The Canberra Times, December 30, 2008
In warfare, as at any time, civilian deaths are horrible. That some innocent Palestinians have died in recent days in Gaza is tragic, but the blame must be laid fairly and squarely at the feet of Hamas.
The weekend’s combat began because of Hamas, not Israel. It is Hamas that is completely, religiously, devoted to destroying Israel, one life at a time.
Israel has stated time and again that it is in favour of establishing a peaceful Palestinian state. Israel has even stated it will deal with Hamas, once Hamas is willing to recognise Israel’s right to exist and stop using terrorism that is, violence targeting civilians.
Israel doesn’t hate Hamas because of what it is, but only because it wants to destroy Israel.
Israel almost brought Hamas to its knees half a year ago, so Hamas asked the Egyptians to ask Israel for a ceasefire, which was due to last six months. Israel agreed.
About one month short of the six months ending, Israel uncovered a Hamas tunnel going under the Gaza-Israel border. The tunnel was to be used for a Hamas operation after the ceasefire ended to attack, kill and capture as many Israeli soldiers on the Israeli side of the border as possible.
Hamas had conducted a similar operation in June 2006 and took Gilad Shalit a young Israeli soldier, captive. Since that time, it hasn’t allowed the Red Cross or any other humanitarian organisation to visit him. This is in direct violation of the laws of war. (But so is targeting civilians, which has been Hamas’s modus operandi since its inception in 1987.)
And given Hamas’s barbaric treatment of its prisoners seen in what it did to fellow Palestinians during its successful 2007 coup against Fatah in Gaza Israel is clearly not interested in having Hamas capture more of its soldiers.
So Israel blew up the tunnel.
Hamas, having significantly restocked and upgraded its supplies during the six-month ceasefire and needing an excuse to end it, latched on to the clearly defensive Israel operation, and began firing rockets into Israel towns once again. Not that the rockets had stopped during the previous five months. But their rate had certainly dropped.
I visited Sderot, the most attacked Israeli town, before the ceasefire began, when rockets were falling up to a rate of one every three hours, during the ceasefire and again in November, when the ceasefire was beginning to break down.
The difference the reduction in rocket attacks made to the town’s residents during the five months was immeasurable.
To live life in Sderot under rocket barrage is to live life afraid.
When the siren sounds, you have 10 seconds to find cover. Ten seconds. Think about driving a car. You hear the siren, and have to stop (five seconds), take your seatbelt off and get out (three seconds), then run to cover, hoping that cover, such as the public bomb shelters the Government has placed all around the town, are less than a two seconds run from your car. You can’t run far in two seconds.
Hamas knows this. And yet it continues to fire rockets into the town. Why? Because it knows that Israel indeed, any country will not put up with its citizens being bombed by an enemy country.
Hamas kept firing because it wanted Israel to respond violently. This sounds illogical, but easy to understand when you realise that Hamas doesn’t actually care for the welfare of the Palestinians under its control. Rather, Hamas cares only for its ideology.
And if a few dozen, or a few hundred, Palestinian lives have to be sacrificed in order to realise Hamas’s goals, Hamas thinks that’s OK.
Such a blase view of humanity has seen it deliberately locate most of its military infrastructure, as well as the offices of its leaders, in civilian areas. For instance, rockets are manufactured in the basements of apartment buildings, that sort of thing.
If this sounds wrong, it is, because it defies all the laws of war.
When Israel attacks Hamas in Gaza, Palestinians die. This causes Palestinians to stop focusing on their ineffective, immoral and illegal leadership, and focus on Israel. And it causes the world media to stop focusing on the completely illegal, but not very effective Hamas attacks on Israel, and look instead at the legal, completely unintended but still horrible civilian deaths in Gaza.
It’s very clever of Hamas.
What still astounds me, despite living amid and studying this conflict for over a decade, is how it’s on the record that Palestinians live better – we’re talking economy, health, education, everything – when they attempt to make peace with Israel, and they live badly when they make war on Israel.
Despite this, and in spite of losing every single military confrontation they’ve ever had with Israel, they still attack, attack, attack.
Palestinians and their supporters call it ”resistance to occupation”. But Israel has been out of Gaza for three years and trying to end the confrontation for years. All Palestinians have to do is say, ‘We won’t try to kill you any more,’ and a swift conclusion will follow.
The weekend violence began when, as Australia’s Acting Prime Minister Julia Gillard observed, Hamas unilaterally ended a ceasefire through engaging in an act of aggression against Israel, launching rockets and mortars.
Hamas traditionally places its military infrastructure in civilian areas, and uses this infrastructure to attack Israeli civilians. Israel is now trying to stop these unprovoked attacks on its people and Palestinians’ so-called supporters blame Israel for the resultant deaths.
There’s only one word for it: hypocrisy.
Bren Carlill is an analyst at the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council.