BY CHAIM SHACHAM
Special to The Tampa Tribune
Over the past two weeks, the Hamas terrorist organization has fired more than 2,500 rockets at Israeli cities. That’s more than one rocket every 10 minutes. With such a statistic we easily forget that even one rocket fired unprovoked and indiscriminately at an unarmed civilian population is a vile and abhorrent war crime. But even worse, Hamas commits this war crime while hiding behind the same defenseless Gazan civilians whom it is responsible to protect. I can think of nothing more cynical and evil — committing a war crime so it can better commit another war crime.
Knowing the value that Israel and the civilized world places on human life — but being itself unbound by such values — Hamas is forcing upon the Israeli government a terrible moral dilemma: Does it protect Israelis, but risk harming Gazan civilians — thus exposing itself to the criticism engendered by out-of-context global perceptions? Or does it spare Gazan civilians and forgo striking Hamas targets — thus exposing the Israelis whom it is responsible to protect to ongoing attack?
Since morality is of no consequence to the Hamas, whatever Israel chooses — dead Israelis or dead Gazans — Hamas’ objective is achieved. In the face of this, Israel has done what no nation has ever done in order to protect civilians on both sides:
♦ Israel has invested its resources into building shelters for its population — while Hamas has invested all of its resources into making bunkers for its leaders and tunnels for its terrorists.
♦ Israel has kept its civilians out of harm’s way, sending its soldiers forward to act as a shield between them and the enemy — while Hamas has fired from mosques, stored weapons in U.N. schoolyards, and established headquarters under hospitals and inside homes.
♦ Israel has readily agreed to every ceasefire proposal, hoping to avoid further bloodshed — while Hamas has cynically violated all ceasefire arrangements and stonewalled the ceasefire talks taking place in Cairo.
♦ Israel has used its know-how to develop, with the United States, anti-rocket missiles to protect its population, as well as precision bombs to limit collateral damage to Gaza civilians — while Hamas has used its know-how to manufacture blind rockets useful only for firing into large civilian targets such as cities.
♦ Israel has expended vast efforts to warn every Gazan civilian in a target area to evacuate in order to avoid injury, with telephone calls, text messages, leaflets and warning shots — while Hamas instructs its population to disregard Israeli warnings and remain in target zones to protect Hamas military assets with their lives.
In short, Israel is employing its arsenal to protect civilians, while Hamas is employing its civilians to protect its arsenal.
Due to this evil yet effective tactic, the world has become accustomed to rockets raining down on Israel, and to seeing Israel exercising restraint and absorbing terrorist blows. Israelis ask: How much restraint would any other country show if its population was on the receiving end of a tiny fraction of such a terrorist onslaught?
Yet, Israel’s restraint has its limitations. On July 7, after an intolerable escalation of rocket fire, Israel began precision air strikes against Hamas targets. Last week, however, Hamas carried out yet another atrocity — a cross-border terrorist infiltration through a tunnel extending from within the Gaza Strip to the very gates of Kibbutz Sufa. Over a dozen heavily armed Hamas gunmen were intercepted just minutes before carrying out their planned massacre of Israeli civilians. This latest attack revealed the extent of the Hamas offensive tunnel threat which cannot not be countered from the air, and left Israel with no other choice than to launch a ground action. Since that time, the Hamas use of human shields in an intensified urban conflict has led to a tragic upsurge in casualties among the hostage Gazan population.
This conflict is not of Israel’s choosing, and the civilians of Gaza are not its enemy. It must, however, protect its citizens from imminent Hamas terrorist attacks. Israel has not lost sight of its ultimate goal, that of living in peace with its neighbors. Yet, if we ever want to achieve this goal, Hamas must be disarmed and distanced from any leadership role among the Palestinians. To this end, the ill-advised recent PLO-Hamas coalition agreement must be relegated to the dustbin of history.
When it comes time to get back to peacemaking, our neighbors will find us both forgiving and morally strong. The late Prime Minister Golda Meir put it best when she said: “We can forgive them for killing our children, but we cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill theirs.”
Chaim Shacham is the Consul General of the State of Israel to Florida and Puerto Rico.