For eight years, southern Israeli villages and towns have been subjected to a relentless barrage of rocket and mortar attacks from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Indeed, in 2008 alone, over 2,950 missiles were launched from Gaza directed solely at civilian targets. Israel tried everything to bring an end to these attacks. It withdrew unilaterally from Gaza in 2005 to reignite the peace process. And yet, a year later, the Hamas overthrew the joint government with the Palestinian Authority.
Since then, attacks on Israel have increased. Today almost 500,000 people must constantly be within 15 seconds from bomb shelters. Six months ago, Israel agreed to an Egyptian-brokered truce in order to alleviate the torment of its citizens. Everyday, Hamas abrogated the truce by smuggling sophisticated missiles from Iran and firing rockets incessantly at Israeli civilians. Israel was compelled to take diplomatic and economic measures to end the terror. Israel reiterated its readiness to prolong the truce, but Hamas’ refusal was unambiguous. Indeed, in the two days prior to the end of the truce, over 120 missiles were targeted at Israeli villages.
The primary responsibility of any government is the security of its citizens. Israel’s restraint has its limits. If the Hamas and its supporters expected Israel to acquiesce to this constant barrage, they were sorely mistaken.
In the current hostilities, three issues are paramount in Israeli thinking. First, the strategic equation must change and there will be no return to the status quo ante that caused both Israelis and Gazans such hardship. Second, Israel will take every measure imaginable to minimise casualties among those unconnected to the Hamas. Indeed, the overwhelming majority of the casualties are Hamas terrorists, despite the terrorists placing themselves in the heart of civilian population centres, including hospitals and mosques. Third, every effort will continue to be made to avert humanitarian difficulties to the people of Gaza. Despite the hostilities, hundreds of trucks laden with humanitarian aid enter Gaza daily and Israeli hospitals treat scores of Palestinians.
Hamas has been recognised as a terrorist organisation by the United Nations, the European Union and the civilised international community and is boycotted by them. Senior Arab leaders have placed the blame for the current situation on Hamas, an organisation identical to the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba in using slaughter of civilians as a means of achieving extremist objectives.
And yet, perhaps especially at this sad time, it’s crucial to re-emphasise that peace between Israel and the Palestinians, as two States living in mutual security and respect, is the only option. It is achievable, yet the civilised international community including Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the pragmatic Arab States must remain resolute that extremism and terror must never be allowed to dictate our future and that of our children.
In the struggle between moderation and hatred, the resolve of the pragmatists must be total and unwavering.
Mark Sofer is Israel’s Ambassador to India