David Breakstone
Reflections on Israel and the Jewish world
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It’s not the settlements, stupid

Israel's departure from Gaza was rewarded by murderous infiltrations, a horrific kidnapping and 11,000 rockets

No doubt we’d have an easier time explaining to the world why Israel has taken military action in Gaza if we weren’t sitting in the West Bank, but I, for one, am convinced that one thing has precious little to do with the other.

Saturday night. 9:25 pm. A siren just went off in the area enveloping Gaza. The internationally brokered 12-hour humanitarian cease fire ended barely an hour ago, and though Israel readily accepted a request that it be extended by four hours, Hamas, apparently has not, sending families who had enjoyed a respite from nearly three weeks of incessant rocket fire scurrying back into their shelters.

I’ve been watching the news since the end of Shabbat. For the first time, I’m seeing footage of the extensive destruction of large swaths of Gaza wrought by Israel’s air strikes and I’m bearing witness to simple Palestinians rummaging through the wreckage of their homes now reduced to rubble for tatters of their shattered lives. And again I find it impossible to fathom how this execrable enemy of ours can hold the people it undertook to serve in such contempt. If anyone, it is Hamas that should have welcomed a continued cessation of the hostilities while efforts continued behind the scenes to negotiate a more permanent truce. Ironically, though, it is Israelis who, even in the midst of this justified war, assembled Saturday evening in Tel Aviv’s Kikar Rabin demanding an end to Operation Protective Edge. They have another suggestion as to how we might deal with the threat posed by the thousands of rockets still stockpiled in Gaza and the 30-plus tunnels emanating in nests of terrorism and terminating under the dining halls of pastoral kibbutzim: negotiate a diplomatic settlement.

What an original thought. Gee, why didn’t John Kerry think of that? I guess I’m not really as much of a leftist as I’ve prided myself on being all these years, or maybe I’m just not as obtuse as some of my fellow travelers seem to have become. But I have familiarized myself with the Hamas charter which clearly and simply demands Israel’s destruction, rejects any mediated solution to the conflict, and calls for the outright murder of Jews. Yes Jews, not only Zionists. I can’t resist: for those who have not yet read the document, it glorifies the Day of Judgment “when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees and the stones and trees will say, ‘O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.'” (Article 7)

10:00 pm. Hamas has fired another half dozen or so rockets into Israel. Its desire for the dawn of this Day of Judgment is greater than its hunger for alleviating the darkness to which it has subjected its people. So much for the party that came to power on a platform of social welfare, education, and prosperity. In the nine years since Israel left Gaza, billions of dollars of humanitarian aid have been squandered on turning the strip into a military stronghold rather than the model society it might have become. As tragically comical as segments of the Hamas Charter can be at times, we had best start taking its ridiculousness seriously. “The Zionist invasion is vicious… using all evil and contemptible ways to achieve its end. It relies greatly… on the secret organizations it gave rise to, such as the Freemasons, The Rotary and Lions clubs, and other sabotage groups. All these organizations, whether secret or open, work in the interest of Zionism and according to its instructions. They aim at undermining societies, destroying values, corrupting consciences, deteriorating character and annihilating Islam. It is behind the drug trade and alcoholism in all its kinds so as to facilitate its control and expansion.” [Article 28] With whom, exactly, are we supposed to reach that diplomatic accord?

It is no longer news, but also no longer deniable that Hamas has deliberately stored its weapons and established its launching pads under the cover of innocent civilians – men, women and children, real people who bleed and hurt and die and whose limbs are torn asunder and whose guts spill into the dust when Israeli bombs and mortars explode into their homes and schools and hospitals. I truly and honestly feel for them. But truly and honestly, not as much for them as I do for our own children, whom we dress up in army uniforms and send off as soldiers to fight proudly and nobly in a war that is not of their making, but from which, nevertheless, some inevitably return lifeless, others maimed, and all with a loss of innocence.  An innocence which we can no longer afford to harbor either. The Hamas Charter explicitly calls for the complete obliteration of Israel and exalts “the Slogan of the Islamic Resistance Movement:  Allah is its target, the Prophet is its model, the Koran its constitution: Jihad is its path and death for the sake of Allah is the loftiest of its wishes.” [Article 8]

If we refrain from firing at their military targets in order to avoid inflicting civilian casualties, that is their victory. If we sometimes kill civilians despite having taken steps to avoid that, so be it. Hamas feels no remorse over its tactic of creating human shields. It is part of their strategy. Life and death are measured differently on the two sides of the border.

In other words, it’s not the settlements, stupid. That’s not what this war is about. No doubt we’d have an easier time explaining to the world why Israel has taken military action in Gaza if we weren’t sitting in the West Bank, as the average bystander doesn’t distinguish between the two enclaves and “knows” only that we are occupying Palestinian land. But I, for one, am convinced that one thing has precious little to do with the other. We left Gaza nearly a decade ago in the hope that our withdrawal would be welcomed as an opportunity to construct an infrastructure that would advance the well-being of its people, who, in due course, would join with their brethren in the West Bank in forging a Palestinian state that would exist side-by-side with Israel in peace. Instead, our ever so painful uprooting of thousands of Israelis from their homes in Gaza was rejoined by murderous infiltrations, a horrific kidnapping, and a constant barrage of rockets — more than 11,000 since the disengagement!

I hope and pray that a reasonable cease fire will be negotiated quickly. If not, I hope and pray that our forces will quickly manage to do what needs to be done in order to neutralize Hamas’ ability to do us harm and that then all our soldiers will be brought back to safety, there to be welcomed by families who they enabled to emerge from their shelters to shower upon them the appreciation they deserve. Until then, those who understand the situation Israel has been forced into, need to do whatever they can to ensure that others understand it as well.

About the Author
Dr. David Breakstone is presently engaged in establishing the Yitzhak Navon Center for a Shared Society. He previously served as deputy chair of the Jewish Agency executive and the World Zionist Organization and was the conceptual architect and founding director of the Herzl Museum and Educational center in Jerusalem.