By Avi Cohen
“The first job of any nation state is to protect its citizens. And so I can assure you that if…somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I’m going to do everything in my power to stop that. And I would expect Israelis to do the same thing.” – Barack Obama, 2008
Since Operation Pillar of Defense began, 1,506 rockets have fallen within Israel – in major cities such as Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv and especially in Southern Israel. In the past 12 years, 12,495 rockets have been launched from Gaza, causing dozens of Israeli civilian fatalities and hundreds of injuries.
As a Ben-Gurion University student, I lived for four years in Southern Israel. You can imagine the life of a typical student: running around classes, multi-tasking between a job and academic projects, and oh yes – terror attacks. Try to imagine going to class under the constant fear of sudden rocket strikes. No early warning. Less than a minute to hit the ground, cover your head, wait, and hope you won’t be hurt or killed. Now imagine little children doing the same in kindergarten, mothers with their babies racing to find a temporary shelter. If you are a typical 12-year old Israeli, rocket attacks and sirens are an inevitable part of life.
I can imagine how difficult life must be for a Palestinian in Gaza, living under the ruthless rule of a terrorist organization, Hamas. And yet, since the beginning of this recent cycle of violence, I have frequently heard the media buying into Hamas’ rhetoric and blaming Israel. None seem to remember simple historical facts: 12,495 of them, to be exact.
Perhaps, then, those who unjustifiably denigrate Israel need a short history reminder. In 2005 Israel unilaterally vacated the entire Gaza Strip with hopes for a peaceful future for both sides. Hamas established a virtual Gaza State, separated from the West Bank. As the elected political entity in Gaza, Hamas had the opportunity to invest in human capital, economic development, education and health systems. Armed by Iran, Hamas instead chose the path of terror.
Some try to blame the current situation on the “blockade” that Israel and Egypt have enforced on the Gaza Strip since 2007. Those who hold this notion are simply unaware of the lucrative tunnel smuggling industry in Gaza and its value to the Hamas leadership. The border with Egypt is open, and the Gaza Sea is under Israeli siege simply to prevent missiles from reaching terrorists’ hands. Hamas rockets constantly attack Israeli civilians. All the while, Israel continues to provide the Gazan people with electricity, medical supplies, and food. Not Egypt: Israel! Hamas’ actions cannot be rationalized: they are fueled by hatred and motivated by a singular objective – the end of the Jewish state. If only the energy Hamas expended trying to harm Israel were spent on Gaza’s development!
And yet Israel’s right to defend itself is continually questioned. The U.S., France, U.K., and Australia go far and wide to fight jihadist Islam, but when terrorism reaches Israel’s door, the voices of double standards reemerge once again. Hamas leaders hide in shelters while their own people remain unprotected. Gaza Hospital serves as a command center for terrorists. And yet there are those who are blind to it all, able to see only the “true evil of the world:” Israel, a country that exercises its right to self-defense while maintaining its humanitarian and moral imperative. What other country in the world would endure 12 years of rockets on its civilians?
Can you negotiate with a terrorist organization that calls for your destruction, one whose ideology stands opposite to the values in which you believe, whether it be the sanctity of life, freedom, or the right of Israel’s existence itself? Hamas does not fulfill its role as a responsible leader of the people of Gaza, especially as it uses innocent Palestinians as human shields while targeting Israeli civilians – a double war crime under international law.
Some further argue that the death toll imbalance is evidence of Israeli immorality. In this asymmetric war, Hamas’ gruesome strategy is to increase Palestinian casualties on its side. Meanwhile, Israel invests tremendous resources to surgically target terrorists and defend its own civilians (e.g. Iron Dome). The IDF does everything in its power to avoid the tragedy of innocent Palestinian casualties. If innocent Israeli civilians die by Hamas rocket attacks, however, it is seen as cause for joy. It is no wonder that Hamas’ official motto is “We desire death as much as the Jews desire life.” This is no freedom fighter underdog.
Pillar of Defense was a necessary and rightful operation, intended to deter Hamas from launching rockets. Hamas’ losses are far greater than it will admit, and Israel has bought itself a period of quiet. For many Israelis, it is short relief from an ongoing 12-year-long nightmare.
True, the ceasefire is likely to be broken again. Nevertheless, I believe that on both sides of the conflict there are people who seek peace. But while Hamas remains an obstacle to this common goal, and while the people of Gaza remain captives of a terrorist government, many in Israel ask why Israel should give up more land for peace when it receives only terror in return.
The late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin once declared: “I would work for peace as if there were no terrorism, and fight terrorism as if there were no peace process.” This guiding principle remains just as relevant today.
Avi Cohen is a second-year Master of International Affairs candidate concentrating in International Development and Economic Policy at PSIA, Sciences-Po.