January 9, 2009 - As the conflict in Gaza continues into its second week, much of the world's attention is focused on Israel as perpetrator of a monstrous act of aggression. Israel's actions in Gaza have been called everything from "disproportionate" to "genocide." What Israel is now doing in Gaza baffles many who are simply trying to make sense out of what is going on.
The conflict reached a critical point on Tuesday when a school in Gaza was hit by an Israeli shell. About 40 Palestinians died, among them some children. Condemnation of Israel rose to deafening levels. "How can any civilized country do such a thing?" many are wondering. And so it is important to state clearly just what Israel is fighting for, and why we should care about it too.
During the past seven years Palestinian terrorists in Gaza fired over 4,000 rockets at population centers in southern Israel, and an equal number of mortar bombs: over 8,000 attacks total. Sometimes these rockets are dismissed as "home-made" weapons that do little damage. Nothing could be further from the truth. Hamas is now using battle-grade Grad missiles smuggled from Iran and China, and aiming them at civilians. These projectiles can reach as far as Ashdod and Be'er Sheva and their range keeps increasing, as well as their payloads. Not only have many buildings been heavily damaged, people have been wounded and killed. On the same day the Gaza school was hit a Katyusha rocket slammed into Gedera, 25 miles north of Gaza and only 18 miles from Tel Aviv, injuring a baby.
The population of southern Israel has been traumatized and already one third of the residents of Sderot have fled, as have many others. Many business have been ruined. Children are stricken with fear and cannot learn in school. There was no international protest. There was no action by the UN. Yet firing missiles on civilians is not just terrorism, it's a war crime. Hamas's objective seems to be to make southern Israel uninhabitable. With help from Hezbollah in the north it hopes to shrink Israel, small as it is, eventually into nothing.
Israel's choice was to allow missiles of increasing power to bombard its cities, or to try to stop it. If this happened in your town, how would you want to respond?
One particular incident, not even a violent one, captures the spirit of Hamas. Last month at a rally Hamas featured a demonstrator dressed like kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, begging in Hebrew to return home. "I miss my Mom and Dad," cried the mock Shalit.
This contempt for human feeling is just a symptom of the anti-spiritual values that motivate Hamas. The institutionalization of hatred that permeates Palestinian society, thanks to Palestinian leadership in general and Hamas in particular, is extensively documented. This includes poisoning the minds of children practically from the cradle, teaching them that Jews are subhuman, even using children's TV to incite hatred and broadcasting sermons calling Jews "monkeys and pigs."
Hamas is often praised for providing "social services." But this is no humanitarian gesture. It promotes financial dependence on Hamas and gives Hamas a platform for radicalizing the public and undermining moderate Palestinian leaders. In return for these services, loyalty to Hamas is expected. Through these services and through the schools Hamas can influence an entire generation of children. It promotes death in the name of religion and idealizes the martyr. One Gaza psychologist said: "Martyrdom has become an ambition for our children. If they had a proper education in a normal environment, they won't have looked for a value in death."
Besides mentioning the above, in his report on the Hamas system of indoctrination Matthew Levitt further describes Hamas's culture of death:
In 2001, the Islamic Society in Gaza held a graduation ceremony for the 1,650 children who attend its forty-one kindergartens. Photographs of the graduation ceremony show preschool age children wearing military uniforms and carrying mock rifles; a five-year-old girl dips her hands in red paint to mimic the bloodied hands Palestinians proudly displayed after the lynching of two Israelis in Ramallah; another child is dressed as Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yasin and surrounded by other children costumed as suicide bombers.
There is no more potent weapon than the mind of a child.
Ín Hamas-run Gaza, hatred is an industry. And that industry produces people like a 21-year-old "militant" who came to Shifa hospital in Gaza City to treat his wounded leg.
"Hurry, I must get back so I can keep fighting," he told the doctor.
The doctor informed him he would have to wait, because others more seriously wounded needed attention. These included a teenage girl screaming in pain from a leg wound, an elderly man soaked in blood, and a man with a serious head injury.
But he couldn't wait. "We are fighting the Israelis," he insisted. "When we fire we run, but they hit back so fast. We run into the houses to get away." All through this exchange he was smiling.
"Why are you so happy?" asked a reporter who was present. "Look around you. Don’t you see the misery that you are helping to cause? Don’t you see that these people are hurting?”
"But I am from the people, too," he replied, his smile widening. "They lost their loved ones as martyrs. They should be happy. I want to be a martyr, too."
This is a culture of death. "We desire death as much as you desire life." The Hamas warrior wants to die for his religion, and so should all Palestinians. Thus Hamas is only too willing to sacrifice fellow Palestinians for the cause. So Hamas fighters mount mortars and anti-aircraft guns on civilian rooftops, where they know Israelis are going to return fire. They position rocket launchers near civilian houses, schools, and mosques. Videos exist proving this.
Hamas also fired at Israel from a location immediately next to the school where so many died last Tuesday. An Associated Press report published in the Guardian states that there are witnesses: "Two residents of the area who spoke with the Associated Press by telephone said they saw a small group of militants firing mortar rounds from a street near the school." As the "militant" said in the Gaza hospital: "When we fire we run, but they hit back so fast." Hamas knew that the school would be hit once it started firing from such close proximity.
Hamas uses its own people as human shields - clearly a war crime - because it considers them martyrs to the cause, and because it knows there is no more effective way to bring down pressure on Israel than to pile up Palestinian casualties. Israel does not want to kill civilians. It even treats wounded Palestinians in Israeli hospitals. Israel looks bad because "so few" of its own citizens have died (how many deaths does it take to be "enough"?). Thousands of Israelis would have died had bomb shelters and warning alarms not been provided for their safety, and had they kept their schools open while the rockets flew. Even though Hamas constructed a network of 500 tunnels to make weapons smuggling easy, it has not built a single bomb shelter for the Palestinians. Instead, Hamas operatives gather people onto rooftops of buildings they think Israel is going to hit.
The Israeli army even found a map showing that Hamas deliberately places sniper positions near mosques and plants bombs at the entrances of civilian homes. One large bomb was placed near a gas station. Had it gone off, the gas station would have gone up with it and civilians certainly would have died.
This is the Hamas culture of death, and it is winning the propaganda war, because people either don't know about it or can't bring themselves to believe it. But it is real, and it is why everyone should care about the outcome in Gaza. Not only is the Hamas culture of death set on destroying Israel, it is destroying the Palestinians. No matter where in the world we live, we cannot afford this culture of death to prevail. There must be peace in the Middle East, with great efforts made by both sides, but before that can happen this culture of death must be exposed and discredited.
The relative casualty count in this conflict is deceptive. There is a story the numbers don't tell. The story is told by the rockets, how they are changing and morphing into continually more powerful versions of themselves. The story is told by pronouncements of Hamas that the world ignores, stating in its Charter that "Israel, by virtue of its being Jewish and of having a Jewish population, defies Islam and the Muslims" (Article 28), and that "Israel will rise and will remain erect until Islam eliminates it as it had eliminated its predecessors" (Preamble). The only "occupation" Hamas really cares about is the occupation by Israel of any space on the planet.
"Occupation" is only one excuse Hamas makes for murder. Another is the blockade. There was no blockade in 2001 when the first rockets fell on Sderot. The blockade was a response to the rockets, not their cause, and was instituted years later. Without some control over the borders the ability of Hamas to smuggle rockets into Gaza would be unimpeded. This is why Israel is reluctant to relax control over the border (and Egypt has also sealed its own border with Gaza). As for occupation, there was no occupation of Gaza after 2005, yet the rockets increased. Hamas is playing a clever word game, defining "occupation" differently than most everybody else. To Hamas "occupation" means Israel's existence, and that is what Hamas struggles against. The statement needs no proof; Hamas admits it.
The rocket fire from Gaza has been progressing. The first Qassams could only reach as far as Sderot. Then Israelis were shocked when they felt the rockets hitting Ashkelon. The newer missiles can reach as far as Ashdod and Be'er Sheva, and have even hit close to Tel Aviv. Including the threat from Hezbollah on the north, another Iran proxy sworn to Israel's destruction, soon all of Israel will be within missile range, and all it will take to finish off the country will be an order from Tehran.
This is why Israel feels it must stop the missile threat now. The longer it waits, the more powerful and accurate the missiles become, and the day will arrive when even the bomb shelters won't be able to keep the casualties down.
But what about appealing to the humanity of Hamas? Why not reason with them, negotiate with them? Here is Hamas's answer, from its Charter (Article 32): "Leaving the circle of conflict with Israel is a major act of treason and it will bring curse on its perpetrators." As long as Hamas is granted any legitimacy, the conflict cannot end because for Hamas, ending it would violate a sacred principle.
Appeal to Hamas's humanity? Hamas's value system is completely anti-humanistic. It represents a reversal of basic human values. Where we place life, Hamas places death - as Hamas, like al-Qaeda, never tires of reminding us. For Hamas death is a virtue and murder meritorious, winning the approval of God. With this poisonous anti-spiritual culture of death Hamas is destroying the Palestinian people, and those who claim to care about the Palestinians should be the first ones out there denouncing Hamas. Those who care about Middle East peace should desire the repudiation of Hamas and everything it stands for, so that the real issues between Israel and the Palestinians can be addressed. The precedent of "land for rockets" that Hamas has set is destroying any possibility of a two-state solution. Israel's withdrawal from Gaza resulted in war on its southern cities. As long as Israel is convinced that further withdrawals will put more of its cities in danger, there will be no further withdrawals and there will be no peace process.
And those who live anywhere in the world and who care about spirituality and about life must shudder at the prospect of the Hamas death culture not only dominating the Palestinians but extending its influence and power once Israel has finally been destroyed.
Associated Press. "Hamas Parades Mock Gilad Shalit Before Crowd of Thousands in Gaza." Ha'aretz, December 14, 2008.
Barzak, Ibrahim and Jason Keyser (Associated Press writers). "Gaza Truce Proposed After Israeli Shell Kills 30." Guardian.co.uk, January 7, 2009.
El-Khodary, Taghreed. "Fighter Sees His Paradise in Gaza’s Pain." New York Times, January 8, 2009.
El-Khodary, Taghreed and Isabel Kershner. "Israeli Shells Kill 40 at Gaza U.N. School." New York Times, January 6, 2009.
IDF Spokesperson's Office. Mortar Bombs Shot from UN School in Gaza. Video, October 29, 2007.
IDF Spokesperson's Office. Precision Airstrikes on Hamas Terror Targets. Video, January 7, 2009.
Katz, Yakov. "IDF Unveils Hamas Map Seized in Gaza." Jerusalem Post, January 8, 2009.
Levinson, Charles. "The Hamas Terror War Against Israel." Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, January 1, 2009.
Levitt, Matthew. "Teaching Terror: How Hamas Radicalizes Palestinian Society." Washington Institute for Near East Policy, February 12, 2007.
Peace with Realism