The government of Israel almost begged the other day, pleading with the Hamas terrorist government to stop its rocket barrages against civilians in Ashkelon and other population centers near Gaza. These pleas fell on deaf ears. As a friend of mine who lives in Binyamina, near Haifa, said to me Thursday, “You know they fired sixty rockets into Ashkelon yesterday?”
Through Skype, I was able to see her face as well as hear her voice. She is a slightly left-of-center psychologist, a combat veteran like her husband, a mother of three grown kids who also served their country. She wants a Palestinian state. She is willing to make sacrifices to see it come about. But she does not belong to the suicidal left in Israel, and she does not respect the Palestinians now running Gaza.
“They are so stupid,” she went on. “We withdrew completely from Gaza three years ago. What did they do? They went on provoking us relentlessly, just like Hezbollah did after we got out of Lebanon. What do they think we are going to do? Sit back and be rocketed forever?”
The answer became apparent this morning as Israel launched its most severe reprisal in decades for Hamas’s stepped-up rocket attacks. Forty security strongholds belonging to the Hamas military wing were destroyed in five minutes, with more in an ongoing assault. At this writing almost two hundred people were killed, mainly soldiers serving a government bent relentlessly on perpetuating terror.
Tragically, some civilians were killed, and the responsibility for their deaths rests squarely with their leaders. Predictably, a Hamas spokesman called it “a twenty-first century Holocaust,” which they say began when Israel tried to starve the Gazan people with its blockade. But of course it did not start there. It started when Hamas and other Palestinian groups decided to continue the real, original Holocaust by wiping the Jews off the map of the Middle East.
As with Hezbollah, Hamas has strong ties to Iran and has the explicitly stated goal of destroying the Jewish state. One of their spokesmen today called on all fighters to attack “every Zionist house in Israel”—in other words, Jewish civilians. In their own media, their anti-Semitic propaganda is vicious and relentless.
Notice the difference here. Israel withdraws from Gaza, dragging recalcitrant Jewish settlers out by force. Hamas and other terror groups gain power in the territory, increasingly targeting civilians and only civilians on the Israeli side of the border, a campaign of terror. Israel, along with Egypt (“Notice,” my friend said, “that they never mention Egypt when they criticize the blockade”) and almost the entire international community, enforces a blockade around Gaza, but one that allows food, medicine and other essential supplies to go through.
Even this does not stop weapons from flowing, since of course Hamas is cynical enough to smuggle them in as food or medicine and in tunnels under constant construction. But the food and medicine still get through.
Still, Hamas’s suicidal determination creates economic havoc in the densely populated territory. People suffer terribly, and of course they blame Israel. With growing self-destructive intent, Hamas and its allies impose a terror campaign on Israeli men, women and children by sending more and more rockets.
Today’s completely predictable response has very broad support within Israel. It is no right-wing gambit. Tzipi Livni, the moderate Foreign Minister and candidate for Prime Minister, has called for the understanding of the international community. Ehud Barak, Defense Minister and would-be peacemaker when he was Prime Minister at the end of the ‘90s, said this would not be an easy or short campaign, but that “the time has come to fight.”
Government spokesman Mark Regev says that the strikes are surgical and that we must be skeptical of Hamas claims about civilian casualties, “We are targeting the Hamas military machine . . . We have to create a new reality where those 250,000 people in Southern Israel do not have to live in bomb shelters.”
This is a tragic outcome brought on by the worst elements among the long-suffering Palestinian people, the elements who at the moment are unfortunately in power in the painfully but inevitably isolated Gaza Strip. Israel is doing what it must do in the circumstances, and what any country would do under this kind of attack.
The Bush administration has called on Hamas to stop sending rockets into Israel. It has called on Israel to avoid civilian casualties. These statements correspond precisely to Israeli government goals. Now, what will Barack Obama say?