Imagine this. You’re on holiday, swimming in a picturesque Mediterranean beach on a boiling hot afternoon. Suddenly a loud siren sounds, indicating that rockets are expected to hit your area in approximately 90 seconds. People chaotically run from the water to the change rooms, which provide the only viable shelter within close proximity. You’re too slow. By the time you reach the change rooms they’re full. You judge that your best option is to lay flat on your stomach next to a one-meter tall concrete fence. Hopefully the fence can withstand the shrapnel which is packed into each rocket. Are you even on the correct side of the fence? The rockets are coming from the south-west. You should probably be against the north-east side of the fence. Before you have time to decide which direction is which, there are several deafening explosions above.
This was my personal experience recently. The rockets were fired by Hamas, a Gaza-based organization which the United States government and European Union classify as a terrorist group. I was in Tel Aviv; a modern metropolis consistently ranked among the world’s top progressive cities. As an Australian holidaying in Israel, the similarities between Tel Aviv and Sydney made my experience particularly remarkable, as the thought of sprinting to shelter at my local Australian beach seemed so bizarre.
Figures show that my situation carried a low likelihood of personal harm. Not only has the Israeli government installed sirens to warn of incoming rockets, but Israel’s investment in Iron Dome – an anti-missile system – has paid off. Approximately 90% of rockets fired at Israeli population centers, including those I encountered at the beach, have been intercepted. While the Iron Dome provides some safety to Israelis, the deaths of three civilians in Israel since the conflict’s outbreak demonstrate the deadly impact of rockets.
In sharp contrast to Israeli measures that limit casualties, Hamas embarks on a strategy to maximize Gazan casualties, which is outlined in a recently acquired Hamas manual. These divergent approaches have resulted in a skewed casualty count, which is used by some to support claims that Israel’s current operation to eliminate Hamas’ rocket-firing capability and illegal tunnel infrastructure is disproportionate. Since non-military approaches have not deterred Hamas, the natural extension of this view is that Israelis should tolerate a daily barrage of rockets, because taking preventive action will inevitably result in destruction that eclipses the damage Israel is sustaining.
A narrow perspective such as this, which essentially punishes Israel for effectively protecting its citizens, is problematic for several reasons. Under this reasoning, the actions of both sides are assessed concurrently, which falsely equates Israel’s tactical defensive actions with Hamas’ indiscriminate belligerent actions. However, most importantly, Israel’s casualty count does not reflect the ongoing toll on regular life that Hamas rocket attacks cause. During my short stay in Israel I caught a mere glimpse of this toll. The key question is not which side has suffered more deaths, but whether Israel has a right to take necessary actions which allow their citizens to live in peace, free of perpetual rocket fire.
To determine where you stand on this question, it’s useful to apply Israel’s predicament to your life and your city. Could you live every moment of every day continuously thinking about where you’ll run if a siren sounds? Could you get used to examining a map of public bomb shelters before choosing a restaurant or bar to attend for the night? Could you accept that sometimes, in the middle of a shower, you’ll be forced to quickly grab a towel and run to the staircase in as little as 15 seconds, where people from adjacent units will join you? Could you imagine sitting with your child and explaining to him or her that when they hear a siren, they must run to shelter or get down flat on their stomach with their arms covering their ears? Could you deal with the constant stress of knowing that a parent, grandparent or disabled relative cannot find shelter quickly enough if a rocket is incoming?
Now, ask yourself how you would want your government to respond to rocket attacks, given that its perpetrators will ruthlessly use their civilians as human shields to ensure that any counter-response comes with a price.