I received an interesting, but disconcerting email the other day. An old friend accused me of - wait for it - changing. He harangued me for my present political position on Gaza and Israel's need to attack Hamas, and suggested the guy he used to know would never have supported the use of force. Apparently, I was much more of a Leftist in my youth. True enough. I like to think of myself now as a pragmatist, that is, I believe governments and people should conduct themselves according to reasoned need and not based on rules in some out-of-date ideological handbook. He changed, too. The guy I knew back then would have done more research before making such uninformed comments. In fact, I still remember him chewing me out for speaking out of my backside on Northern Ireland. But he has been living in the UK for many years, so I suppose he can be forgiven.
However, I felt his comments deserved a response. Gaza, after all, is a very complex situation.
If anything, I wrote, Israel has been far too patient with the Gazan Arabs. Border cities in Israel have been under constant rocket bombardment for 8 years; well over 6,500 rockets have fallen on Sderot alone since Israel withdrew completely from Gaza in 2005. In fact, my wife was there the other week. She had to take shelter TWICE during a 3 HOUR visit. Residents get only 15-seconds' warning before a rocket strike (residents of nearby kibbutzim get 6 seconds warning). One kassam struck close enough that the building she was in trembled.
Residents of Sderot and nearby kibbutzim go through this every day. Despite incessant terror attacks, only a few dozen people have been killed (and many Arabs have been killed in Gaza by rockets falling short - two young girls were killed last week - or blowing up while being built), but this is only because we all have 'safe rooms' lined with metal and concrete. As well, cities like Sderot have bomb shelters everywhere. Most homes and business have shelters, so the argument that not that many Israelis have died (and therefore some will claim the response is disproportionate) is unfair and disingenuous. We have bomb shelters BECAUSE people are trying to kill us with rockets. And while a miraculous few have been killed, hundreds have been injured, many disfigured and paralyzed; a recent study found that 1 in 3 kids are suffering from PTSD.
It's important to talk about "proportionality." This has little to do with how many people have been killed or injured (this would make reprisals nothing but acts of revenge), but are based on assessments of threat. Hamas has been primarily using Kassam rockets, which aren't meant to cause widespread death and destruction, but rather are weapons of TERROR, deliberately filled with metal ball-bearings and shrapnel, with the specific goal of maiming and injuring civilians. How many children need to have legs and hands blown off before a government must act? They're now firing Grad rockets - 3 meters high! - capable of blowing the top off an apartment building, and with much more range than Kassams. IDF Home Command informed us a few days ago to take precautions as we are now in rocket range.
But believe it or not, I'm also very concerned for civilians in Gaza. They've been seriously short-changed by an evil regime that sees their deaths and suffering as nothing more than fuel in a PR campaign. Nevertheless, Israel has been doing its best to minimize civilian suffering, permitting humanitarian aid to enter Gaza on a daily basis; Israel is providing medical assistance for Gazan civilians (and paying for it since the Palestinian Authority is unwilling to pay for their medical care in Israel because they say Hamas is responsible). Israel is even informing, with phone calls and leaflets, neighbourhoods before IAF attacks. As such, the vast majority of those killed, according to the Palestinians themselves, have been members of Hamas.
Sadly, civilians are still going to be killed and injured as long as Hamas hides its forces and weapons in schools and mosques, and in crowded residential neighbourhoods (all War Crimes, incidentally).
That's the problem with fighting asymmetrical warfare with an enemy that lauds death and loathes weakness. It's almost a no-win scenario, but that doesn't mean Israel shouldn't try. The alternative would be for the government to ignore its responsibility to its own citizens, and permit constant attacks against its sovereignty. This is, obviously, unacceptable.
I'm especially disappointed in the international community that has all but ignored years of rocket attacks on Israelis, but is suddenly concerned about civilians in Gaza. Why, I ask, aren't the Gazans responsible for the government they elected? They knew full well what Hamas represented (the destruction of Israel and death of Jews everywhere - it's actually in their Charter), and voted for them anyway. Why are so many people willing to treat the Gazan Arabs like children? Isn't collective responsibility a basic principle of the democratic process? I'm responsible for the actions of my government; why aren't they? Frankly, coddling the Palestinians and absolving them of responsibility for acts of terror is condescending, if not racist.
It is well past time for Hamas to live up its obligations as a democratically elected government (this is actually arguable as the President of the PA has denounced them as usurpers, and has even blamed them for the current conflict). A democracy, despite what most in the Arab world seem to believe, means far more than simply 'a vote.' As the elected rulers of Gaza, Hamas has responsibilities under international law: first and foremost, is an obligation to respect international treaties and agreements signed by previous governments, such as the Oslo Agreement in which the PA recognized the State of Israel. Hamas has failed to fulfil this obligation. Hamas also has an obligation to secure its borders. Again, Hamas has failed to do so, permitting militants to kidnap an Israeli soldier, and allowing the firing of rockets into Israel.
Hamas had an opportunity to renounce the use of violence and agree to negotiate in good faith with Israel for normalized relations; they failed to do so and are now being brought to task. They're really a gang of well-armed thugs that have managed to elevate themselves (in part, due to Israeli and international mismanagement of terror groups and thanks to the sponsorship of the neighbourhood psycho, Iran) to real power. Think Al Capone, with heavy weapons and clan connections at every level. They're also prepared to sacrifice thousands of civilians for the cause. They truly don't care, as long as they emerge victorious in the end. And anyone who believes that "the end justifies the means" is very dangerous indeed.
The difference between me today and 20 years ago is simple. I'm now much better informed. I hope my friend will still be visiting next month. I'd like to continue this discussion over a beer, like the good old days when the world seemed much simpler.