In November 2008, Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife, Rivka, were butchered by Pakistani terrorists in the Chabad house in Mumbai, together with 164 other innocent people. It is tragically symbolic that exactly four years later, Mira Scharf, a pregnant mother of three and the wife of the Delhi-based Chabad Rabbi, during a visit to Israel, was murdered together with two others by rockets launched by the Hamas terrorists in Gaza. Her eight-month-old daughter, born in Delhi, was also injured. There is a painful message from this sad twist of fate. Terror is terror, wherever it appears. It is evil, it has no justification, and it must be fought resolutely and condemned without hesitation by all freedom-loving nations.
As these lines are written, one seventh of Israel’s population is being targeted by Hamas rockets and missiles emanating from Gaza. Since November 10, Hamas, an internationally recognised terrorist organisation that supports the causes of Osama bin Laden, has launched a barrage of over 400 missiles and rockets, aiming to kill as many civilians as possible. For the past week, over a million civilians in Israel are under fire. Schools have been closed and families are forced into bomb shelters within 15 seconds of every siren. Rockets are raining on houses, playschools and public buildings, making life a nightmare for those living in Hamas’ rocket range. This has been going on for years. No country would allow this situation to continue.
The current round of Hamas terrorism began with an anti-tank missile fired from Gaza recently at a military jeep patrolling the Israeli side of the border. That attack was immediately followed by a barrage of rockets targeting the civilian population of southern Israel.
Let us be clear, Gaza is in no way under Israeli occupation or siege. Israel disengaged from Gaza in 2005 and does not control the territory since then. In addition, Israel does not control Gaza’s border with Egypt, and supplies are entering the Gaza Strip unhindered. When Israel indeed withdrew from the Gaza Strip, it did so in the hope that it would be a model for Palestinian self-rule, prosperity and coexistence with their neighbour, Israel. Instead, Hamas violently seized control over Gaza, executing and literally throwing its Palestinian Authority (PA) rivals out of the window, to an extent that since 2007, PA President Mahmoud Abbas hasn’t dared to set foot in the territory. Instead of promoting the interests of Gaza’s inhabitants, Hamas has been using Gaza as a launching pad for incessant attacks against cities and towns in southern Israel.
Israel demonstrated great restraint in the face of the ongoing bombardments. Finally, after the recent wave of attacks had made life almost unbearable for over a million of its citizens, the government of Israel had to exercise its right of self-defence. Operation Pillar of Defence was launched on November 14 to remove the imminent threat hovering over the citizens of Israel. The Israeli-military took action against Hamas’ long-and short-range rocket forces, crippling their ability to launch the Iranian-built Fajr rockets at Tel Aviv and beyond. The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) also carried out a surgical strike against Ahmed Jabari, chief of the Hamas-armed terrorist wing, responsible for all Hamas attacks emanating from the Gaza Strip in the past decade. Jabari was also directly involved in the abduction of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit in 2006. This despicable man, a conductor of an orchestra of terrorism, had the blood of scores of innocent people on his hands.
Israel did not seek this conflict. It does not wish to see the people of Gaza suffer nor does it wish for Palestinian casualties. But no country can allow its citizens to live under constant terror and fear. Israel is doing all in its power to minimise injury to uninvolved civilians. Israel has already made 20,000 phone calls to the residents of Gaza and dropped countless pamphlets warning them to stay away from terrorists and terrorist facilities for their own safety. Hamas, on the other hand, makes every effort to kill as many innocent civilians as possible. It brazenly boasts about using Palestinian civilians as human shields, and systematically fires its rockets from schools, hospitals, mosques and other heavily populated areas. Their cynical disregard for the lives of their own people is a double war-crime according to all international standards and norms. The international community, and especially countries that have friendly relations with both Israel and Palestine, can play an important role in this crisis. First, terrorism must be unambiguously denounced. Second, it should be made clear to Hamas that the rockets launched at Israel must immediately cease. This is in the interest of the Palestinians whose national goals are brought no closer to fulfillment by the violence which only exacerbates their plight.
The Hamas terrorists that killed Mira Scharf and two other innocent civilians in southern Israel last week belong to the same abhorrent school of thought of the Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists who committed the atrocities in Mumbai four years ago. Israel will know how to protect its citizens and defeat terror, as it has done for the past 64 years since its independence. But it is incumbent upon the international community to send a clear message to Hamas and its supporters that its terrorist acts are unacceptable, utterly counterproductive to the Palestinian cause and damaging to any chance of a peaceful resolution to the ongoing conflict.
Alon Ushpiz is Israel’s Ambassador to India. The views expressed by the author are personal.