In the summer of 2006, a series of rocket barrages from Gaza, and the kidnapping of a young Israeli soldier, caused the IDF to cross the border for the first time since the unilateral withdrawal from the Strip a year before. Since then, Hamas-backed terrorists have launched almost daily rocket attacks on Israeli schools, factories and homes. These lethal explosives are deliberately fired from densely populated urban areas within the Strip with the purpose of using Palestinian civilians as shields against Israeli countermeasures. The barrages have made the lives of Israelis in the south, on undisputed Israeli territory, unbearable and have left the government with no choice but to once again cross the border to seek out those intent on destroying the Jewish State.
Instead of land for peace, Israel traded land for terror. It should therefore not be surprising that Israelis are now reluctant to make any new concessions that they fear would bring greater terror and allow the terrorists to threaten their major cities with increasingly dangerous rockets.
The rocket launches against Israeli civilian population centers have increased five-fold since the Hamas takeover in January 2006. Israel is still reprimanded for the use of “disproportionate force.” But what is the proportionate response to barrages of rockets falling on kindergartens, parks and residences? If Texas was getting shelled nearly every day for two years, and roves of bandits were frequently crossing the border and kidnapping American soldiers, would the U.S. fail to act? Would they sit idly by while their citizens live in constant fear for their lives?
Leaders also have a responsibility to demonstrate statesmanship. Although many suggest that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is a partner for peace, he has been consistently unable or unwilling to stop the rocket attacks, both before and after his ruling Fatah party lost the majority in the Palestinian elections in 2006.
What has the Palestinian Authority or Hamas done to build the infrastructure of an emerging and viable Palestinian State? Greenhouses left behind in the former settlement of Gush Katif that once promised to be the catalyst for kick-starting Gaza’s economy have been looted and vandalized, and some have been converted into terrorist training camps. Jewish settlers’ homes were demolished so the Palestinians could build high-rise apartment buildings to house refugees living in the camps. Two years later, the empty lots sit desolate; not one residential housing structure has been erected.
Hamas would clearly rather utilize their power in efforts to sway the media to the plight of the suffering Gazans, as evidenced by their carefully staged demonstrations of food shortages and other essential goods, which Hamas officials are actually depriving from their people. Hamas is playing the propaganda game well, baiting Israel with its constant barrage of rockets, and counting on nationalist sentiment to gain the popular support of the Gazans when Israel counterattacks with deadly force.
Many Gazans resent the rocket fire, and have acknowledged that it ultimately causes them more harm than the military actions of the IDF. But most are too afraid to speak out. This culture of fear and intimidation is yet another reason why it is so difficult for Israel to find partners in the peace process.
While the rest of the world has forgotten, Israelis still remember that the soldier who was abducted from Israel two years ago, Cpl. Gilad Shalit, remains a captive of terrorists. His kidnappers insist on a prisoner exchange, swapping Shalit for hundreds of convicted terrorists. Israel has agreed to trades in the past, and has consistently been negotiating for Shalit’s release, but it is unwilling to throw open the doors to its jails, knowing that many of the criminals released in the past immediately returned to terror.