As you drive up the main road to Jerusalem, the world’s holiest city welcomes you with a sign offering the universal greeting of shalom aleichem, the Hebrew equivalent for the Arabic salaam aleikum, or “peace [be] upon you.” Yet Jerusalem’s status as the location of innumerable holy and historic sites provided no immunity and no peaceful shelter in the face of an encroaching tide of violence last week. On Nov. 20, in the midst of a week during which nearly 1,500 rockets rained down on Israel, a rocket was fired from the Gaza Strip towards Jerusalem, threatening nearly one million residents of diverse faiths and nationalities. As sirens sounded around the city and pedestrians ran for cover, the rocket landed harmlessly in the nearby West Bank, but notice had been served: not even the world’s holiest places were safe from the indiscriminate violence of Hamas.
Between Nov. 10 and Nov. 14, Israel had endured an unprovoked barrage of nearly 100 rockets launched by various terrorist factions in the Gaza Strip, led by Hamas and aimed squarely at Israeli civilians. In response, Israel successfully targeted and assassinated Ahmed al-Jabari, the leader of Hamas’ military wing. Jabari had orchestrated multiple terror attacks over the years, was responsible for the murder of dozens of Israelis, and had masterminded the kidnapping and five-year captivity of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. In recent years, Jabari has also overseen and sustained Hamas’ constant rocket fire at Israel: some 700 prior to Nov. 14 this year alone, as part of a campaign dating back to 2001 that has seen 13,000 rockets fall on Israel.
Yet in response to Hamas’ undirected violence, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) over the following week used every means at their disposal to minimize harm to the civilian population Hamas purposefully endangers. The IDF called and texted thousands of Gaza residents, warning them of coming IDF strikes in the area on Hamas’ infrastructure and urging them to find safety, away from Hamas operatives and operations. In so doing, the IDF privileges the safety of Palestinian civilians over Israel’s military objectives by literally notifying the enemy of an imminent strike and enabling their escape. In addition, the IDF dropped thousands of leaflets over Gaza with similar messages and in some cases, even specified exactly where Gazans could find safe harbor. Finally, whenever possible, the IDF uses pinpoint strikes, expending its resources specifically to minimize damage. In the strike on Jabari, for instance, his car was the only target hit by the blast, in the middle of a narrow street.
By contrast, Hamas willfully, regularly and abhorrently endangers the people of Gaza. The group, incredibly, openly encouraged Gazans to ignore the leaflets dropped by the IDF directing them to safety. Hamas’ rockets terrorized its own population, as 152 rockets fired from Gaza landed in the Gaza Strip itself over eight days of fighting. Hamas endangered journalists throughout Gaza when a senior operative commandeered a press vehicle, disguising himself as a reporter and thus abusing protections afforded to the media amidst conflict. Hamas’ top leader Khaled Meshal, in the words of the New York Times, “taunted Israel to begin a ground invasion,” thereby perversely and sickeningly seeming to wish significantly greater peril and harm upon the people he governs.
In perhaps the most telling image of the weeklong clash, on Nov. 20, Hamas fired at a border crossing as the IDF was about to deliver the 150 trucks of nearly 4,000 tons of goods (food, gas, medicine and more) it brings into Gaza several times a week. In fact, over the course of the year, Israel delivers about 750,000 tons of supplies to Gaza, even in the face of such cynical gestures from its adversary.
Hamas’ utter disregard for human life and welfare is the greatest threat to Gazans today. Meanwhile, the State of Israel, confronted by a never-ending series of difficult choices, has done its utmost to uphold both its obligation to defend its citizenry and its moral commitment to minimizing injury to civilians during conflict. As Hamas makes deliberately – and sometimes literally – suicidal choices, Israel has sought to approach the battlefield with the greatest respect for the preservation of all human life, an objective IDF soldiers are taught to value equally with the goal of completing a mission. The values of the IDF serve as an expression of the values of a nation it democratically serves, Israel, and as it seeks peace and security for the region, so too does Israel look towards a future in which Israelis and Palestinians live in peaceful coexistence and self-determination.
Marty Zack ‘14
Co-President, Stanford Israel Alliance