Israel's Appropriate Response

In August 2005, Israel spent billions of dollars forcibly relocating thousands of its own citizens from 21 settlements in a land they had inhabited for nearly 40 years.  Families were uprooted.  Homes were bulldozed.  Tears were shed, both by Israeli citizens and the security forces sent to remove them.  Such was the Israeli sacrifice, all done in the name of peace.

At the time of Israel’s Gaza disengagement, its proponents — which included U.S. State Department bureaucrats, the U. N. (whose then U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan called it a “courageous decision”) and assorted European officials — assured Israel that the move would put an end to the terror attacks that had raged since 2001 and represented a first step toward sustainable peace in the Middle East.  Critics were assured that Gaza’s Palestinians wanted only peace, a sentiment numerous public opinion polls seemed to confirm.   

But realistic observers were less certain of the results of this unprecedented concession, one which terrorist groups like Hamas could be expected to interpret as validation of their brutal tactics.  Benyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s former prime minister, who resigned from Ariel Sharon’s cabinet in protest of the unilateral withdrawal, declared that a pullout would make Gaza “a huge base for terror.”

And so it happened.  In the 30 months since disengagement, not only have terrorist attacks against Israel not ceased, they’ve, well, skyrocketed.  Hamas has used Gaza as a launching pad from which to fire rockets further into Israel.  As Israel scholar Dore Gold has noted, “after Israel’s disengagement from Gaza, the number of confirmed rocket strikes against Israel increased by more than 500 percent.”  In Sderot, a small city of 20,000 that lies just one kilometer from Gaza, over 2,500 rockets have bombarded, killed, maimed and terrorized Israeli citizens. 

Last weekend saw Israel besieged once again, as a dozen long-range rockets rained down on the beachside city of Ashkelon. Israelis are used to Hamas militants firing rockets almost daily into small Gaza border towns like Sderot.  But Hamas’ attack of Ashkelon, a city of over 120,000 people, raised the stakes considerably, creating, as one Israeli military spokesman put it, “a new state of violence.”

Israel responded by firing back at the Palestinian rocket squads in Gaza. Many Hamas terrorists were killed, and, because Hamas launched its attacks from civilian population centers, so too were many Palestinian civilians. 

Predictably, Israel’s counter strike was met by a chorus of criticism from all the usual suspects, who condemned the Jewish State for its “disproportionate” response.  United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon accused Israel of using “excessive force”; Egypt’s intelligence chief protested by cancelling a scheduled visit to Israel; Saudi Arabia compared the strike against Hamas to “Nazi war crimes.” 

Such selective indignation is nothing new.  For years during the “intifada,” Palestinian terrorists launched one attack after another, killing Israelis in restaurants, synagogues, buses and shopping centers.  When Israel launched retaliatory attacks on bomb-making factories and terrorist safe houses in the Palestinian territories, it was condemned. 

Israel’s critics are being unfair, and unthinking.  Israel faces an enemy that does not recognize any rules of engagement, an enemy that does not believe that civilians — whether they are Israelis or Palestinians — are off limits.  Over 100 Palestinians were killed in Israel’s counter attacks last week.  Estimates of the share of civilians killed range from 10 percent to over half.  Each innocent life lost is a tragedy.  But critics are too quick, and totally wrong, to blame those deaths on Israel. 

As “just war” theorist Michael Walzer has noted: “When Palestinian militants launch rocket attacks from civilian areas, they are themselves responsible — and no one else is — for the civilians deaths caused by Israeli counter fire.”  The Hamas cowards intentionally hide among civilians, exploiting them not only as human shields but also as props to generate sympathy for their cause and disgust with Israel around the world.  It works.  Images of Palestinian children killed or injured in counterattacks by Israeli forces cultivate sympathy from the West and foment hatred of Israel in the Middle East. 

Many insist that Israel’s response to the initial attacks was “disproportionate” because only two Israelis were killed, compared to over 100 Palestinians.  It is true that under “just war theory” acts must be proportional.  But results are not the only things that count; objectives matter too.  When terrorists launch thousands of rockets into Israeli towns that have no military value, their clear intention is to kill civilians, as many of them as possible.  Under international law this is an act of war.  

On Thursday, at least eight Israelis were killed and approximately 35 wounded in a suicide attack at a seminary near Jerusalem.   There is never anything “just” or “proportionate” about attacks intended to kill only innocent human beings. 

These details seem to be lost on much of the international community, though not on White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe, who defended Israel’s counterstrike, insisting, “there is a clear distinction between terrorist rocket attacks that target civilians and action in self-defense.”

Finally, everyone seems to forget that Gaza’s Palestinians elected Hamas, a terrorist group that refuses to recognize Israel’s right to exist and attempts to turn its refusal into objective reality.  Gaza’s Palestinians chose an avowed terrorist group to lead their government and therefore bear some responsibility for the actions of that government.

Sadly, those who unflinchingly condemn Israel will never allow such inconvenient details to get in the way of the established narrative that Israel is the major obstacle to peace in the Middle East.