The Australian – July 23 2014
“EVERYBODY here hates Hamas … But they’re too afraid to say so publicly. Our food comes from Israel but what we give them in return is rockets.”
A taxi driver from Gaza sums up the feelings of many whose lives are in danger, following increased rocket fire between Israel and Hamas, whose military wing is a listed terrorist organisation in Australia. Hamas terrorists have even gone on TV to urge Palestinians to stand on roofs and expose their “bare chests” to incoming rocket fire.
Involving their own civilians in warfare as human shields is a well-documented Hamas practice that the group itself has admitted to on many occasions, while for them, all Israeli civilians are “legitimate targets”. Meanwhile, Israel is taking extraordinary steps to minimise civilian casualties on both sides.
The Israel Defence Forces makes phone calls, sends text messages, drops leaflets and fires warning shots, giving ample warning for residents to temporarily leave an area that the IDF needs to target.
As a spokesman for the Israeli Prime Minister recently said: “If we know that innocent civilians will be hurt, we will call off the operation,” and the IDF has video footage of airstrikes that have been aborted for such reasons.
Last Tuesday, the Israeli cabinet agreed to a ceasefire with Hamas, which rejected the offer and continued to fire wave after wave of rockets into Israel. Hamas’ rejection of the ceasefire was criticised at the time by the UN Secretary General and other world leaders, as well as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Hamas’ decision to continue its self-destructive offensive has been unpopular among Gazans, many already opposed to Hamas’ extremism. In a poll taken in Gaza last month by a leading Palestinian pollster, 70 per cent of those surveyed agreed that “Hamas should maintain a ceasefire with Israel,” while 73 per cent of respondents agreed that non-violent action should be adopted.
Civilians in Gaza have every reason to resent Hamas for placing military assets, including rockets, missiles and bombs in homes, a UNRWA school and adjacent to Gaza’s al-Aqsa hospital – the latter reportedly causing fatalities in the hospital after it was accidentally hit on July 21. Hamas has reportedly made Shifa hospital its de facto headquarters and has even issued a directive to Gazans to say that “anyone killed or martyred is to be called an innocent civilian” even if they were killed in combat.
The number of civilians who have died in Gaza is a great tragedy – many of those deaths could likely have been avoided if Hamas leaders had not urged Gazans to ignore IDF warnings to leave a combat zone. As former US President Bill Clinton told India’s NDTV last week, “(Hamas has) a strategy designed to force Israel to kill their own (Palestinian) civilians so that the rest of the world will condemn them.”
Israel continues to exercise extreme vigilance to avoid harming Palestinian civilians as it battles Hamas, but the challenge of fighting an enemy that has such disregard for the safety of its own people is almost unprecedented and must be taken into account.
Israel’s responsibility to protect its citizens has been acknowledged by the same world powers that condemned Hamas. At great risk to the lives of its soldiers, the Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to target Hamas military infrastructure and extensive tunnels for smuggling weapons and terrorists into Israel. Twenty-seven Israeli soldiers have been killed and more than a hundred injured due to the conflict as of last night, with at least 45 tunnels already uncovered by the military.
Hamas has claimed Israel is targeting civilians and not the terrorists’ operations. This claim is not only meritless, but defies common sense. The IDF’s own casualties so far, which represent its’ highest toll since the Second Lebanon War, reveal the intensity of Hamas’s attacks, including the use of advanced weaponry such as Kornet anti-tank missiles. Had it been Israel’s intention to conduct a “massacre”, as Hamas alleges, a ground attack would not have been implemented.
Hamas governs Gaza, including the health ministry, and is the primary source for much of the casualty statistics that are being reported. Independent evaluations of the casualties thus far have noted a much higher number of military age males among Gaza’s dead than has generally been reported, and there is every reason for that to be reflected in the final figures.
However, it should always be remembered that the civilian casualties that do occur are solely the result of Hamas’s tactics, which amount to war crimes.
Glen Falkenstein is a policy analyst at the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council