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JERUSALEM—You don’t have to be a prophet to anticipate that there would be civilian deaths in Gaza. Hamas embeds its weapons depots and rocket launchers in civilian neighborhoods, near homes, schools, mosques, and apartment complexes. It uses women and children as human shields. It widely broadcasts the tragic deaths of children, even when the deaths were caused by Hamas rockets and even when the photos are recycled from the tragedies in Syria. Hamas and allied terrorists intentionally dress in civilian clothing so their deaths will appear to be civilian deaths. These are war crimes.
There are voices charging that Israel is committing war crimes and crimes against humanity. These critics ignore background, such as the 13,000 missiles fired from Gaza at Israel’s southern communities over the last 12 years, leaving Israeli men, women, and children traumatized and terrorized. Too often, they ignore the fact that Israel completely withdrew from Gaza in 2005 to promote peace. Instead of creating a government and society that could improve the future of Gaza’s Palestinians, Palestinian leaders created a culture of death based on anti-Semitism and violent jihad. They ignore the fact that Hamas is an Iranian proxy dedicated to the murder of Jews and “obliteration” of Israel.
The immediate cause of Operation Pillar of Defense is the escalation from Nov. 10-12, when Hamas fired an anti-tank missile at an IDF jeep patrolling in Israel, followed by 150 rockets attacks. Hamas’s longer-range rockets reached as far as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, targeting an area where 80 percent of Israeli Jews live. Their attacks shut down normal life as schools and businesses shut down and civilians ran into shelters for cover. I was here when a rocket aimed at the Israeli Knesset misfired into Gush Etzion miles to the south. My eyes went wide, but the Israelis said, “we are used to it.” Do we dismiss an inaccurate missile? It is wrong for Israel to be targeted by even one missile. If rockets were fired indiscriminately from Tijuana, Mexico, into San Diego, Americans would demand an overwhelming and disproportionate response.
Yet the UN and International Court of Justice have remained silent about years of rocket attacks against Israelis despite the fact that targeting civilians is an egregious war crime. Israel is perhaps the only nation in the world that has absorbed thousands of rockets during the last 12 years, and is expected to ignore this terrorism. Israel had to respond. The first obligation of a nation is to protect its citizens, and Israel’s restraint is historically unprecedented.
I hope that peace will prevail, but am pessimistic because Hamas will likely remain in control of Gaza. Hamas, an Iranian proxy, is also an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood which now governs Egypt. What should Israel do? Should it send in its citizen soldiers, endangering them in order to weaken or destroy Hamas? What would the result be? Israel regularly wrestles with these difficult problems.
As missiles continue to reign down on civilians in Israel, we are reminded that the Israeli army has demonstrated unbelievable restraint over the years, and gone out of its way, sometimes compromising its objectives, to protect innocent Palestinians. We are reminded that Israel is responding to a recent history of thousands of Hamas rocket attacks, and that Hamas seeks the destruction of Israel, not peace. This is wrong by any standards. As Americans, we need to remind our fellow citizens that Israel is the canary in the coal mine, on the front lines against the violent terrorism emanating from fundamentalists that have no tolerance for Israel or any other liberal democracy.
Eric Mandel, MD, is the co-chair of the StandWithUs/New York office.