A commentary writer (“How can we turn our eyes from Gaza deaths?” May 25) has grotesquely libeled the state of Israel and its defense forces by comparing it and them to Nazis. I just returned to the United States after participating in a conference in Israel, and I believe it is critical for this newspaper and its readers to understand the depth of this calumny.
On May 26, I drove to the Israeli border with Gaza with my friend. As we turned past Yad Mordechai, a kibbutz renamed after the leader of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, I asked Zohar to tell me the story of how his father survived the Holocaust and rebuilt his life in Israel. As we got closer to Netiv HaAsara, which grows tomatoes just 400 meters from Gaza and was founded by Israelis who left their homes in Sinai as part of the Camp David Accords, our conversation returned to last week’s anti-Semitic op-ed.
In frank conversations with many Israelis, two themes were repeated during my week. Resoundingly, Israelis express that, despite living in a region tearing itself apart, they want to live a normal life in peace. Several even told me they’ve grown frustrated with their own leadership and would be willing to make difficult sacrifices to make peace with the Palestinians, if Palestinians were willing to do the same by truly recognizing Israel’s permanence in at least a portion of the land of Israel.
A second theme is that Israelis feel they are terribly misunderstood by much of the world, including many in my own American Jewish community. They feel misunderstood because, with the focus on the border itself, few commentators are interested in expanding their field of view to see the Israeli farmers whose children go to elementary schools with roofs built to withstand the blast of powerful rockets or behind locked gates with armed guards. Most Israelis also live and work within just a few seconds of a bomb shelter, which rarely is mentioned. They are also curious whether these same commentators care that hundreds of fires have been set by terrorists in the fields surrounding Israel’s border with Gaza. The sight and smell of the destruction these fires leave behind, which I experienced firsthand, are unmistakable.
Rarely do commentators offer realistic options as to how Israel should peacefully arrest hundreds of armed Hamas operatives should they break through a wire, carrying instructions for how best to approach and kidnap the men, women and children of the farming villages meters from the border. The superficial knowledge that passes for commentary on the conflict is compounded when Gaza is still described as occupied territory, when all of the Israeli farmers who used to live there abandoned their greenhouses and moved to the Israeli side of the border in 2005.
There is also seemingly no understanding that the express aim of the “March of Return” protesters is the destruction of Israel on both sides of the 1967 borders.
Yes, most Gazans live in unbelievable poverty, and it is beyond tragic. Our hearts ache over the ongoing violence along the Gaza border and the innocent lives lost. But it is possible to have compassion for these Palestinians, expect Israel and other countries to work harder and more creatively to ease their suffering, and still assign primary blame on Hamas. The fact that Gaza’s terrorist overlords openly call for Israel’s destruction; commandeer billions of dollars’ worth of aid and supplies that are intended for civilian projects; and then use these resources to build their attack tunnels into Israel, all the while recklessly organizing their operatives to cross the fence into Israel, is hardly in dispute.
For example, it only takes Google to discover that Hamas instructed its followers “to bring a knife, dagger, or handgun, if you have one, and … [d]o not kill Israeli civilians, instead hand them over to the resistance immediately … .” No wonder Hamas’ co-founder Mahmoud al-Zahar recently told an interviewer “[w]hen we talk about ‘peaceful resistance,’ we are deceiving the public” or that by Hamas’ own accounting the vast majority of the Palestinians killed over the past few weeks were their own operatives.
Israelis are justifiably proud — while acknowledging the possibility of fatal mistakes in the heat of dangerous confrontation — of their young soldiers carefully following prescribed methods of conduct, including keeping track of literally every bullet fired and the circumstances.
If the author of the commentary wishes to discuss “Nazi-like behavior,” we can round out the historical record with this salient point: The titular religious authority of the Palestinian Arabs — Mohammed Amin al-Husseini — was a convicted Nazi war criminal. Even now there are several documented instances of Hamas operatives affixing Nazi swastikas to their flags, as well as the incendiary kites they use to burn the Israeli countryside. The commentary writer ought to know who the Nazis are or at least their sympathizers before casting such aspersions.
Now that I’m back in Minnesota, there is another, more hopeful image that I also bring back with me. Inside Netiv HaAsara stands a huge wall to protect the farmers from Palestinian snipers. This wall could have been another ugly reminder of the dangers these Israelis live with every day. Instead, it is beautiful because adorned on it in colorful tiles are several large mosaics that spell out the word peace in Hebrew, English and Arabic.
Ethan Roberts is director of government affairs for the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas.