“Operation Protective Edge” was the 50-day conflict between the democratic nation of Israel and the terrorist organization Hamas that captured the media’s attention this summer. In 2007, Hamas, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization, violently seized control of Gaza and the Palestinians in that region. Hamas has no interest in acting as a peace partner with Israel for a two-state solution. Its founding charter states that “Israel will exist and continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it.” Its charter also outlines the group’s yearning for worldwide genocide of Jews, stating, “the Day of Judgment will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews…[as] the stones and trees will say ‘… there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.’”
From the beginning of 2014 until Operation Protective Edge’s commencement, Hamas fired over 450 rockets and M-302 long-range missiles at Israeli civilians. Six million Israelis live under constant threat of death at the hands of this terrorist group. Many Israelis have less than 15 seconds to run to the nearest bomb shelter. Rockets are aimed to hit Israeli nursery schools, synagogues and homes. This is a reality no country would accept. On June 12, three Israeli boys were kidnapped by Hamas. On June 30, it was discovered that Hamas had murdered the three Israelis.
After three weeks of incessant rocket attacks launched at Israelis and countless Israeli warnings and calls for calm, Israel commenced Operation Protective Edge to stop attacks from Hamas and restore security to Israeli citizens. Throughout the entire operation, Hamas continued to launch rockets into Israel. From mid-June to late August, roughly 5,000 rockets were fired into Israel. On July 17, Israel commenced a ground operation in Gaza after discovering a network of Hamas underground terror tunnels used to carry out attacks against Israelis. A terror plot planned for the Jewish New Year that would have resulted in the murders of hundreds of innocent civilians, had it not been discovered.
During its operations in Gaza, Israel acted according to international humanitarian law. It did everything to practice restraint and minimize Palestinian civilian casualties. Israeli efforts included: using surveillance drones that monitor areas in order to verify that civilians were not present, sending warnings to the Palestinian population (phone calls, text messages, leaflets with evacuation routes, “roof knocking”) telling them to evacuate combat zones and training operational commanders to minimize civilian casualties, to name a few. Israel even aborted missions when it became apparent that Palestinian civilians were in the area.
But the death toll rose to 2,000. 50 percent were terrorist militants. But the fact that even one innocent died, is a tragedy. The catalyst behind this figure needs to be analyzed. Political activist, Mudar Zahran, published testimonies from Gaza residents about Hamas’ behavior during this operation. These Palestinians accuse Hamas of deliberately exacerbating civilian casualties by forcing civilians to stay in places Israel had warned it was going to target. The testimony of S., a medical worker stated that although “the Israeli army … call several times to make sure everyone has been evacuated … Hamas’ official Al-Quds TV regularly issued warnings to Gazans not to evacuate their homes, and Hamas militants [blocked] exits to places residents were asked to evacuate.” On July 8, Hamas’ spokesman, Sami Abu Zuhri, appeared on local television and called on Gazans to serve as human shields against Israeli air attacks.
Roughly 1,000 innocents are dead because Hamas used civilian infrastructure and densely packed areas to store weapons. The terrorist group was caught three times storing and launching rockets in/from United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) schools (paid for with international aid), tens of times in mosques and hospitals and perhaps hundreds of times in private homes. The blood of Palestinian and Israeli victims are on Hamas’ hands. The sad reality is that the Palestinians in Gaza are exploited. Their own governing body, Hamas, used them as human shields for their weaponry and fodder for anti-Israel propaganda. Hamas watched as the death toll rose and at the end of the operation, they declared victory.
And the asymmetry in the Israeli death toll when compared to that of the Palestinians? These asymmetries are inevitable when one side invests heavily in protecting its civilians as the other throws them to the dogs. Israel pours its efforts into constructing bomb shelters and a missile defense system, while Hamas put the billions in foreign aid into building a system of attack tunnels and a stockpile of missiles to attack Israelis, thereby oppressing Palestinians to death. UNRWA humanitarian aid and millions of dollars meant to go to the people were misappropriated. Hamas used 800,000 tons of cement to build underground tunnels to strike at Israelis at their doorstep when it could have been used to build homes, mosques, hospitals and schools for their own Palestinian people. One hundred and sixty Palestinian children died building these tunnels for Hamas. But no Palestinian dares voice opposition – on Aug. 22, alone Hamas murdered 18 Palestinians in a public execution. Moreover, Hamas rejected all 13 proposed ceasefires – ceasefires which Israel (exponentially stronger militarily) accepted. The truth was that the longer the conflict, the more Palestinians died, the more media attention garnered and the more Hamas could use this conflict for their purposes of demonizing Israel. It almost didn’t matter that throughout the entire conflict, Israel sent 5,359 truckloads carrying some 40,000 tons of food, medical supplies, gas and essential goods into Gaza. It almost didn’t matter that the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) opened a field hospital near the Gaza strip to treat Palestinians, because on Aug. 26 Hamas militants fired at Gazans that were trying to leave in Israeli ambulances.
Aside from Israel being the only pluralistic liberal democracy in the Middle East, one of the U.S.’s greatest bilateral allies, and the only side in the conflict that accepted ceasefires, sought peace and strove to protect human life on both sides, why should we empathize with their struggles against terror? Because even after the operation, on Sept. 18, Hamas continued to fire rockets from Gaza at Israelis. Israel must be allowed to destroy the terrorists that are the root of this injustice. This is the way Palestinians and Israelis will live in peace and without the daily threats that should never be tolerated.
We, as Americans, are lucky to live in one of the most progressive countries. But we are not strangers to terror. On the contrary, because we are familiar it is our duty to recognize the face of evil when we see it. And this summer we did. The fact of the matter is that Hamas is ISIS. It is Al-Qaida. It is Boko Haram. Whether they are shooting their own people in the public square or launching rockets at Israeli kindergartens, whether they are beheading American journalists on camera, whether they murder 3,000 innocent people on 9/11 or whether they kidnap scores of Nigerian schoolgirls, these groups are tied together by one common thread. That is the thread of violent Islamic extremism. They are all terrorist organizations and they ALL threaten the progressive, liberal values we as Americans hold dear. They share a disdain for democracy and a hatred of modernity. They threaten freedom of religion, freedom of speech, equal rights for gays, equality for women – in short, civilized culture and our entire way of life. Israel’s daily struggle is our struggle.
Israel’s operation in Gaza this summer was an example of Israelis fighting the war to save innocent civilians and preserve democracy – a war that is ours too.
Sharon Shaoulian is a third-year political science major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.