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Israeli Towns Under Siege from Hamas Rockets

Posted: March 5, 2008

Hamas and its proxies have launched more than 1,000 rockets at Israel since the violent takeover of the Gaza Strip in June 2007.  These rockets purposefully target vulnerable southern Israeli cities such as Sderot and nearby environs, landing in or near private homes, schools, colleges, and daycare and recreation centers. In March 2008, Hamas stepped up the intensity and effectiveness of these attacks, using more powerful and longer range Grad (Katyusha-like) missiles to hit the city of Ashkelon.  Israeli military officials have noted that some of these missiles have components that likely were manufactured in Iran and they warn that Hamas artillery may soon be able to reach well inside Israel, threatening millions of Israeli civilians.

These attacks have already killed at least 12 Israeli civilians, and wounded scores more, including children.  On February 27, a rocket killed Roni Yihye, a 47-year old student and the father of four children, while he was on the campus of Sapir College, on the outskirts of Sderot.   On that day alone, 40 rockets were launched from Gaza.   Israeli hospitals are dealing with numerous children badly injured in these attacks.  On February 9, Osher Twito, 8, and his brother Rami, 19, were seriously injured when they were at an ATM withdrawing money to buy a birthday present for their father.  One of Osher's legs had to be amputated as a result of his injuries.

The psychological damage of these near-hourly attacks cannot be minimized.  When the alarm is sounded, no matter where they are or what they are doing - - taking a shower, shopping for food, going to work - - residents have 15 seconds to reach shelter or risk being killed or injured.  In Sderot, mental health professionals have documented the trauma experienced by children and adults alike, many of whom endure nightmares, panic attacks, and are afraid of going about their daily lives for fear of being caught unprotected during a missile strike.  For the children in Sderot, the trauma is most intense.  They are more accustomed to daily siren alarms and the regular rush to a bomb shelter than to an innocent play date with friends. 

Israel's Actions to Defend Its Population

There is no doubt Israel has the right and responsibility to ensure the safety and security of its citizens.  Yet, Israel has shown tremendous restraint in the face of this deadly onslaught. The IDF has tried to stop the attacks through a variety of legitimate military measures designed to comply with the norms of international humanitarian law.  Sadly, none has succeeded in stopping the lethal rockets purposefully aimed at Israeli civilians going about their daily routines.  Israel also has an obligation to ensure that its military operations are designed to minimize the harm to civilians -- a task made all the more difficult when Hamas places its rocket launchers next to homes, schools and hospitals.  In spite of the constant rocket attacks, some targeting the crossings from Israel into Gaza, the crossings remain open and active for the delivery of goods for the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people in Gaza.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert stated in his report to the Cabinet on March 2, "[I]t must be noted that the State of Israel defends its residents in the south and . . . nothing will deter us from continuing to defend our residents.  Nobody has the right to preach morality to the State of Israel for taking basic action to defend itself and prevent hundreds of thousands of residents of the south from continuing to be exposed to incessant firing that disrupts their lives."

As Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said on March 3 in a briefing to the diplomatic corps, "It's a terrible loss for a mother when a child dies during a terror attack or an Israeli attack. For the families, it's the same horrible pain and grief. But it's not the same when it comes to the moral judgment. It's not a matter of suffering; it's a matter of taking the right stand. And while the terrorists are targeting Israeli civilians directly, deliberately, without a real cause, the Israeli soldiers are trying to target specifically the places from which we are being attacked. And during these operations, civilians are also paying the price. But it's like in your own neighborhoods. Just imagine a situation on your street, in your backyard, in your neighbor's backyard, where somebody launches rockets. It's not normal. I'm sure that you would say that you are not willing to accept it. And if you have children you would say, "Not in my neighborhood; I'm not going to put my children at risk."

Israel made clear with its 2005 disengagement that it has no desire to rule the Gaza Strip.  At that time, Israel unilaterally uprooted 8,000 settlers from their homes and removed its military installations.  It was hoped that the Palestinians would use the Israeli withdrawal as an opportunity to build a responsible and effective governing infrastructure.  Unfortunately, soon after, the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas seized control of the territory and turned it into a launching pad for terrorism and extremism.

At the November 2007 Annapolis Conference, Israel and the Palestinian Authority committed to serious negotiations, including on final-status issues, with the support of the international community.  Hamas' unceasing attacks seek to sabotage efforts for peace, and provoke a crisis that will cripple the negotiating process.

The International Reaction: Little Concern for Israeli Victims, Little Pressure on Hamas

As rockets were raining down a steady stream of terror on the civilian population of southern Israel, the international community spoke of Israel's right to defend its citizens against the daily barrage of rocket fire from Gaza.  But, while trying to appear even-handed, statements from the U.N. Secretary General and Security Council, the President of the European Union,  and many others were devoid of true expressions of understanding and concern for the Israeli victims of Sderot, Ashkelon and Netivot.
Old accusatory tropes have resurfaced: Israel is using "disproportionate and excessive force", Israel is killing civilians in Gaza, Israel is engaging in "collective punishment of the people of Gaza."  There are no words of outrage directed toward Hamas' acts of terror.  There is no indignation for the callous disregard by Hamas of the safety of Palestinian civilians used as human shields to deflect Israel's response to the attacks on its citizens.  At the very moment when the rocket attacks against the people of Sderot, Ashkelon and Netivot have escalated and Hamas is using longer range, more powerful and more sophisticated artillery, the international community cynically called on Israel to show restraint.

Every sovereign nation has the obligation and right to defend its citizens against deadly attacks.  Israel takes seriously its responsibility to protect the lives of Israelis living in Sderot, Ashkelon, Netivot and anywhere else terrorists may attack, and Israel is entitled to the support of the world community in its efforts to fulfill that responsibility. 

The international community well knows Hamas is a terrorist organization which calls for the violent eradication of the State of Israel.  There is no doubt it is Hamas' extremism and refusal to meet the minimum standards of civilized and responsible governance that are the cause of the political and economic isolation that continues to be the reason for so much suffering among the people of Gaza. 

Hamas continues to pursue a path of terror in order to disrupt and eventually stop the process of negotiations for a peaceful resolution of the conflict.  For the sake of the Palestinian people, for the sake of the Israeli people, for the sake of the region of the region and the world, the international community should support Israel's efforts to quell the terror and maintain a path to a negotiated settlement.

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