Behind the violence in Gaza
With a delicate ceasefire having settled into place on the Gaza-Israel border, there is reason for concern that a familiar intellectual sloppiness about the conflict may settle in along with it. In the face of some 14,000 rockets and missiles fired at its civilians by Hamas and Islamic Jihad forces controlling Gaza, Israel responded with a restraint and a humanitarianism that is, quite simply, unprecedented in the history of human affairs. In some quarters, however, this has never mattered, does not matter now, and never will.
There is a reason that the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union all have labeled Hamas a terrorist organization. It is because its non-stop assault on Israeli civilians is intended to kill, wound, or, failing that, merely terrorize wholly innocent people. For Israeli civilians, this assault is not remote, or academic, or capable of being waved aside as trivial. Day in and week out, these rockets slam into their towns and cities.
Beyond the death and the wounds that are inflicted on Israeli civilians is the widespread psychological damage that is not quantifiable, and not remediable. It is a mark of the Israeli experience that a 13-year-old boy from southern Israel named Liron Bar took it upon himself to invent an IPhone app which both tracks rockets incoming from Gaza and informs his fellow countrymen of the nearest bomb shelter. The app, called “Color Red,” is named after the siren that gives Israelis all of 15 seconds warning of incoming missile fire to attempt to get to a protected area.
In the world occupied by Israel’s critics, however, Israel is entitled neither to attempt to keep the materials used to manufacture these missiles out of Gaza nor to try to stop Hamas from firing them. This would not appear to offer Israel much by way of self-defense, other than perhaps to implore those firing the missiles to please stop doing so.
The indisputable poverty that afflicts Gaza long pre-dates any Israeli presence there, and persists years after Israel has ceased to have any presence there. The dreadful conditions that have long existed in Gaza have been exacerbated by Hamas’ brutal takeover, and by the Gulf states’ refusal to invest in a place controlled by a regime that represses its own people and is hell-bent on violence, whatever the costs to Gazans themselves.
No single episode better illustrates the self-inflicted harm done by Hamas to its own people than its decision to destroy the greenhouses left in Gaza when the Israelis evacuated in 2005. Instead of using the greenhouses to export produce and generate substantial revenue for its own people, Hamas promptly destroyed them. The goal, after all, is not actually to ease the suffering of one’s citizens. It is to hang those citizens out to dry.
During the recent eight days of conflict, when some 1,500 rockets slammed into its civilians, Israel leafleted Gazan neighborhoods to warn them about its response. It took pains to attempt to avoid hitting civilians when it did act against Hamas rocket launchers, a task made impossible by Hamas’ deliberate placement of its rockets and its launchers in residences and mosques. It preserved the flow of food, water, medical supplies and electricity into Gaza, and brought civilians who had been hurt into Israeli hospitals for treatment.
The reality of what has occurred in Gaza should not elude serious people, least of all commentators on the Middle East: Iran has created a heavily armed terrorist enterprise with sophisticated missiles that now threaten virtually the entire Israeli civilian population. Referring to Hamas’ stockpiling of long-range missiles that can strike anywhere in Israel, the head of the Iranian Republican Guard, Mohammed Ali Ja’afari, recently confirmed that “we have given them the necessary technology for the Fajr-5 and today mass quantities of this missile are being produced.”
Iran is thus replicating in Gaza a large scale missile base akin to that which it has already established on Israel’s northern border. There another Iranian proxy, Hezbollah, has essentially taken over Lebanon and has an estimated 50,000 rockets aimed at civilian centers in northern Israel.
Where Hamas has already fired 14,000 rockets at Israeli civilians, neither Israel nor the international community is obliged to disregard this reality, or to pretend that it does not exist. Fair-minded observers, and those who genuinely care about the terrible toll that Mideast violence takes on civilian life all across the region, will confront these facts with the seriousness, and the straight-forwardness, that they require.
Jeff Robbins, a former US delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva, is an attorney and chairman of the Anti-Defamation League’s New England Board.