Foreign Policy Blogs

Israel’s Right to Defend Itself: Response to Ms. Vahidy’s Op-ed Piece


Editor’s Note

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.


  • Faith S.

    Ms. Rothstein and Ms. Seid set the record straight. Ms. Vahidy turns truth upside down, and expects us to buy such a skewed view of reality. She underestimates us.

  • Ayesha Vahidy

    Peace is an absolute term and, therefore, a universal condition. The quality of peace can not be improved simply by displacing violence and war to a different setting, or separate category, or by concentrating misfortunes with the less fortunate (ghetto-ization). At the “state-level of analysis” this distinguishes peace from war (and “not-war”), which is a conditional event, and security and insecurity, which are relative terms. At the more general “individual-level of analysis” the quality of peace contrasts directly with the total incidence of violence in the global system, that is, a “human security” perspective. There are many dimensions to violence but only a few are currently measurable at the global level. The most prominent dimension of violence is lethal violence, and the most dramatic form of lethal violence is organized, military action, or war. Much of what we know about the systemic qualities of peace derives originally from the classic study of inter-state war. More recently, systematic research in organized violence has expanded to cover internal uses of organized violence, that is, situations where organized violence takes place within the sovereign boundaries of a “state.” This is the state of Israel and Palestine. Is it a conflict that takes place between one state or two? Can you distinguish it? Why do they have violence? What if Israel 30 years ago would have exchanged it’s bombs for infrastructure? There would be no Hamas. They could have won the hearts and minds of the people of Palestine. The reason these groups exist and gain power in itself is a miscalculation taken by Israeli’s at their inception. They chose war instead of peace from the very start. The initial steps of war taken by Israel has left the region in a perpetual state of unrest and violence.

    Hamas in your article is the soul reason for the Israeli conflict that currently exists. Why then would you say is Israel so afraid of the Palestinians attaining statehood from the UN? An Israeli official recently stated:

    “Israel would respond “forcefully” if the Palestinians try to pursue war crimes charges against Israel at the ICC, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss policy considerations. If the Palestinians use their upgraded international status “as a tool to confront Israel in the international arena, there will be a response.”

    Why are there threats of violence, when steps are being taken on the global stage towards peace.

    Three Israeli citizens died from Hamas rocket attacks which were in retaliation for Israel’s assassination of a Hamas official. Israel retaliated for the rocket attacks with days of bombings that killed about 120 civilians and injured over 800 in Palestine. In case you’re keep scoring, that’s one assassination leading to three deaths leading to 100 deaths. It was mindless escalation by, as I point out, TWO MINDLESS SET OF LEADERS. My more important point is that while people rightfully condemn the “drive Israel to the sea” rhetoric, genocidal rhetoric is now become acceptable to some elements in the Israeli right wing. I think everyone ought to be deeply disturbed by this escalation of violent talk, especially in an era that should now be focusing on cease fire, peace and democracy. A proportionate response would have been appropriate, but more importantly the Israelis have to seriously examine what exactly they are gaining from occupation of the West Bank and Gaza that makes it worth this endless cycle. How exactly have their actions in the past 40 years done anything to garner peace? Every effort for peace is constantly thwarted by both sides due to mistrust.

    If Hamas is the problem, there is clearly a solution. Move away from violence. Give Palestinians a chance to self determination. Work towards creating a new era of trust, cooperation and diplomacy. The vote takes place tomorrow to see if the world is about to drastically change. Senior Palestine Liberation Organization official Hanan Ashrawi said it best:

    “This constitutes a historical turning point and opportunity for the world to rectify a grave historical injustice that the Palestinians have undergone since the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.”
    “Now the people of this land, with enormous solidarity, is telling the whole world not only that we exist, but we are on our land and we have a right to self-determination and statehood,”

    Give the bid for statehood a chance and render Hamas powerless. Show Hamas and the Palestinian people that violence can not bring about peace,but negotiating through the proper channels can. Give the PLO back the power that Hamas has stolen due to the constant threat of war. Replace their feelings of being powerless in a pawn of politics, with dignity. A Palestinian state with productive Palestinians where people can focus on their lives instead of violence is the only solution to peace in the region. It is not ‘self determination’ at a state level that is going up in front of the UN tomorrow. It is the right of Palestinians to exist as individuals. To have jobs, to get an education, to trade with the world, to pay taxes and become productive citizens in the global community. Power the Palestinians with individual freedoms and they will no longer need to look for power in negative power sources such as Hamas.

    Can the world change? What if Israel voted ‘yes’ for a Palestinian state tomorrow? What would happen then? The world could change and to your point, Hammas would become non-existent.

  • leslie sacks

    In response to Ayesha Vahidy’s opinion piece. “Israel and
    the right to defend itself”

    Ms. Vahidy initially panders in a seemingly civilized manner
    to the reader’s presumed sense of fair-play by acknowledging Israel’s obvious
    right of defense, a right that has always been both morally and legally

    She then launches into a presumption of “murder” by Israel’s
    air force, operating with “unchecked moral license” from the skies of
    Gaza. It is most apt at this time to review the evidence of Colonel
    Richard Kemp, commander with the British forces, NATO, and the UN. He
    confirms therein that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) do more to safeguard civilians than any army in the history of warfare.

    Ms. Vahidy then dives into an emotionally based assumption
    with no facts to support her: that the Vietnam My Lai debacle, where innocents
    were specifically targeted by Marines, was comparable to the deaths of “so
    called” innocents in Gaza; only Israel’s obvious crime is much larger. So
    called because the ultimate responsibility for Gaza civilian deaths must fall
    squarely on the shoulders of Hamas, who routinely use their citizenry as human
    shields. So not only is it a war crime for Hamas to target civilian areas
    in Israel with rockets (12,000 since January 2006 and 1,500 during the last 8
    day war), but it is a second war crime to intentionally place their munitions
    dumps, rocket placements and military installations in apartment buildings, on
    public roofs, next to or below schools, hospitals and mosques.

    Ms Validy quotes selectively and out of context statements
    by various parties who did not directly design or prosecute Israel’s defensive
    8 day incursion into Gaza, but whose rhetoric she claims are “fevered dreams of
    genocide”. She makes no distinction between individual and arbitrary
    opinions emanating from a broad democracy, opinions that she has seemingly
    conjured up from the “Googlesphere”, and the official policy of IDF which is
    never to target civilians as well as going to extraordinary lengths to reduce
    collateral damage.

    If Hamas conducted even barely civilized warfare, they would
    be easily defeatable in the fields of Gaza. As it is, they survive only
    in the overpopulated warren that is Gaza city, hiding behind children and women
    – their martyrs. The intention of Hamas never to fight a real war, only a
    propaganda war with a willing and sympathetic media. Israel distributes
    pamphlets from the skies, computer generated text messages and phone calls to
    Gaza’s citizenry in a valiant attempt to advise them to disconnect physically
    from any nearby Hamas military target. Unfortunately many do not believe
    the veracity of these warnings. Others are persuaded otherwise by Hamas,
    whose media and propaganda arms ghoulishly feed on tragic deaths that befall
    the children and others caught up in this never ending cauldron of war.

    Nowhere does Ms. Vahidy clarify that but for the thousands
    of rockets and terror attacks, Israel would not have responded – no war would
    have eventuated. It is the senders of these indiscriminate rockets that
    are ultimately responsible for these civilian deaths, not the defenders in

    Ms. Vahidy continues her emotional tirade, presuming that
    the only fully fledged democracy in the Middle East, Israel, is run by a few
    genocidal terrorists (albeit in words only), yet at the same time she somehow
    excuses the decades of terrorism and war coming from Gaza because of the
    innocents imbedded within that society. So in her upside-down
    perspective, those with distasteful words in Israel are more responsible for
    this mayhem than those in Gaza who actually run and control the society
    and who send rockets towards Israeli schools and hospitals, hospitals
    that ironically treat Gazans who are unable to get needed medical attention in
    their own State. Furthermore whilst rockets were flying Israel continued
    on a daily basis to supply Gaza with gas, medical supplies, electricity and
    water – strange behavior for this supposedly rapacious and genocidal

    So the issue of disproportionality is suggested, that Israel
    is somehow the warmonger. I do beg to differ:

    Gaza, during the recent 8 day war, fired approximately 1,500
    rockets towards civilian areas in Israel with the express intention of
    maximizing civilian casualties – no confusion there. It is not reported
    that up to 100 of the Hamas rockets misfired and fell back into civilian areas
    in Gaza. Furthermore, for Hamas to focus on confronting the Israeli
    military directly would be far too risky for these brave militants intent on
    safeguarding their supremacist vision of a victorious Islamic Caliphate.

    In contrast, the IDF conducted a similar amount of targeted
    responses to roughly 1,500 terror sites including 980 underground rocket
    launchers, 140 smuggling tunnels, 30 senior Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists,
    61 Hamas operation and command centers. It is indeed remarkable that
    considering the air forces’ significant power and sophistication, and the huge
    number of sorties, that the death toll in Gaza was not higher.

    Unlike Israel, Gaza intentionally has no bomb shelters or
    air raid sirens for its population. Much money from international donors
    and concrete have rather been almost exclusively used for Hamas bunkers, rocket
    launchers, command centers and tunnels. That is why far less Israeli
    civilians died. However, if Israel copied Hamas exactly and proportionally
    and sent 1,500 rockets indiscriminately into civilian areas, then 5,000 or
    10,000 casualties would easily have eventuated, not 100 including avowed
    terrorists. Remember by comparison that there were roughly 25,000
    casualties from a single night of the Allies bombing Dresden during World War

    When one writes such an article as Ms. Vahidy has done, with
    clear animus towards the Israelis, based on an ever present, negative agenda,
    then one ends up with a rant that has no reasonable basis in reality. If
    Israel wanted to carpet bomb Gaza, Gaza would cease to exist. If civilian
    casualties were on their radar, then Gaza would be a wasteland with 1.5 million
    refugees on their way to Cairo. Truth be told, the genocidal maniacs are
    really all in Gaza, plotting with Hezbollah and Ahmadinejad on how to destroy
    Israel; whilst the Israelis with all the military might in the world, conducts
    the most selective and restrained targeted responses the world has ever known,
    hoping to live in peace whilst praying for quiet; wishing to be left alone for
    another few months, so their children can have a full night’s sleep, without
    nightmares, without bomb shelters.

    Leslie Sacks

    Sacks Fine Art

    San Vicente Boulevard

    Angeles, CA 90049



    [email protected]


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