By MORTIMER ZUCKERMAN, US NEWS—
“The fog of war” is a metaphor of choice for war’s blinding physical and moral confusions, its half-truths, lies, ambiguities, distortions and deceptions. They all characterize the perceptions of the war between Israel and Hamas. Israel is a democratic country that wishes to live in peace with its neighbors, but cannot escape a duty to defend its citizens. The other is a terrorist group whose whole reason for being is genocide. It is dedicated not just to the diminution of the state of Israel but to its extermination, not just to fight Israeli soldiers, but to the extinction of all Jews whom it refers to as “inherently evil” and “responsible for all the evils in the world.” Hamas lives by the charter of Allah issued in 1988, which declared, “There is no solution to the Palestinian problem except by jihad. The initiatives, proposals, and international conferences are but a waste of time, an exercise in futility.” And this is the organization that is now allied with the supposedly moderate Fatah, the Palestine Authority it brutally expelled from Gaza in a coup.
Let us remember that Israel withdrew all of its citizens, uprooted its settlements, and completely disengaged from Gaza in 2005. It wanted this new Palestinian state to succeed. To help it economically, the Israelis left behind 3,000 working greenhouses. They also disassembled four smaller settlements in the northern West Bank – a sign that they wanted to live peacefully, side by side with Gaza. And how did the Palestinians respond? They demolished the greenhouses, elected Hamas, and instead of building a state, says Charles Krauthammer in the National Review Online, spent most of the last decade turning Gaza into a massive military base brimming with weapons to make endless war on Israel.
Even more menacingly, Hamas built miles and miles of intricate, underground tunnels to hide weapons and extended these tunnels into Israeli territory so it could carry out surprise attacks against Israeli citizens. Since then, Hamas has indiscriminately launched over 2,900 missiles against Israel. The rocket program is one that Hamas could have stopped at any time and ended the current conflict.
But Hamas has a different measure of victory. It is in the court of public opinion. Hamas has a sophisticated media strategy. Former President Clinton captured it well. Hamas, he told an Indian television audience, has a strategy designed to force Israel to kill its own (Palestinian) citizens so the rest of the world will condemn Israel.
Hamas operates by creating grief and then exploiting it. It places missile batteries next to its playgrounds, private homes, and mosques – inviting retaliation. It uses United Nations Relief and Works Agency facilities as weapons depots. Israel uses its arms to protect its civilians. Hamas uses its civilians to protect its weapons. The shameful tactic is to callously use women and children as human shields while Hamas military leaders hide in their deep tunnels and their leader Khaled Meshal plots from his sanctuary in Qatar. Other senior Hamas officials deliberately shelter among civilians and in hospitals. At the Gaza City Shifa Hospital, Hamas sacrificed the Palestinian people for its ideological cause. The attack was specifically designed to produce images of dead and injured Palestinians for television.
Gaza is a nightmare alike for the two peoples held hostage by Hamas. The Israelis, exposed to murderous assault from rocket fire, can defend themselves from death and destruction only at the cost of death and destruction for the people of Gaza. This lethal symmetry is, of course, exactly as its terrorist masters planned for the war they started. They reckoned that sacrificing human shields will attract more money and weapons from their chief sponsor, Iran, and from the new young Emir of Qatar, a financial sponsor of the underground Terror City.
We have done the same when we have been at war. In World War II, some 378,000 German civilians were killed in British air raids, compared to only 62,000 British civilians that were killed in German air raids. In the Pacific theater, over 2.6 million Japanese were killed, including 580,000 civilians. Recently the U.S. sent drone attacks into Pakistan, killing 13 people in one strike just last month. Of course, just having more dead on your side does not make you right. It didn’t make Japan or Germany right. But the minute Israel responds to the rocket fire from Gaza, radicals in the West take to the streets and scream about Israeli bloodletting. In Paris, anti-Israeli demonstrators take images of charred bodies from the civil war in Syria and circulate them under the hashtag “GazaUnderAttack.”
It was not occupation that led to the current conflict, as some keep saying. Israel ended its occupation of Gaza in 2005, only to have it taken over from the Palestinian Authority by Hamas, which turned it into a terrorist enclave. In fact, the Israeli ending of the occupation of Gaza seems to have escalated the conflict. It is clear the Israelis are not fighting the Palestinians; they are fighting radical Islam. Other Arab countries realize this, countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt, the moderates in the Arab world and the main rivals to the Muslim Brotherhood that controls Gaza. Their leaders have accused Hamas of taking unreasonable and irresponsible steps.
Yes, civilians get caught up in war. Israel is engaged in a legal and lawful defensive operation. When Hamas stops firing rockets to kill Israeli citizens, Israel will stop bombing Gaza. Just think, Israel is coordinating aid and goods to Gaza and set up a field hospital for Gazans.
Furthermore, Israel has accepted five cease-fires since the conflict began. Hamas rejected all the cease-fires, even its own, continuing to fire even as it spoke. Every time the international community calls for a cease-fire, Israel ceases and Hamas fires. This is a fight that could have and should have been over. But Hamas rejected the Egyptian cease-fire initiative, the U.N. humanitarian truce, the Red Cross humanitarian truce and rebuffed the U.N. request for a truce to allow the residents of Gaza to prepare for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr.
The controllers of Gaza have had the undivided land for nine years, and we’ve seen what they’ve done with it. The excuse, espoused by Hamas apologists in Europe and notably The Guardian newspaper, is that they have not been able to build a flourishing Gaza because of Israel’s restrictions. That is hypocrisy on stilts and deserves to have 600,000 tons of cement dropped on it, the amount that Hamas diverted into tunnels instead of building roads, hospitals, and homes. The perpetual warfare by Hamas has renewed Israeli fears that withdrawal from the West Bank would have the same result as the withdrawal from Gaza.
The American public is on tricky ground judging Israel on how it treats Palestinians, because we don’t have Palestinians threatening us. We can’t possibly know how we would cope with rockets, kidnappings and neighbors preaching annihilation. You cannot be harried, critiqued, disowned, attacked by radicals, boycotted, slammed and cajoled without it having an effect as it does in Israel. Yet Israel at heart remains a liberal nation, and we must ask ourselves what we would do under a situation like this, living in a very small territory and with the constant threat of annihilation.
This is not an abstraction to the people of Israel. In fact it is the core reason for the formation of that state, for the Jews of Israel learned in the most barbaric way imaginable that the price of being too strong is not as high as the price of being too weak. When the Jews of Israel say “never again,” they mean it.