The following is a guest opinion piece by Roz Rothstein and Roberta P. Seid. Roz Rothstein is the CEO of StandWithUs and Roberta P. Seid, PhD is Director of Research at StandWithUs. It is an op-ed response to Ms. Ayesha Vahidy’s recent op-ed piece.
Ms. Vahidy’s outrage should be with Hamas, not Israel. Hamas, not Israel, is guilty of the sins that Vahidy details.
Hamas is guilty of the very extremism Vahidy criticizes. The Hamas charter and Hamas preachers and spokespeople clearly state that their goal is the murder of Jews, the “obliteration” of Israel and its replacement with a Taliban-like theocracy. Its media, founding documents, and statements are permeated with borrowings from traditional anti-Semitism. An Iranian proxy, Hamas is identified as a terrorist organization by the U.S., the EU, Japan, Canada, and Israel, and is banned in Jordan, the U.K., and Australia. If Vahidy’s concern is the Palestinians in Gaza, she should be even more opposed to Hamas. It oppresses Palestinians, murders and tortures political rivals, and holds ordinary Gaza residents hostage to its violent, extremist policies.
Israel did not want this recent battle. It has sought peaceful coexistence since its founding, offering to give up some of its homeland for peace with the Palestinians in 1937, 1947, 1967, 1979, 2000 and 2008. It has offered the Palestinians independence, something Jordan and Egypt never did when they controlled the West Bank and Gaza between 1949 and 1967. Israel completely withdrew from Gaza in 2005 hoping for peace. Instead, Hamas and its allies seized control, and proceeded to fire over 9,000 rockets and mortars at Israel’s southern communities, sometimes, during escalations, launching them every three hours.
This latest round of fighting occurred because beginning in October, Hamas had escalated its rocket attacks against Israeli civilians. Between Nov. 10th and 12th, Hamas attacks escalated further, with 120 rockets and mortars aimed at southern Israeli communities. Israel had sent 20 letters to the UN asking it to condemn this escalation. The U.N. remained silent. Amnesty International also remained silent even as daily life turned into a lethal game of Russian roulette for over one million Israeli men, women and children in rocket range who had only seconds to reach bomb shelters when the warning sirens sounded. Israel had practiced restraint, but it was left with no choice but to attempt, as it repeatedly stated, to protect its citizens and restore normal life by disabling Hamas’ capacity to fire rockets.
Vahidy argues that Israel shouldn’t have responded because the streets of Gaza are crowded with innocent Palestinians. This is exactly what Hamas counts on. Indeed, Hamas systematically commits double war crimes. It uses human shields. It embeds its terrorist infrastructure, launching sites, and terrorist leaders in civilian centers—mosques, schools, residential areas—precisely because it knows Israel’s high ethical standards about avoiding civilian casualties and because it callously uses any resulting casualties for propaganda against Israel. In addition, Hamas and its allies indiscriminately target Israeli civilians, not military infrastructure, which is also a war crime. During this round, Hamas launched 1500 rockets and mortars in an attempt to murder Israelis and celebrated each civilian death. That only five died is a tribute to Israel’s extreme efforts to protect its citizens. Its infrastructure of bomb shelters, warning sirens, closure of schools, and its “Iron Dome” saved countless lives.
In contrast, Israel went to great lengths not only to protect its citizens, but also to protect Palestinian civilians. While some Israelis were understandably enraged by the incessant rocket attacks and celebration of Israeli deaths and called for an extreme response, the Israeli leadership made it clear that its battle was against Hamas, not ordinary Palestinians. Israel aborted military operations when many civilians were near the target. Israel also distributed hundreds of thousands of leaflets and made tens of thousands of phone calls before an operation, advising civilians in Gaza where to go to avoid danger. It continued to transport humanitarian goods into Gaza until Hamas attacks on the crossings made the continuation impossible. It treated wounded Gazans at Israeli hospitals. The low number of deaths (177) despite Israel’s 1500 strikes is testament to Israel’s effort to avoid civilian casualties. Every inadvertent civilian casualty is a tragedy, but two thirds of the casualties were combatants, a ratio unsurpassed by any modern democracy. In comparison, only one fourth of the dead were combatants in Afghanistan, and only 1/5 were combatants in Iraq in NATO and U.S. operations.
British Col. (ret.) Kemp observed that no nation in the history of warfare has gone to the lengths Israel does to protect civilians. Israel should be celebrated as a model to emulate when fighting enemies who systematically use human shields, not castigated. In ignoring context and distorting facts to denounce Israel, Amnesty International discredits itself and disqualifies itself as an organization that seeks to uphold human rights.
This latest round of fighting is just the most recent episode in Hamas’ ongoing rejection of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state and its ongoing effort to destroy it. We can only hope that this ceasefire will not be another case in which Israel ceases and Hamas continues to fire. Imagine what Gaza could be if Hamas stopped inciting its people to hate and kill Israelis, if they began investing in state building instead of rocket building. Gaza is on the same kind of beautiful beach that Tel Aviv has. Gaza could become a flourishing destination for tourists; it could produce the same high quality produce that Israelis produced when they lived in Gaza.
It is yet another tragedy for the citizens of Gaza and for Israelis that there are people who defend the self-destructive policies and human rights abuses of Hamas instead of advocating policies that will bring peace and prosperity for Palestinians and Israelis alike.