Cutting the Weeds in Gaza
I was listening to and reading news reports this weekend (i) about shortages of medical supplies in Gaza, (ii) about Gaza civilians displaced from homes, and (iii) about concern over the "human tragedy" in Gaza. As I said this Shabbat in shul: I don't care about any of the above three.
If Israel deliberately starts targeting Gaza women or children or men for the purpose of just murdering people, just to murder them, just to terrorize them, just to enjoy imposing suffering on them, I will be the first to speak out against Israel. However, since Israel's founding in 1948, that never has been Israel's way, nor has it ever been the way of those associated with any of the Zionist movement streams since Herzl came to Basle, Switzerland in 1897 to call for the establishment of a Jewish homeland.
Hamas in Gaza have been launching score upon score of murderous rockets into Israel for months and years, and no one cared a whit or reacted until Israel finally hit back. If Israel did not have elections scheduled in nine weeks, who knows whether they would have hit back yet? But they do, and they did. Good for Israel.
The whole idea propounded by then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his Kadima Party was supposed to be that Israel unilaterally leaves Gaza (just as it did from South Lebanon under former Prime Minister Ehud Barak), handing over to the Gaza population all of Israel's infrastructure there, all synagogues, all agricultural resources, all technology there, and everyone, Jews and Gazans, would live happily ever after. Kumbaya. So Israel did so, handing over the land unilaterally, and Hamas has been shooting murderous rockets into Israel ever since.
Over time, Hamas's rockets have improved. First, they only could reach Sderot. Then Ashdod and Ashkelon. Now Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. They also are gaining in accuracy. Higher quality rockets are being smuggled in through underground tunnels linking Gaza to Egypt. Now that Hosni Mubarak has been ousted by the freedom-loving, pro-democracy Arab Spring, Egypt is in the hands of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, and there are no restrictions on what is smuggled through. These smuggled weapons surely include materiel coming via Libya, which is in total anarchy, with all of Khaddafi's arsenal up for grabs. (For those who missed the news, an American ambassador recently was murdered in Benghazi after a 12-minute YouTube video was seen by 46 viewers.) Libya is out of control, their government is unable to gain the upper hand, and many of Khaddafi's weapons surely are going into Gaza. Iran also is shipping things into Gaza. And this is why Israel blockades Gaza from the Mediterranean, regardless of the Flotilla Brigades that try to test Israel's resolve. If the day comes that the blockades stop, know that any food being shipped by sea will be sushi-wrapped to cover over the firearms and rockets packed inside. Israel knows that.
As the famous LATMA parody reflects, so do we.
It is noteworthy, by the way -- and I am surprised that no one has noted this in news reports -- that Hezbollah has not chosen this moment to attack Israel in the same way from Southern Lebanon in the north, as Hamas is attacking from Gaza. One of Israel's concerns has been that a direct hit on Iran and its nuclear weapons program could ignite a free-for-all, with Iranian surrogates, Hezbollah in South Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, shooting everything they have into Israel. The current unexpected situation that Hamas instigated raises an intriguing question: Once Israel finishes its objectives in Gaza and somewhat neutralizes the current Hamas threat, will it stand to suffer from Hezbollah if it strikes Iran? It remains unclear how the strategic balance may be affected by this present unexpected situation.
We observe that Hamas stores its deadly rockets and murderous launchers in apartment buildings, on school grounds, in hospitals -- and on the rooftops of such structures -- all with the strategic purpose of leaving Israel with the impossible choice of (i) not hitting back and inviting decimation, or (ii) hitting back and then being condemned hypocritically when the Silent see terrible publicity photos of apartment buildings, school grounds, and hospitals flattened by Israeli strikes. It is a blatant violation of international rules of law for any combatant to place weapons among civilians. However, no one ever cites international law in this regard except when Israel is defending itself.
This conflict teaches us further that, if Israel were to depart from Judea and Samaria (the "West Bank"), a third front for its decimation would be opened there. The most extreme terrorists always enter to fill the void. Within a year, probably six months, of any Israeli departure, the "West Bank" would become another Gaza, with Israel becoming the target of a veritable shooting arcade, being rocketed from all over the place.
Notwithstanding any future developments that may impact Gazan "civilian life," and any pictures or uncomfortable news stories that may emerge over the next few days, the ultimate fundamental principle is that, in a free and monitored election, the civilians of Gaza overwhelmingly and repeatedly have voted for Hamas to be their society's sovereign authority. They have chosen Hamas freely, in internationally monitored elections, as the Germans freely elected Hitler in 1935. Those who have voted to be led by Hamas and to place Hamas in charge of directing their destiny and controlling their weapons deserve the same sympathy and understanding as did the Germans of Dresden who were among those who freely put Hitler in power.
This is a war going on. There is a dead woman who was visiting Israel to mourn another dead woman and her dead husband, murdered in India four years earlier by Jew-hating Islamists. There is a war going on. This is not Blazing Saddles, where Sheriff Bart hand-delivers a bomb to Mongo, and Mongo readily signs for it. If Israel has intelligence that a murderer is in a car, or that murderers are storing or launching weapons from a hospital or school or apartment building, then Israel needs to excise the threat to its population. If, while conducting its operations, Israel inadvertently kills unintended targets, that collateral damage is unavoidable. Not only is there no other country in the world that fights with the same degree of heightened sensitivities, ethics, and morals as Israel. There also is no other country in the world that is as aware as Israel that every noncombatant's death will be amplified by the enemy into a media circus calculated to undercut Israel's legitimacy.
Israel has two choices: to be or not to be. And for Israel, that is not a question.
Dov Fischer, a legal affairs consultant and adjunct professor of the law of civil procedure and advanced torts, is rabbi of Young Israel of Orange County. He was formerly Chief Articles Editor of UCLA Law Review and writes extensively on political, cultural, and religious issues. He is author of two books and blogs at http://www.rabbidov.com/