Monitor Board of Contributors: Truth and context were early casualties in Gaza conflict
Smoke rises following an Israeli strike on Gaza, seen from the Israel-Gaza Border, Friday July 11, 2014. Rocket fire by Palestinian militants continued in earnest from Gaza toward various locations in southern Israel. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
An Iron Dome air defense system fires to intercept a rocket from Gaza Strip in the costal city of Ashkelon, Israel, Saturday, July 5, 2014. The Israeli military said its Iron Dome defense system intercepted the rockets that were aimed at Beersheba. The military also said at least 29 other rockets and mortars were fired from the Gaza Strip at Israel over the weekend. It said it had retaliated with airstrikes on militant sites in Gaza. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)
An Israeli firefighter inspects the site after a rocket fired by militants hit Ashdod, Israel, Tuesday, July 15, 2014. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warns Hamas that Israel will intensify its week-long campaign against Gaza militants if Hamas rejects an Egyptian-proposed cease-fire. The truce was supposed to go into effect early on Tuesday morning but the Israeli military says 24 rockets have been fired at Israel from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip since the expected start of the cease-fire. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Israeli infantry soldiers rest before walking to their armored personnel carriers to move to a new position on the Israel-Gaza border, Saturday, July 12, 2014. Israeli airstrikes targeting Hamas in Gaza hit a mosque its military says concealed the militant group's weapons, as the Palestinian death toll topped 120 Saturday in an offensive that showed no signs of slowing down. Israel launched its campaign five days ago to stop relentless rocket fire on its citizens. While there have been no fatalities in Israel, Palestinian officials said overnight attacks raised the death toll there to over 120, with more than 920 wounded. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
As I walked around Main Street during Concord’s recent Market Days celebration, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when I saw a handwritten protest message on a piece of cardboard at the booth of the Palestinian Education Network, an arm of New Hampshire Peace Action. It read: “Stop the bombing of Gaza; end the occupation now.”
I considered laughing because of the misleading nature of the message. I considered crying because I knew that the message reflected a hatred of Israel – and Jews – that is growing across the world. (See, for example, the firebombing of a synagogue and Jewish-owned stores in Paris this week.) Let’s look at PEN’s message phrase by phrase.
‘Stop the bombing of Gaza’
Israel would gladly stop bombing Gaza if Hamas, the duly elected government of Gaza, would stop launching rockets into Israel. Since 2005, Hamas – a recognized terrorist organization whose stated mission is to wipe Israel and the Jews off the map (Adolph Hitler had a similar goal regarding the Jews during World War II) – has launched more than 13,000 rockets into Israel, approximately 1,800 in the past two weeks. Many people have called for a cease-fire.
∎ On July 15, at Egypt’s request for a cease-fire, Israel suspended attacks for six hours. Hamas fired 50 rockets into Israel during that time.
∎ On July 17, following a request by the United Nations for a humanitarian cease-fire, Israel again suspended attacks. Hamas kept firing rockets into Israel.
∎ On July 20, after the Red Cross requested a cease-fire in Shuja’iya, Israel again suspended attacks. Hamas kept up its rocket attacks from Shuja’iya into Israel.
Does PEN expect Israel to simply sit quietly while its citizens are under a barrage of constant rocket attacks? What country in this world would not fight back to defend its citizens?
I am deeply pained by the loss of life in Gaza. Hamas officials’ disregard for the well-being of the citizens who elected them is unconscionable. On the other hand, Israel has experienced minimal civilian deaths because its government makes protecting its citizens a top priority.
Israel builds bomb shelters for the safety of its civilians and sounds air raid sirens to direct its citizens to head into those shelters. And yet, deaths do occur. Last week, the first victim of the Hamas rockets was an elderly Arab woman who lived in the Jewish-Arab mixed Israeli city of Haifa. She died of a heart attack from the shock of hearing the air raid siren, the very same siren I heard before entering the bomb shelter in my Haifa hotel. This was the first of two sirens and two trips to bomb shelters that I experienced during my recent trip to Israel.
Israel developed the Iron Dome air defense system that has intercepted about 20 percent of the rockets launched by Hamas. Most of the other rockets have been wildly off course, landing in the sea, in uninhabited areas or in Palestinian towns in the West Bank. A second victim of the Hamas rockets was a three-year old Palestinian girl who lived in the Palestinian city of Hebron.
What has Hamas done to protect its citizens?
When Israel telephones civilians and drops leaflet warning charges – what is called “roof knocking” – before striking an area so that the civilians have time to leave, Hamas tells the people that it is Jewish propaganda and they need not seek safety elsewhere.
Hamas builds reinforced bunkers for its leaders (under hospitals and other must-avoid targets) but purposefully neglects to build bomb shelters for the civilians.
Hamas has used an estimated 600,000 tons of concrete to build underground tunnels to store weapons. Concrete is a precious resource in Gaza. The shortage of concrete has left many Gazans unable to rebuild homes and without work.
Hamas rocket teams operate from sites that are within Gaza’s most densely populated areas, and Hamas stores its weapons in schools, mosques and other places where civilians gather. No one in Israel was surprised when the United Nations Relief and Works Agency found 20 rockets inside of one of its schools in Gaza. What was the surprise? That the U.N.’s blatant anti-Israel bias manifested itself when the UNWRA turned those rockets over to a Hamas-created police force.
Let’s now look at the second part of PEN’s placard.
‘End the occupation now’
Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005, nearly 10 years ago. I’d encourage the members of PEN to read up on their history.
And when Israel left, how did the citizens of Gaza respond? As Charles Krauthammer wrote recently in the Washington Post: “It was less than 10 years ago that worldwide television showed the Israeli army pulling die-hard settlers off synagogue roofs in Gaza as Israel uprooted its settlements, expelled its citizens, withdrew its military and turned every inch of Gaza over to the Palestinians. There was not a soldier, not a settler, not a single Israeli left in Gaza. And there was no blockade. On the contrary. Israel wanted this new Palestinian state to succeed. To help the Gaza economy, Israel gave the Palestinians its 3,000 greenhouses that had produced fruit and flowers for export. It opened border crossings and encouraged commerce. And how did the Gaza Palestinians react . . .? First, they demolished the greenhouses. Then they elected Hamas. Then, instead of building a state with its attendant political and economic institutions, they spent the better part of a decade turning Gaza into a massive military base, brimming with terror weapons, to make ceaseless war on Israel. Where are the roads and rail, the industry and infrastructure of the new Palestinian state? Nowhere. Instead, they built mile upon mile of underground tunnels to hide their weapons and, when the going gets tough, their military commanders. They spent millions importing and producing rockets, launchers, mortars, small arms, even drones. They deliberately placed them in schools, hospitals, mosques and private homes to better expose their own civilians.”
The blockade that has existed in Gaza since 2007 was put in place by Israel and Egypt together in an attempt to combat the growing arms smuggling into Gaza. It is a blockade for certain, but it is not an occupation.
Perhaps the members of PEN are referring to Israel’s presence in the West Bank. If so, then their cardboard message is highly misleading and dishonest.
I refuse to call Israel’s presence in the West Bank an “occupation.” An occupation implies invading a country and establishing a government and presence in that nation. Let’s review the facts.
In 1947, the United Nations voted to create two states – a Jewish state and an Arab state. The Arab state would have included the West Bank, Gaza and much more of what now constitutes parts of Israel. Israel accepted this partition plan. The Arabs did not, desiring no Jewish presence in the area. This attitude defied history and reality, as Jews have lived continuously in the land for more than 3,000 years.
Israel declared its independence in 1948 and the Arab nations surrounding Israel immediately attacked. After Israel’s victory, the borders remained essentially as they were before. The West Bank was a part of Jordan. Palestinian refugees in the West Bank were given Jordanian citizenship, but many of the refugees continued to live in camps. In fact, Palestinian refugees constituted more than a third of the Jordan’s population of 1.5 million. Over the next 20 years, Jordan did absolutely nothing to improve the lives of the Palestinians living in the West Bank.
In 1967, despite Israel’s plea to Jordan that it remain neutral, Jordan attacked Israel on the first day of the Six-Day War. On the third day, Israel had pushed the Jordanian and Syrian armies out of the West Bank, seeking to secure its border with Jordan and to gain access to the Old City of Jerusalem, the holiest site in the world for Jews, which had been closed to Jews for nearly 2,000 years. During the war, Israel also pushed the Egyptian army out of the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip, and pushed the Syrian army out of the Golan Heights, again to secure its borders with its hostile neighbors.
In 1979, when Egypt and Israel reached a peace agreement, Israel returned the Sinai Peninsula. Egypt never asked for the return of Gaza; Egypt cared about the Palestinians in Gaza about as much as Jordan cared about the Palestinians in the West Bank. Syria has never recognized Israel nor sought peace with Israel and thus the Golan Heights remain a part of Israel.
In 1988, Jordan gave up all claims to the West Bank, making clear it never wanted anything to do with the people it had abandoned 40 years prior. At the time, Jordan declared the Palestine Liberation Organization to be the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. In 1988, the PLO would not recognize Israel’s right to exist. Thus, Israel had no partner to seek a solution to the West Bank conundrum. The PLO did not recognize Israel until 1993. The following year when Israel and Jordan signed a peace treaty, Jordan had no interest in discussing the West Bank.
I acknowledge that Israel has done many things wrong since it gained military control of the West Bank, most fundamentally expanding Jewish settlements. The presence of these Jewish enclaves has made and will continue to make the creation of an independent Palestinian home difficult. The Israeli government cannot simultaneously talk of a “two state solution” and expand the settlements. But even so, Israel’s presence in the West Bank is not an occupation. It began as a security strategy to protect its border with Jordan. Today, the government (I believe wrongly) holds on to the land primarily because it offers inexpensive housing options for many Israelis who cannot afford to live in Jerusalem.
I do not doubt the passion of the people of PEN. I simply urge them to present the facts honestly, not to confuse the conflict in Gaza with the situation in the West Bank, and to stop fueling the flames of hate toward Israel.
PEN’s own website states that, “We support the right of Palestinians and Israelis to live a peaceful life with freedom, opportunity, and dignity.” I have never seen any literature or ever heard any representative of PEN (or New Hampshire Peace Action) speak of freedom, opportunity or dignity for Israelis. If PEN members believe these words, then why don’t their actions reflect them? Perhaps the more honest thing to do would be to remove this one neutral/positive reference to Israel from its website.
(Rabbi Robin Nafshi is the spiritual leader of Temple Beth Jacob in Concord. She is also the co-founder and co-chairman of the New Hampshire chapter of Kids4Peace, a Jerusalem-based organization that brings together Israeli and Palestinian youth – Jewish, Muslim and Christian – in an effort to combat barriers, stereotypes and hatred to create a future of peace, not conflict.)