[This article also appears on Huffingtonpost.com. You can access it from my author page here.]
Israel cares more about the Palestinian people in Gaza than Hamas does. Yes, I know this statement will get jeered and mocked by those who support the Palestinians, but, in my view, the facts bear out my assertion.
Hamas made the decision to fire rockets at Israeli civilians on a daily basis, even after Israel completely pulled out of Gaza (and violently uprooted some of its own citizens in doing so). It is ludicrous to believe that Israel would sit back and accept the daily attacks on its civilians without reacting. It seems clear that Hamas's rocket fire was intended to bring upon an Israeli offensive, a strategic decision to draw the Israelis into Gaza so that the Israelis could suffer casualties and, more importantly, to push international opinion and pressure against Israel. Further, Hamas has used mosques, schools, private residences and even hospitals as locations to manufacture, store and launch weapons at Israel and hide its leaders. By placing what are obvious military targets in civilian areas, Hamas put its own people at risk. By choosing tactical advantages over the safety of its citizens, the terrorist organization chose its military goals over the safety of its fellow Palestinians in Gaza.
Hamas is clearly far more interested in self-preservation and doing the bidding of its sponsor, Iran, than it is in actually making the lives of its people any better. Surely a peaceful settlement to the conflict with Israel and the creation of two side-by-side states would be the quickest path for Palestinians to improve their day-to-day lives. The post-Oslo period represented a high point for Palestinian civilians, both in their economic development and their aspirations for their own independent state. But Hamas isn't interested in such a result. Rather, Hamas is single-mindedly focused on destroying Israel, no matter the effect on Palestinian civilians.
Don't believe me? On Meet the Press yesterday, David Gregory read an excerpt from a book by panelist Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic, who wrote about Nizar Rayyan, the Hamas leader who was killed by Israel during the current offensive (along with at least two of his four wives, but notice how Al Jazeera described him as dying with "14 members of his family," failing to note the fact that he had four wives). Goldberg, who had interviewed Rayyan, wrote:
"The question I wrestle with constantly is whether Hamas is truly, theologically implacable. That is to say, whether the organization can remain true to its understanding of Islamic law and God's word and yet enter into a long-term nonaggression treaty with Israel. I tend to think not, though I've noticed over the years a certain plasticity of belief among some Hamas ideologues. ... There was no flexibility with Rayyan. This is what he said when I asked him if he could envision a 50-year hudna (or cease-fire) with Israel: `The only reason to have a hudna is to prepare yourself for the final battle. We don't need 50 years to prepare ourselves for the final battle with Israel.' There is no chance, he said, that true Islam would ever allow a Jewish state to survive in the Muslim Middle East. `Israel is an impossibility. It is an offense against God.' ... What are our crimes? I asked Rayyan. `You are murderers of the prophets and you have closed your ears to the Messenger of Allah,' he said. `Jews tried to kill the Prophet, peace be unto him. All throughout history, you have stood in opposition to the word of God.' Can Israel achieve deterrence with someone like that?"
The world is now clamoring for a cease fire, but as Shimon Peres pointed out on This Week yesterday, a cease fire and opening the crossings into Gaza would only serve to give Hamas the opportunity to rearm and prepare for the next conflict with Israel, just as Rayyan described to Goldberg. Why should Israel do that?
I am amazed sometimes at the demands made on Israel. The country is a democratic nation (the only one in the immediate region) that has, since the second of its inception, had to repel attacks from its neighbors who seek its destruction. Israel has not had a day of peace in which it didn't have to prepare to defend its very existence. Every action Israel takes is in this context. It seized the West Bank and Gaza in 1967 not out of imperialistic aggression, but as a means of defending itself from its neighbors. And the current Gaza offensive is about ensuring its survival, nothing more.
Hamas's stated intention is to destroy Israel. If you believe Rayyan (and there is no reason not to, since he was one of the leaders of the terrorist group in Gaza), there is no way Hamas would agree to the existence of a Jewish state. And the Palestinian people, given a free choice in elections, voted Hamas into power.
And yet the calls come for Israel to show restraint with Hamas, and that Israel's defense against daily rocket attacks lacks proportionality. My response to such statements is, what ratios or proportions are you talking about? Israel is defending itself from the attacks of a terrorist organization that has been elected by its people to take the very actions that threaten Israeli civilians. How should Israel respond? What is "proportional" to terrorists trying to destroy you? If Hamas puts its attack apparatus in the middle of civilian populations, how can you defend yourself without harming civilians? What would these critics have Israel do? Ignore the daily rocket attacks aimed at its population? What country would do that? Israel actually called in warnings to targeted locations to warn civilians about upcoming attacks. The only reason to do such a thing is to try and minimize civilian casualties.
To me, Israel has showed remarkable restraint and proportionality, evidenced by the fact that an overwhelming majority of the Palestinian casualties have not been civilians. The world should be lauding Israel for its efforts to minimize civilian casualties. If Israel truly didn't care about the Palestinian people, its military would have indiscriminately bombed any and all possible Hamas targets, without the warnings it used, regardless of risks to the civilian population. Such a strategy would have been quicker and more efficient, and would have entailed far less threat to members of the Israeli Defense Force. But that's not the strategy Israel employed. Instead, Israel used every technological tool in its arsenal to attempt to limit targets to Hamas strongholds. It is clear extensive efforts were made to limit civilian casualties.
It is Hamas, by using civilians to act as human shields for its military operations, that has put the Palestinian civilians in jeopardy, and the blood of the injured and dead civilians is on Hamas's hands.
The long-term answer to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is two side-by-side states, each respecting the other and its right to exist. For that to happen, the Palestinian people have to embrace a peaceful approach to settling the difficult differences that exist between the two sides. But as long as the Palestinian people embrace violence -- and make no mistake, by putting Hamas into power, they have spoken loudly and clearly that they prefer violence to negotiations -- there cannot be peace. And in that context, any call on Israel for a cease fire is really just asking Israel to grant Hamas a time-out so it can regain strength for its next assault on Israel.
In my view, anyone who supports Hamas in the current conflict with Israel does not believe that Israel has a right to exist. I make that admittedly strong and sweeping claim because anything that Israel cedes to Hamas will only be used by the terrorist organization in its efforts to destroy Israel. If Israel were to unilaterally pull back to the 1967 borders, and if Hamas were to take control of the Palestinian state, it would have the ability to reach Tel Aviv or any other city in Israel with its rockets. With no restrictions, Hamas would be able to import any weapons it wanted from Iran, even nuclear arms if/when Iran reaches that capability. If a "right of return" were granted, Israel would immediately cease to be as a Jewish, secular democratic state. In short, to give in to Hamas is to risk the existence of Israel. For Israel to survive, Hamas has to be defeated, both by the Israeli military and, more importantly, by the Palestinian people. Until that happens, there can be no peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
So in the framework of Hamas's rejection of a peaceful two-state solution to the larger Israeli-Palestinian problem, Hamas's use of civilian locations for its military operations, and Israel's efforts to limit civilian casualties despite Hamas's actions, yes, I do believe that Israel cares more about the lives of the Palestinian people than Hamas does. The terrorist organization has demonstrated that its primary goals are to try and destroy Israel, to protect its power base, and to serve Iran, no matter the damage to its people. Of course, since the Palestinian people elected Hamas to power, they have themselves to blame for the damage done to them by their leaders. It will ultimately be up to the Palestinian people to reject Hamas and their methods.
Maybe the latest Israeli offensive will help turn public opinion, and the Palestinian people will realize that their Hamas leadership has failed them. In a sea of media stories highlighting the Palestinian civilian casualties and the failure of Israel to negotiate a cease-fire agreement, I was heartened to see on the front page of the New York Times today an article quoting a grieving Palestinian woman in Gaza shouting, "May God exterminate Hamas!" This woman understands who has inflicted death and destruction on her family. As soon as a majority of Palestinians agree with her, peace will again be possible between Israel and the Palestinians. But as long as Hamas is in power and firing rockets at Israeli civilians, there can be no peace. Hamas's obsession with the destruction of Israel has only brought poverty, injury and death to its people in Gaza.