Evil Up Close: Jana Paley’s Diary in Wartime

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No event could have highlighted just how far our universities and the legal elite have drifted from the everyday citizen than the fall out from the October 7th attacks on Israel by Hamas militants. As Prof. Arkeshas pointed out, the university professors who have defended the radical calls from students for the destruction of Israel and genocide are simply using the same lines approved by the leading legal minds – that there is nothing to be done until those calls for violence actually produce violence. And yet, the man on the street can see the moral emptiness of this position, resulting in calls for the resignations of each of the university presidents testifying before Congress.  

The everyday man understands the Natural Law because it is part of the common sense reasoning that he needs to use simply to get on with his day lives. And now we have the accounts of lives, and the judgments, of ordinary people who have been caught up in the world turned inside out in Israel by the assaults of Hamas in October. 

A dear friend of the Institute and former student of Prof. Arkes, Jana Paley felt compelled after the attacks to travel to Israel and help however she could. She was kind enough to share with us her memories of living there among the Israeli people in this time of war. 

Prof. Arkes offered this brief preface to Mrs. Paley’s work, which we share below.


Jana Paley has become a leading figure in business as the CEO of Ark Properties, building “affordable work-force multi-family housing,” and Ark Ventures, becoming a “foundational investor” in such companies as PM Pediatrics, a chain for pediatric urgent care. But before she came out of the school of business at Wharton and the school of law at Penn, I came to know to her as one of my star students at Amherst. Her energy was always allied with her wit and imagination;  she could quickly establish focus—and a plan—and take things into her own hands, when others were not yet aware that there was anything screaming to be done. It shouldn’t have surprised me that, when the assault from Hamas came on October 6, with the explosion of savagery, she I reached out to an Andover friend living in Israel and asked how I might help with my own two hands on the ground in Israel:

 Jamie told me that I was crazy, “people are evacuating the border areas for safe havens and Americans are running to the airport faster than a wildebeest runs from a cheetah.”  Not dissuaded, I called another Andover friend who lived in Israel for 20 years;  she told me that I was certifiable and that she was sure plane travel to Tel Aviv would come to a halt.  At that, I told her I would get a boat to cross the Med!  A few days later, I spoke to yet another Andover friend who serves on the Board of the Shaare Zedek Hospital Foundation; he said, I will find an organization who needs you.  He connected me to the Director of the Foundation and she linked me up with Adir Schwarz, the founder of the Jerusalem Civilian Command Center who told me to get to Israel with deliberate speed and that he would put me to work

The “work” meant anything, even of the most prosaic kind, in dealing with an emergency that was throwing the economy out of its working form. There were men—and women– drawn into the army, away from farms, offices, the retail business.  Jana recalled one new recruit, a young man from New York City, “who came to help out on a farm, but he failed at tomato picking and wound up opening boxes instead.” What suddenly needed to be done were things that didn’t exactly align with the credentials of a CEO, accumulated since Andover and Amherst.  It could be a matter of helping people find clothes.  Jana remarked that people who knew her and her savvy in real estate, would know that “when KMART went out of business all I thought about were the real estate opportunities rather than lamenting that I would never hear the words ‘Attention KMART shoppers’ ever again…[But now, she said] I would have done anything to have had a KMART, Walmart, or Target nearby!  The Jerusalem Civilian Command Center received a large shipment of skirts of all varieties and we hardly had any hangers with clips, or “klipseem,” as they are called in Hebrew, and my task was to go out and buy them and find a future supply.”

But at other points, the task involved finding prosthetic devices for young people who were suddenly and tragically in need of them.

Jana’s story here has the feel and texture of “dailiness,” the life lived every day in a country thrown into turmoil by a savage attack. 

People may ask, Just what does this have to do with an Institute devoted to Natural Law?  Really?  What does the attack by Hamas—and the irruptionson the campuses—have to do with the question of whether there are indeed any anchoring, objective truths that underlie our moral judgments on the things that are right or wrong, just or unjust?  Our late friend Daniel Robinson, a notable figure in the neural sciences, used to say that a light held to the retina will reveal a vast amount of information about the state of the organism. The reactions to the assault on Israel in this country have been the light held to the retina, and it has revealed a moral emptiness running deep.   The scariest part is that a large hunk of students in our colleges and universities–and no small part of our adult population—have lost any sense of how to frame the most natural moral question:  in this case, what “wrong” has been done to the Palestinian people that could possibly “justify,” as a response, the killing of parents in front of children, the kidnapping of the aged, the raping and mutilation of women, and the beheading of children?  To call Israel a “colonial power”  is to suggest that it is ruling a Palestinian population without consent.  But Arabs in Israel can vote and enter the government;  it is in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority that Palestinians are ruled without their consent, without free elections.

Jana Paley offers her diary of daily life in wartime, in a country torn in shock, and trying to come through a crime that should be visited upon no people.

This piece is the preface to an ongoing series of articles from Jana Paley, the first of which may be read here.

Hadley Arkes is the Founder and Director of the James Wilson Institute as well as the Edward Ney Professor Emeritus of Jurisprudence at Amherst College.

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