Operation ‘Finger of God’

Upper floor of al-ata family house just after IDF missile direct hit
Upper floor of al-ata family house just after IDF missile direct hit

Preface: What follows is difficult to write. Having been a pro-Israel advocate for more than 40 years, including a professional stint with AIPAC in Washington D.C., my criticism of Israel has been in private, until moving to Israel last summer. It has always been my contention that if you wanted to criticize Israel, you should move there. Well I did, having relocated my home to the southern Negev town of Mitzpe Ramon.

I can never truly feel the pain of an Israeli family who have lost a loved one to a violent terrorist act such as a bus bombing, murder while out on a hike or while driving home. It happens occasionally (too often) and I know the trauma changes the family and community forever.

Until recently, American Jews had not been singled out for targeting by American right-wing anti-Semites, that changed dramatically when a gunman entered a Pittsburgh Synagogue last year looking to kill Jews.

Israelis have lived with this reality for more than 70 years, some among the millions of people living very nearby have dedicated themselves to finding ways of killing Jews/Israelis and have succeeded in dramatically traumatic incidents no one living in Israel can ever forget. Thus, a targeted assassination of a Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader in Gaza is rationalized, and the ‘collateral damage’ of killing his wife is absorbed as an unfortunate side effect.

My observations and views are meant to honor their pain not demean or minimize it.

Operation Finger of God

At 3 am this past Tuesday, unable to sleep I checked twitter and found the picture above and the news that Israel Defense Forces air force, under direction and approval of PM Netanyahu, (who served as both PM and self-appointed Defense Minister) had fired a missile into the bedroom of sleeping ‘militant’, terrorist’ (pick your favorite dehumanizing description) leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza on the coast of the Mediterranean, about 40 miles south of Tel Aviv. The blast killed Al-Ata and his wife and their son was found injured on the street below blown out of his bed. This act is a ‘targeted assassination’ which Israel justifies for ‘ticking time-bombs’, more on that later. The IDF spokesperson announced a couple of days later that they dubbed the missile attack and subsequent attacks on secondary Gaza targets, Operation Black Belt, I call it Operation Finger of God.

I’ve noticed that many Israeli politicians speak in parables especially on Twitter, as if by demonstrating some familiarity with Jewish biblical passages invoking a Torah parable, it enhances their stature among the Israeli public. My allusion to the Finger of God is found in several places in the five books of Moses, particularly the story of the Exodus out of Egypt and the transmission via Moses of the Ten Commandments written with the Finger of God on stone tablets. Of course the fifth commandment is ‘thou shall not kill’.

In an elected democracy such as Israel’s, the prime minister acts in the name of the Israeli people under the authority of the laws of the state. Normally an elected prime minister would have a civilian defense minister overseeing the military, but PM Netanyahu has served as both prime minister and defense minister under his own authority for years (until last Wednesday when, for political reasons, he appointed a former minister of education, Naftali Bennet, as defense minister).

A decision to send an F-15 armed with a missile with orders to fire that missile into the bedroom of a home in Gaza is, in my opinion pushing the God button. A decision of who shall live and who shall die. It was PM Netanyahu who made that decision and gave that order as the finger of God, in the name of all the Israeli people, and as a prospective citizen, in my name as well.

Within hours, Israeli politicians in the midst of crucial negotiations (now failed) on forming the next government, lined up to give bellicose quotes demonstrating they would be just as tough and willing to make such a decision in the future. Parroting this statement from PM Netanyahu, “we can reach everyone even in their bed”.

Gaza Palestinian military organizations began reprisals by firing essentially unguided missiles toward Israel targeting cities and towns. While these entirely predictable actions began taking place, the Israeli Air Force began missile attacks on secondary targets in Gaza. A mini-war had begun. Mini that is unless you or your family were caught in the line of fire whether that was Ashdod, Ashkelon, Tel-Aviv or Gaza City.

Let’s not forget that there were many Israelis who have been urging PM Netanyahu for weeks, months and years to deploy the Israeli army and air force in just such an action. A good example is this column by Adele Raemer, who has lived in a small Israeli kibbutz bordering the Gaza strip since 1975 and earlier this summer excoriated Israel’s government for its failure to take action after Gaza rockets landed at a nearby summer music festival.

In conjunction with the Israeli military and political statements, immediately came public statements of support from American Jewish pro-Israel organizations and leaders. I took exception to a tweet from Jewish Council of Public Affairs CEO David Bernstein (@Davidlbernstein) who wrote,

“indiscriminate rocket fire by terrorist organizations in Gaza is a double war crime: targeting Israel’s civilian population and launching the rockets from within Gaza’s civilian neighborhoods and institutions.”

My exception was based on leaving out the part about Israel’s targeted assassination which prompted the subsequent indiscriminate rockets fired from Gaza. Is a rocket fired from an F-15 into the bedroom of al-Ata a potential war crime? Who’s to say, right?

Speaking of potential war crimes, the following day Israel’s air force selected a secondary target as rockets continued toward random areas of Israel. The Times of Israel reported a Gaza family of 8 killed in their house by as Israeli missile. According to news coverage, the building where the family lived was on a list of potential targets, but Israeli defense officials confirmed to that it had not been looked at over the past year or checked prior to the attack.

Eight members of Gaza family laid out for burial – victims of IDF missile Gaza 11/14/19

“This was a very simple, poor family, who lived from hand to mouth in a tin shack, with no water or electricity,” a neighbor who knew the family said on Thursday. “They lived of herding sheep and were known as simple, poor people. The Palestinian Health Ministry identified them as Rasmi al-Sawarkah, 45; his son Muhannad, 12; Maryam, 45; Muath Mohammed, 7; Wasim Mohammed, 13; Yousra, 39; and two toddlers

Israeli’s air force announced an investigation of the specific action, which will accomplish absolutely nothing to comfort the friends and family members and wider Gaza community. And as they say, the beat goes on.

Post Script:

Now, just 10 days later as of this writing, Israel’s public and newspapers have noticeably moved on. However, millions of Israeli lives were disrupted, schools were closed, businesses were closed, parents rushed children to bomb shelters, the economic damage to Israel is still being calculated, trauma and death impacted Gazans yet again.

Targeted assassination is a tactic (supposedly saved for ticking time bombs) part of a strategy of deterrence as the IDF spokespeople and PM Netanyahu claim, with no underlying policy initiatives to address the problem. If you are miles away, living out of the line of fire it’s easy to get back to normal day-to-day life.

Israeli Soldiers Head Back to Bases Sunday Morning at Be’er Sheva Bus Station

If however, you are a parent or grandparent of one of the amazing teenagers and twenty-somethings who go into the Israeli military every year you are essentially scared to death every day.

Don’t we owe these young people, their parents and grandparents more than going back to day-to-day life? Don’t friends/supporters of Israel have a responsibility to do more than issue statements and tweets highlighting the actions of only one side of this 70 year-old conflict?

Young Israeli Soldiers Grab Lunch at Jerusalem Bus Station

What if these were your kids?

About the Author
Ken Toltz began his professional career at AIPAC in Washington, D.C. from 1979 – 1982. He's a 3rd generation Colorado native, businessman and long-time gun violence prevention activist. After 42 years from his first visit to Israel he has relocated his home to Mitzpe Ramon in Israel's Negev.