In the summer of 2007, I did something most of my friends deemed “insane”: I consciously chose to visit Sderot, an Israeli town where terrorist-launched rockets fall virtually every day. What I saw on that maybe-crazy trip convinces me that Israel’s current military operations in Gaza are fully justified.
It’s literally impossible to live normally in Sderot, a fact I discovered when my friend Omer took me around one July day. Omer lives there, if you can call it living. His school looks like a prison: students study under a steel roof, the tiny windows shielded with iron bars and the streets surrounding the school filled with potholes–a result not of sloppy infrastructure, but of rockets that destroyed the asphalt. Those potholes are a constant reminder of why the school has to be fortified like some sort of military compound.
Every time he hears the siren, Omer has 15 seconds to take cover somewhere or risk getting blown up. He can’t play soccer because if he’s on one side of the field and the bomb shelter is on the other side, he might not make it there in time. He can’t go to parties with loud music—you have to be able to hear the sirens—and he keeps his showers short. It’s hard to hear an alert, grab a towel and run to a bomb shelter in 15 seconds.
The citizens of Sderot have been living in this constant state of uncertainty–where’s the nearest bomb shelter? When’s the next rocket coming? Where is it going to fall? You don’t know until it lands–since 2005.
That year, Israel unilaterally withdrew from the Gaza Strip in an effort to facilitate a two-state solution, and the Palestinians held democratic elections for new leadership soon after. Hamas, an organization recognized as a terrorist group by the State Department and the European Union, won by a landslide, and took complete control of the Gaza Strip in 2007 through a coup that relegated more moderate factions to the West Bank.
Hamas has fired over 6,300 rockets and mortars into Israel. Over 600 have fallen in the last six weeks alone, in blatant violation of last June’s Egyptian-brokered ceasefire. The agreement stipulated that Israel would not go into the Gaza Strip if Hamas would stop firing missiles into Israel.
Israel essentially held up its side of the bargain. But not only did Hamas fail to stop launching rockets (granted, they initially reduced the number of rockets fired, but it’s not a cease-fire if you’re still firing), they also took advantage of the period of calm to double their stockpile of weapons and to cultivate longer-range missile capabilities. It’s estimated that about 800,000 Israelis are now in range of Hamas’s rockets. And as Hamas demonstrated during the so-called “cease-fire,” they’re more than willing to use them.
So when Israel began launching air strikes in Gaza on Dec. 27, my first reaction was to wonder what took Israel so long. If terrorists based in Mexico fired rockets into Texas—once, just once—you know that America would respond immediately, with considerable force. And no one would question that, because of course you can’t have missiles raining on towns in Texas. Of course it would be unacceptable for terrorists to target Texan civilians every single day. But Israel has held her fire – until now.
As I write this, the New York Times’ headline reads, “Gaza Toll Hits 375 in Third Day of Israel Strikes.” Sounds awful, and it is sickening–truly horrific–whenever innocent blood is shed. But the vast majority of blood being shed now is far from innocent. Unlike Hamas, which only targets Israeli civilians, Israel is focusing on Hamas strongholds. Think the home of the Hamas rocket chief, not a Beersheba kindergarten. Or the weapons-smuggling tunnels between Egypt and Gaza, not the dining hall of the Sha’ar Hanegev kibbutz. Or a Hamas police station, not a bus stop in Ashdod.
Despite Hamas’s intentional targeting of Israeli civilians, Israel is still ensuring that humanitarian aid reaches Gaza. More than 60 truckloads of humanitarian supplies were sent to Gaza on Dec. 28 and 29 alone. There is clearly no moral equivalency between the Israeli government and the leaders of Hamas.
Both Israelis and Palestinians deserve to live decent, normal lives. Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians has been far from perfect, but the biggest impediment to peace right now is unequivocally Hamas.
Until the rockets stop falling, until Omer can worry about girls instead of grenades, and until Hamas rejects terror, lasting peace for both Israelis and residents of the Gaza strip will be impossible.