the frame and rests for a moment across the neck of the victim, marking its target. Familiar calls of “Allahu Akbar” are heard as the hoe is raised and then slams down with precision. This is another sound that will never leave us. It is heard several more times as the murderer hacks away repeatedly, attempting not just to kill his victim but to demonstrate his consuming hatred for his existence.

So many vicious, upending scenes of depravity have spread across social media, and each one drags us farther out of our fog. “This is a pogrom,” some caption their posts. “Butchers, Nazis.” Before this, we were calling Americans with red baseball caps Nazis. That is how detached we were.

An 85-year-old Holocaust survivor, Yaffa Adar, cruelly didn’t have to rely on her imagination to recognize the evil that dragged her out of her home this past weekend. She appears in a photo in the “passenger” seat of a golf cart commandeered by Hamas terrorists.

The videos keep coming in a hideous stream of inhumanity we used to associate with sins like misgendering. But now we know what depravity really is. 

In another clip, the unsteady hands of an overexcited Hamas cameraman make it hard to focus in on any one particular child lying dead on the floor of the small Israeli bomb-shelter that Palestinian “freedom fighters” breached. The proud killers survey their work and see one boy’s right arm slightly move. The hint of lingering Jewish life triggers an instant kill shot.

As these, and dozens of other unimaginable images, spread across the world, many cannot bear to watch. It feels unbearable. Yet it has to be borne — and by those in the images at a much higher price than by us.

A video was circulated yesterday morning of hundreds of IDF soldiers gathered together before heading into war, singing the Israeli national anthem, “Hatikvah.” Mostly teenage boys, these avengers of evil are now confronting brutal realities we taught ourselves not to imagine for our own psychic protection. It seems unimaginable now that we shouldn’t at least look at, and absorb, the evil we ask them to beat back on our behalf.

Facing this evil is about solidarity, and self-preservation. Prior to last Saturday, the greatest enemies our coddled imaginations could conjure up were a Netanyahu government or a Trump presidency. We wasted communal energy and resources fretting over manufactured threats and refusing to imagine the real ones — until mutilated Israeli bodies were dragged through the streets in Gaza surrounded by throngs of celebrants.

Now we should commit to expanding our dulled imaginations with the horrors of a reality we forgot applied to us, and no one should look away. 

We should start imagining the unimaginable. Yesterday, “pro-Palestinian” supporters took to the streets around the world. At Times Square, they carried signs that read, “By Any Means Necessary.” After all we have seen over the last few days, there can’t be anyone left who has to imagine what that means.


This column has been updated from the bulldog edition.

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