I remember our own brief history with rockets in Tel Aviv. In 1991, Saddam Hussein lobbed exactly 39 Scud missiles – mostly into the Tel Aviv area – and 39 times we had to run for our lives. Once we and our two kids, aged 13 and 11 had just gotten into our car to go to a national prayer conference in Jerusalem. We had driven only a hundred meters from our house when the sirens went off. We left the car in the middle of the road, doors ajar, and raced towards the house. That was the end of the prayer conference for us.
After that, our two children absolutely refused to wear pajamas to bed. For years, they went to bed fully clothed because during that short period of 41 days, numerous times they had to jump out of bed in the middle of the night and race to our safe room, waiting for the “boom.” What was crazy about the whole thing was that if a day or two passed without a Scud, tension began to build as the city waited for the next Scud to hit.
Now imagine. In the south of Israel, since 2001, more than 12,800 rockets and mortars have been launched by Hamas and their affiliates from Gaza. That’s about three rockets every single day for 11 years. (idfblog.com)
But Hamas’ rockets don’t fall according to an orderly timetable. There may be quiet for three or four days or a week or two, and then out of the blue, the sirens wail. The heart stops, the adrenalin kicks in, and the mind focuses on finding the closest safe place to hide. On any one day 10 or 20 or 50 rockets can explode as adults and children race over and over and over to their shelters or somewhere.
Children from southern Israel explain that as they walk down the street they are always checking out which building near them might have a strong wall facing away from Gaza in case they are caught on an open street. Today, 1,000,000 Israelis live in the line of constant fire. Natal, a trauma center for victims of terror and war, says that 70% of the children in one town are suffering from post-traumatic stress, while many have trouble functioning at all due to anxiety. Those who have the resources have moved away. The poor have no other place to go.
When Israel retaliated with a major offensive twice in the last five years, Israel was forced by UN members to agree to a cease fire before she could dismantle the terrorist network meaning that the day will come when it will happen again.
Israelis are far from perfect. But after living here 45 years, and understanding the dynamics, I am convinced that Israeli soldiers are as moral as any army in the world. The well-known British journalist Melanie Phillips wrote: No other army in the world goes to such lengths to avoid civilian casualties. Yet no other army in the world is accused by western commentators as is the IDF, of targeting not just civilians but babies and children.
WHO ARE THE GAZANS?
To trace how this irreconcilable situation evolved, let’s take a cursory look at Gaza’s modern saga.
Britain conquered the Gaza strip along with the rest of the Holy Land seizing it from the 400-year rule of the Ottoman Empire in 1917. But only 31 years later, Britain pulled out of the Holy Land, totally disgusted with the unsolvable Arab-Jewish conflict, and left it for the UN to figure out what to do. The UN decided to divide the tiny strip west of the Jordan River between Arabs and Jews. Jews said “yes.” Arabs said “no.”
War ensued with the Arab nations intent on destroying the new Jewish state. But the Arabs failed and Israel’s poorly equipped and undertrained army succeeded in gaining another 60% of the land in dispute. The UN demanded a cease-fire. Lines were drawn where the armies stood. Suddenly, Gaza became Egyptian.
In 1948 Gaza was a backwater area of some 60,000 to 80,000 poverty-stricken peasants living in the most primitive of conditions. Unfortunately, Egypt had little interest in the 25 mile by 5-6 mile strip along the Mediterranean and did nothing to build up its infrastructure or its economy.
Egypt was more interested in wiping Israel off the map, and after blockading Israel’s shipping in the Red Sea (an act of war) once again its President Gamal Abdel Nasser stated his plans to throw the Jews into the sea. War ensued again in 1967. This time, Gaza became Israeli, as Israel pushed all the Arab states that had invaded her back to their own capitals and conquered the entire area west of the Jordan River.
THE APPEARANCE OF THE PALESTINIAN PEOPLE
It was about this time that new nationalistic Arab organizations began to sprout. Yassir Arafat created the concept of a ‘Palestinian people’ in 1956. Heading up his new organization, the Palestinian National Liberation Movement (Fatah), Arafat claimed that the area known in the Bible as Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) and the land of the Philistines (Gaza) belonged to the ancient Palestinian people. In fact, Arafat declared that Jews had never before lived in this part of the world, and were therefore aliens who had come to steal the land from the ancient Palestinian people. (He also claimed that Yeshua the Messiah was the first Palestinian.)
Nevertheless, most Arabs in the Holy Land saw themselves as citizens of the countries which occupied the land where they lived, i.e. the Arabs of the West Bank which Jordan had conquered saw themselves as Jordanians. Gazans’ identity and sympathies were with the Egyptians.
The fact is that it was not until the Six Day War in 1967 when Israel captured the West Bank, the Old City of Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and Gaza, (plus the Sinai Desert) that Arabs living in those areas began to see the benefits of becoming a Palestinian people. And Arafat was there to move the new idea along. Fatah joined the PLO that year.
Dennis Miller, the American comedian and talk show host, recently put it very simply:
“The Palestinians want their own country. There’s just one thing about that: There are no Palestinians. It’s a made up word. Israel was called Palestine for two thousand years. Like ‘Wiccan,’ ‘Palestinian’ sounds ancient but is really a modern invention. Before the Israelis won the land in the 1967 war, Gaza was owned by Egypt, the West Bank was owned by Jordan, and there were no ‘Palestinians.’”
THE MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD SPREADS ACROSS GAZA
When Israel took over the Gaza Strip, the population had grown to some 400,000 souls, still living hand to mouth from their agriculture produce. (Half of them had fled from Israel to Gaza during the Six Day War.) Now that all the land west of the Jordan river was in Israeli hands, there is no doubt that Israel would have loved to help Gaza become a first-class business and resort area a little paradise on the Mediterranean.
But it was not to be. The Israeli acting-governor of Gaza in 1979 watched a certain Sheikh Ahmed Yassin build a network of mosques, clubs, hospitals and schools across the Gaza Strip. At that time, Yassin showed no hostility to the Israelis whatsoever. When the IDF found weapons in his possession, he claimed they were meant to be used against the secular Palestinians, not Israel. In the Muslim Brotherhood’s fine-tuned tradition, Yassin’s timing was exquisite.
It was now 1987. As Yassin’s infrastructure grew into a national movement, he founded an organization within the Brotherhood organization which he called Hamas. It was a full blown terrorist organization created to destroy the State of Israel. Hamas carried out its first act of terror against Israel in 1989 and never looked back. Hamas also began enforcing Islamic law on women, demanding the hijab. Not surprisingly, they also attacked Christians, killing the head of the Bible Society and burning down a Christian youth library. Most Gazan Christians fled the Strip.
THE OSLO ACCORDS BRING ARAFAT TO THE WEST BANK
Meanwhile Arafat was still occupied with creating a Palestinian people. He had set up his headquarters for a nationalist, secular organization in Tunisia, but in 1993, Israel and the PLO signed an agreement called the Oslo Accords which held great hope among Israel’s politicians and citizens that there could actually be peace between Israel and the Arabs.
Israel gave Arafat permission to rule the so-called Palestinian territory. He moved to the West Bank, but then decided to set up his regional headquarters in Gaza City.
His corruption and fraud knew no bounds. He became President and Prime Minister of the Palestinian National Authority. He also appointed himself as Chairman of the Palestinian financial organization which the World Bank had set up, channeling all funds through his office.
According to “60 Minutes,” Arafat diverted nearly $1 billion in public funds to insure his political survival, but a lot more is unaccounted for. All told, U.S. officials estimate Arafat’s personal nest egg at between $1 billion and $3 billion. And that does not include what he handed out to his cronies. During his rule, the economy of Gaza fell by one third according to Wikipedia.
But Israel began to work to build up the economy of the Palestinians. After the Oslo agreements, Israel employed 25,000 Gazans, most of whom entered Israel for their work. But when Arafat launched the Second Intifada in 2000, whereby Arab terrorists killed 1,083 Israelis almost all civilians Israel closed off the Gaza Strip, bombed its Yassir Arafat airport and blockaded its entrance from the sea. The reasons are obvious. Hamas and the PLO were amassing weapons from abroad.
During that terrible period, Israel targeted Hamas terrorists and PLO terrorists. Israel had built a security fence around Gaza and IDF closed off the crossings to commerce into Gaza.
ISRAEL PULLS OUT OF GAZA
So when Arafat died in 2004, stability was an unknown entity. Funds were lacking to pay government and security workers and unemployment was high. Israel finally decided that maybe the only way to help the situation was for Israel to completely move its 9,000 citizens and its military out of the Gaza Strip which it did in 2005. American Jews, wanting to help the Palestinians jump-start their economy, contributed $14,000,000 to buy the Israelis’ renowned high-tech greenhouses that they were leaving behind. It was a gesture to the Palestinian people, wishing them the best.
Yes, Gaza could have been a Garden of Eden with its beautiful beaches and its balmy climate. But the day Israel’s military left, hordes of Gazans rushed into the farms, looted and destroyed the greenhouses, destroying their hopes for jobs or any type of economic revival.
THE VICTORY GOES TO HAMAS
In all this chaos, the international community urged the Palestinians to begin life anew. They were encouraged to hold elections. To the shock and dismay of the Western world, Hamas won the election. Actually, it shouldn’t have been a surprise. Everybody knew how corrupt the PLO was, and the Arab citizens were absolutely sick of it. On the other hand, the Muslim Brotherhood and its offspring Hamas were known for honesty and morality! After all, the Muslim Brotherhood was a charitable organization, helping the poor.
Within a few months, Hamas kicked all the Fatah members out of power. In the internecine fight, 118 Palestinians were killed, 550 wounded and the two fighting gangs threw each other off of tall buildings.
With Hamas in complete control, its rockets have pounded Israel by the thousands. When Israel has had more than it can bear, it hunts down Hamas leaders and bombs ammunition dumps which are usually near civilian homes, and when there is no other choice, enters Gaza with ground troops to take down the attackers. Hamas knows with pictures of dying children and claims of Israel atrocities, the Arab League and the UN will demand Israel stop before her military completely demolishes the Hamas terrorist infrastructure.
Today Gaza has 1.7 million citizens. With a yearly birth rate of 3.2%, it has the seventh highest population growth rate in the world. Hamas has chosen continued poverty for its people while the people blame who else but Israel?
Israel supplies water and electricity to the Gaza Strip. It supplies mobile phone service, and four Internet Israeli service providers give access to satellite TV. Gaza uses Israel’s shekel currency. At the moment, Israel allows about 250 trucks carrying goods into Gaza every day. The number of trucks will increase as long as Hamas does not fire rockets or carry out terrorist acts.
THE UNDERDOG AND THE BULLY, WHO IS WHO?
Yet Hamas has no regrets over the destruction in Gaza. On the contrary, Hamas gets a great deal of economic and political benefit from the damage because of the large donations that will come from the world and the political image of the organization that stands on the front line against Israel that wows the Arab world.
Hamas has killed more than 400 Israelis and at least 25 U.S. citizens since the Oslo agreements in 1993, using suicide bombings, homemade rockets, and mortar attacks, according to CRS report.
Col. Richard Kemp, former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, told the Algemeiner, the Jewish online newspaper:
“There is a very effective anti-Israel propaganda machine and there has been for some time. It’s partly from the Palestinians, partly from the other Arab states and many people in the West from Europe in particular but also the United States. [They] see Hamas as the underdog and Israel as the bully and their natural inclination is to side with the underdog; but it’s to misunderstand the reality: Hamas is not a small group of lone freedom fighters. Hamas is a terrorist organization supported, financed and directed by Iran. Israel on the other hand is not a bully. It has shown amazing restraint far more restraint than most other countries would show in the face of this sort of provocation.”
What is certain, a cease-fire does not produce peace. To the Arabs it is, on the contrary, a signal for war since they believe it means the other side has shown weakness and that victory is therefore within their grasp. This last round in November 2012 has caused the Arabs in the West Bank to look to Hamas as someone who can stand up to the Jews. Hamas could well win the next election in the West Bank. That would produce the catastrophic danger of rockets raining down on Tel Aviv and its heavily populated surroundings.
Today, the newest vogue in polite society is to argue that Israel must negotiate with Hamas. It is reported that Chuck Hagel who is being considered for the next American Secretary of Defense at the time of this writing, claims Israel must negotiate with Hamas and lift the blockade (which will allow Hamas to bring in unlimited weapons just as Hezbollah has).
Former UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband, UN Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the Washington Post and sundry EU diplomats are among those who are lecturing Israel about “engaging” Hamas.
But here is a question. Since Europe and America can take more risks than tiny Israel, why don’t they start negotiating with Al Qaeda? Why not?
What the world doesn’t seem to know is that Palestinians could have peace and even a state today if they were willing to lay down their arms against Israel. Maybe this land is just not meant for them.