Israel withdrew all civilians and military personnel from Gaza in 2005. Hamas could have used the Israeli withdrawal as an opportunity to govern its own territory and help make a better life for Palestinian residents. Instead, immediately upon Israeli withdrawal, it used Gaza as a base to launch thousands of rockets into Israel — more than 6,300 rockets since 2005 and more than 3,000 rockets in 2008 alone. The range of these projectiles has steadily increased, now putting at risk major Israeli cities such as Ashkelon, Ashdod and Beersheva. We can only imagine what the response would be here in the United States if Canada turned malevolent and began to shell International Falls each day. Israel is entitled to exercise its sovereign right of self-defense.
The legitimacy of Israel’s operations is underscored by the intent of Hamas. Its covenant calls for the destruction of Israel ("Israel will exist and continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it"). Its patron, Iran, harbors genocidal ambitions with respect to Israel while denying the Holocaust and developing nuclear weapons to threaten the United States, Europe, America’s Arab allies and Israel. Israel is practicing its right of self-defense in destroying the terrorist infrastructure of Hamas in Gaza through land and air operations.
At its crux, Hamas targets civilians. Israel, on the other hand, conducts its operations exercising all due care to limit civilian casualties. Hamas terrorists, however, set up their headquarters and store weapons in private homes, schools, colleges and mosques. Both Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Egyptian Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit have blamed Hamas for provoking the Israeli attack on Hamas targets embedded in civilian areas.
Before this campaign, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert appeared on the Arab media outlet Al-Arabiya to address Gaza civilians about the dangers of Hamas rocket fire from the Gaza strip. Israel has telephoned Gazans to warn them of impending attacks in their neighborhoods. Humanitarian aid continues to reach Gazans. In fact, during the past six months, Israel has facilitated more than 14,500 truckloads of humanitarian assistance, including more than 185,000 tons of supplies and 39 million liters of fuel. Furthermore, there have been more than 4,130 medical evacuations.
As Olmert noted, Hamas terrorism has brought disaster upon two peoples, with innocent Palestinians dying in Gaza and hundreds of thousands of Israelis terrorized in southern Israel. We all pray for peace and the end of bloodshed and the establishment of the two state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.Steve Hunegs is executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas.