Saturday, January 3, 2009

Israel's Moral War Against Hamas: Op-ed in Seattle Post Intelligencer

Last Wednesday, The Seatle Post Intelligencer published my op-ed, under the title, Israel Engages in Self-Defense. Below, the essay in its entirety, before the paper's edits.
Today, Israel's ground operation into Gaza began. My prayers are with our soldiers and Am Yisrael.

Israel's Moral War Against Hamas

Once again, tens of thousands of Israelis are forced to spend days and nights in bomb shelters, victims of ongoing missile assaults in towns and cities within a 35 km radius from Gaza. While much of the news focuses on Israeli air attacks against Hamas' military outposts and installations, Iranian backed Hamas killed three Israelis in separate rocket attacks on Israeli cities on Monday, December 29th. An Israeli-Arab construction worker was killed in Ashkelon, a woman was killed in Ashdod, and scores of Israelis were wounded.
Tragically, Palestinian civilians have also been killed in the fighting, victims too of Hamas' refusal to renew an already tenuous six-month 'calm,' or tahidya, which ended on December 19th. Palestinian Authority President and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas said that Hamas could have prevented the "massacre" in the Gaza Strip. In Cairo on Sunday, he said, "We spoke to them and told them, 'Please, we ask you not to end the ceasefire."
The Egyptian Foreign Minister, Aboul Gheit, condemned Hamas, saying they prevented those wounded in the Israeli offensive from passing into Egypt to receive medical attention. When asked who was to blame for the dire situation in Gaza, he replied, "ask the party that controls Gaza."
During the past year alone, Iranian backed terror groups in Gaza have launched over 3,000 rockets, missiles and mortars, deliberately targeting Israeli civilians in southern Israel (over 6,300 since Israel relinquished all of Gaza to the Palestinians in 2005). The only Israeli left in Gaza is Gilad Shalit, the soldier abducted by Hamas in June of 2006 in a cross-border raid. To this day, his whereabouts are unknown, and not even the International Red Cross is permitted to see him or report on his condition.
This is the backdrop to Israel's recent air attacks on Hamas military installations, command centers, training facilities, tunnels for weapons smuggling, and bomb factories. Hamas deliberately insinuates itself in civilian areas, holding fellow Palestinians hostage as human shields.

During the current hostilities, criticisms abound concerning Israel's obligation to uphold international humanitarian and human rights law. Ironically, the most basic of human rights, the right to life itself, is often ignored when it comes to Israelis who have endured an unceasing barrage of missile attacks from Gaza over the past three years. Instead, Israel is condemned for using 'disproportionate force,' a term referring to very specific wartime rules of engagement, grossly misunderstood and misapplied. In short, proportionality is defined by reference to the threat proposed by an enemy and not by the harm it has actually produced. Surely, the loss of any civilian life in war is regrettable and tragic. However, as political philosopher Michael Walzer noted in 2006: "When Palestinian militants launch rocket attacks from civilian areas, they are themselves responsible - and no one else is - for the civilian deaths caused by Israeli counterfire."
Currently, the objective of the Israeli military operation is to cripple the terrorist infrastructure in Gaza, and prevent Hamas from launching further attacks against Israeli citizens. Since it is the primary responsibility of any sovereign state to protect its citizenry, the Israeli government should be expected to do nothing less. In fact, many irate Israelis, especially those in missile distance from Gaza, believe that the enactment of this fundamental governmental responsibility has been long overdue.
Those of us in the United States need only consider what American demands on our government would be if San Diego were substituted for Sderot, and Tijuana for Gaza. How long would southern Californians put up with rocket attacks from Mexico? And if they extended further and further up the California coast, numbering in the thousands?
President-elect Obama, during a visit to Sderot last summer, unequivocally defended Israel's right to protect its citizens from such attacks: "If somebody was sending rockets into my home where my two daughters sleep at night, I would do everything to stop that, and would expect Israel to do the same thing."
Rather than assail Israel for overreacting, the world should instead be in awe of its restraint. Israel's uniquely high standard of morality and respect for human life accounts for its remarkable restraint in the face of Hamas' unbridled provocations.
The actions of the Israeli Defense Forces would have been unnecessary had Hamas forsook terror and agreed to renew the tahidye. Israel is engaged in self-defense and it must be reiterated that Israel takes great pains to direct its military actions exclusively against terrorist targets, while Hamas deliberately positions its forces inside the most vulnerable of civilian areas; schools, religious institutions, residential areas and the like. Furthermore, Hamas launches its attacks from crowded civilian areas. Israel is dealing with a foe that sees Israeli deaths as very good, but deems Palestinian deaths as even more valuable. Hard as it is to fathom from our perspective, Hamas callously calculates that if enough Palestinian civilians are inadvertently killed, the international court of opinion will view Israel as the guilty party, regardless of Hamas' cynical manipulation of the media with gruesome pictures of self-inflicted carnage against their own people. And despite protestations to the contrary, Israel has done everything possible to avert any humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Again, it is Hamas that has subverted and sabotaged the entry of supplies and international aid into areas under its jurisdiction.
Those of us who still work and hope for a two-state solution for the two peoples, understand that Hamas stands in the way of progress towards that goal. Hamas is an anti-nationalist party, more interested in destroying Israel than in creating true Palestinian independence. It remains the fervent hope of the vast majority of Israelis that Hamas will be defeated, breathing renewed hope that the Palestinians can reclaim their right to responsible leadership. Only then can an authentic peace process be renewed and the hope rekindled that Palestinians can achieve independence and live in harmony with their Israeli neighbors.
David Brumer

David is on the Executive Committees of StandWithUs/Northwest & The Seattle Chapter of the American Jewish Committee. He is also a geriatric social worker and psychotherapist. David is the recipient of a Certificate of Congressional Recognition for Excellence in Public Diplomacy in Support of Israel on behalf of his work with The Israel Project.

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