Defending Israel’s Gaza policy

A couple of weeks ago, I met with a coworker from my summer job for ice cream and a friendly debate about Israel, Gaza, and Operation Protective Edge. I took note of the arguments that he used most often, all of which were familiar to me from a multitude of past debates. I have included below eight most common anti-Israel arguments in the wake of Operation Protective Edge and my responses to them.

Hamas is just fighting back against the Israeli blockade, which is starving the people of Gaza: The food crisis in Gaza is not a result of the Israeli blockade. There are United Nations channels through which food can be, and has been, sent into the Gaza Strip. Although any country may use those channels to supply the Gazan people with aid (and many have), the focus of “pro-Palestinian” activism has been more on trying to force Israel to lift the blockade, which it cannot do without facing an enormous influx of the materials that cannot be sent in through the UN (e.g. guns, explosives) from the allies of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, such as Iran, Qatar, and Turkey. If more Westerners genuinely cared for the Palestinian people, and thus focused on providing aid through legitimate channels, there would not be such a crisis. As of now, Israel is the top provider of aid to the Palestinians (yesterday alone, Israel sent 4,839 tons of goods and aid into the Gaza Strip, including 2,353 tons of food). Moreover, if Hamas did not divert so many resources to its own projects, much more would be available for civilian needs. The clearest example of this problem is the immense amount of concrete, a valuable commodity in the Gaza Strip, that Hamas has wasted over the past few years digging tunnels into Israel for the purpose of murdering and kidnapping Israeli civilians instead of using it to build housing for Palestinian civilians. Of course, it is undeniable that Gaza would have an easier time developing an independent economy if there was no blockade at all, but the existence of the blockade is also Hamas’ fault. The blockade exists to fight back against Hamas, which started launching rockets at Israel even before the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in 2005. The event that directly prompted the blockade was the near tripling of rocket attacks targeting Israeli civilian populations immediately after Hamas came to power in 2006. As of now, Israel legitimately fears that a lifting of the blockade would open the doors for Iran, Qatar, Turkey, and others to pour ammunition and military technology into the Gaza Strip, allowing Hamas to build everything from an arsenal of Iron-Dome-penetrating rockets to an air force, all with the continued intention of taking over Israel and wiping out the Jewish people. If Israel could count on Hamas to stop attacking civilians, the blockade could be lifted.

More Gazans have died than have Israelis, and the Israeli casualties have mostly been soldiers, while Gazan deaths tend to be civilians: Although many more Palestinians die than Israelis in a given escalation, Israel is not responsible for the vast majority of deaths. In a sense, Israel is responsible for no deaths at all, because every escalation to date has been caused by Hamas rocket fire at civilian areas. On a case by case basis, moreover, Israel has done everything that it can to protect Palestinian civilians through all manner of warnings before Israeli planes strike their targets, while Hamas has done everything it can to expose Palestinian civilians to danger by choosing densely populated areas as locations for military operations. Hamas does this so that there will be large numbers of Palestinian casualties to point to for their own propaganda machines, as though Israel were responsible for their deaths. While I share others’ dismay about every civilian death on either side of the border, Hamas must be held accountable for causing those deaths, and Israel should be praised for all it does to avoid them. The reason that there are so many fewer Israeli casualties, despite Hamas’ deliberate attacks on civilians (most recently targeting a kindergarten in the Eshkol region and Ben-Gurion Airport), is that Israel, unlike Hamas, expends enormous resources protecting its civilians through such projects as the Iron Dome missile defense system and a system of sirens and bomb shelters that prioritize civilian safety (as opposed to Hamas shelters, which are reserved for militants and thus leave civilians exposed). The irony at the core of the casualty count argument is that it gives a belligerent more credibility for every death it suffers, a concept that plays perfectly into the Hamas strategy and demonizes Israel for its value of human life.

Israel deliberately targets civilians in Gaza: Unlike Hamas, Israel has a very strict policy of avoiding civilians to whatever extent possible in all military operations. While Hamas fires rockets into civilian areas of Israel, Israeli forces drop warning leaflets and often make warning phone calls to houses within range of a planned strike so that civilians can clear the area. It is Hamas that asks civilians to remain within Strike Zones, often either convincing them that Israeli warnings are fake or using threats and coercion to ensure that as many Palestinian civilians as possible are killed by Israeli bombs. They do so because they know that high numbers of Palestinian casualties will fuel public opinion against Israel both in Gaza and on the world stage. A captured Hamas handbook on Urban Warfare even reads, “The destruction of civilian homes: This increases the hatred of the citizens towards the attackers [Israel] and increases their support of the city defenders [Hamas].” In fact, so determined is Israel to save Palestinian lives, that Israeli planes regularly abort important security missions when they become aware of civilian presences (a practice not observed by most other militaries, including that of the United States), and Israeli medics put themselves in harm’s way to evacuate Palestinians to Israeli hospitals for treatment whenever possible.

The bombing of United Nations facilities is never justifiable: UN shelters and other facilities are only sacred as long as they are treated as such by all involved belligerents. Hamas has used UN facilities to store weapons and house militants, so that Israel would be suffering its own civilians to be in danger if it did not treat those facilities as the terrorist military installations they have become. Nevertheless, as with other military targets, the Israeli army has carefully warned the managers of all such facilities before bombing them. The Israeli army has published some very compelling aerial photos that are relevant to this topic, which can be found on Facebook here.

It is unacceptable for Israel to bomb Gaza because the enclave is so densely populated that any attack will necessarily kill civilians: While the total number of people for square mile of Gaza is very high, the distribution of residents is actually such that most Gazans are concentrated in a few population centers, including Gaza City and Khan Yunis, leaving significant areas of the strip nearly empty. Please see the maps that Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz uses in his related article for the Gatestone Institute for an understanding of how much open land is available for Hamas bases, weapons storage, tunnel entrances, and missile launch pads, if Hamas was not deliberately trying to put Palestinian civilians in harm’s way. If Hamas chose to operate out of less dense areas, civilian casualties would not be inevitable, but Hamas deliberately places its installations in areas where civilians are likely to be killed in the crossfire.

Hamas is just trying to reclaim land stolen from the Palestinians by Israel in the Israeli War of Independence: In 1947, the United Nations proposed a Partition Plan that would have resulted in a two-state solution that could have resolved the fledgling Arab-Israeli conflict. Had the pan-Arabists, then representing the Palestinians, accepted that plan, as Israel did, there would not have been any war at all. During that war, Israel struggled to fend off several attackers at once and, in doing so, conquered land that anti-Zionists now claim was “Palestinians,” as though Arab negotiators had agreed to the Partition Plan. Even when such land came under Israeli control, Israel offered citizenship to the Arab residents, whose descendants are today’s Israeli Arabs (equal citizens). Those who became refugees largely did because they abandoned their homes at the bidding of Hajj Amin al-Husseini, a Hitler-allied Islamist radical who asked the Arab residents of Palestine to leave in order to make his own mission to wipe out the Jews of Palestine easier to carry out. It is undeniable that a minority of Palestinian Arabs were expelled by radical Jewish groups during the war, to be sure, but many Palestinian Jews were displaced and/or massacred by radical Arab groups in the same time period, and hundreds of thousands of Jews were also expelled by the governments and peoples of various Arab countries in an effort to punish the Jewish people as a whole for Israel’s birth. Finally, that Israel is so heavily criticized for winning land in war, and that anyone demands the land be returned without the other belligerent making any concessions, even peace, demonstrates an enormous double standard. Almost every land war in history has resulted in some change of borders, but Israel more than any other country regularly comes under attack on the world stage.

Israel is not making enough concessions in negotiations for a lasting truce: In discussing negotiations between Israel and Hamas, it is important to acknowledge Hamas’ goals, both stated and historically proven. They are not goals for the betterment of Palestinian lives. Rather, Hamas is a branch of the pan-Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, which seeks the destruction of Israel and all other nations that do not legally enforce the radical Brotherhood brand of Sharia Law. If Hamas credibly declared a goal of peace, as has Israel, and lay down its arms, as has Fatah, the blockade could be lifted and serious negotiations for a long-term agreement would be imminent. A mutual goal of peace is expected in every deal between any two entities, and Hamas should be held to that same standard. Nevertheless, Hamas accepts no solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict other than genocide, as the Hamas charter declares, “The time will not come until Muslims will fight the Jews (and kill them); until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: O Muslim! There is a Jew hiding behind me, come on and kill him!” Therefore, Hamas has only ever accepted agreements that have helped them to renew their assault on Israeli society with even more vigor at the next opportunity, a policy that has not changed in years and is not likely to change any time soon. For this reason, compounded with the fact that Hamas started the current and all past escalations by violating the ceasefire in place and has prematurely broken every ceasefire for the past several weeks, it is difficult for Israeli negotiators to trust the Hamas leadership. Furthermore, the Palestinian Authority, with which Hamas recently merged in the new “Unity Government,” already pledged a demilitarization of Gaza upon the Israeli withdrawal from the enclave (a similar idea to the peace agreements that demilitarized Japan and Germany, now two of the most successful countries in the world, at the end of World War II, for example), a promise that Hamas has egregiously violated. That is to say, Israel’s primary demand is only for adherence to a past agreement for the protection of Israeli civilians, and it is that demand that Hamas most vehemently opposes, because its negotiators are under orders not to make peace but to prepare for more war.

Hamas is a legitimate, democratically elected government: Hamas is far from a legitimate government, and the idea of the current Gaza administration as a democracy is nothing more than myth. Hamas was elected only once in 2006, under questionable terms, and since then has refused to hold another election, clinging to power for years without consulting the Palestinian people. Hamas militants massacred members of Fatah, their only strong opposition, immediately after their rise to power, and today keep any survivors either in exile outside the Gaza Strip or under a violently enforced form of house arrest. The Hamas leadership restricts all media in Gaza, both Palestinian and international, and frequently executes large numbers of dissenters (including three this morning), preventing resistance movements from coalescing through the perpetual aura of fear that public hangings and none-too-discreet assassinations create. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently compared Hamas to the Islamic State (formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), which has very similar goals and uses similar tactics of repression. Yet while the world condemns the Islamic State, as it should, it fails to see that Hamas has the same aspirations and would act upon them if not checked by Israeli actions in Gaza.

About the Author
Benjamin Gladstone is a junior at Brown University, where he is pursuing degrees in Middle East Studies and Judaic Studies and where he serves as president of Brown Students for Israel, the Brown University Coalition for Syria, and Students for Responsible Policies in Yemen. In addition to blogging with the Times of Israel, Benjamin is a Scribe Contributor at The Forward, and his work has been published in the Tower Magazine, the Jewish Advocate, the Brand Of Milk And Honey, the Hill, the Brown Daily Herald, the Brown Political Review, and the New York Times. He is a founder and editor of ProgressME, a student publication that highlights underrepresented voices on Southwest Asian issues.