In the past week and a half, Hamas, the governing body of Gaza and a terrorist group as designated by both the United States government and European Union, has fired more than 1,300 missiles at Israel with the specific intention of murdering innocent civilians. Two-thirds of Israel’s civilian population — Jews, Muslims, Christians and others — are now directly threatened and unplanned refuge in bomb shelters has become a regular part of their days. While the psychological trauma of these attacks cannot be minimized, Israeli casualties have been sparse. But that’s not because Hamas has poor aim. Rather, Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system has intercepted a high percentage of the rockets that target heavily populated areas.
In response to these attacks, on July 8, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) launched “Operation Protective Edge.” Most of the IDF targets in this operation are Hamas operational centers, storage facilities and rocket-launching sites, as well as locations where terrorist leaders are hiding out. Many of these sites have been deliberately placed by Hamas in densely populated areas, including private homes, mosques, medical facilities and even schools. As a result, the level to which Israel is working to protect civilians in enemy territory is an exceedingly rare — if not virtually unprecedented — act in the history of warfare. Before bombing a target, Israel regularly drops leaflets, makes phone calls and sends text messages urging residents to leave the area. In response to Israel’s diligence, Hamas instructs Gazans to ignore the “Israeli propaganda,” resulting in the unnecessary deaths of the very Gaza civilians it is supposed to be safeguarding.
Hamas appears to be attempting to gain international sympathy by driving up the body count of its own civilians.
“This is the entire difference between us and Hamas,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said recently. “We are using defensive systems against missiles to protect the residents of Israel, and they are using the residents of Gaza to protect arsenals of missiles.”
Many of the Hamas missiles have long-range capabilities. If the Gaza Strip was located on the border of Massachusetts and Vermont, Hamas could target Hartford, New Haven, Stamford, Boston, Albany, and the majority of Long Island.
On July 15, the Israeli government voted to accept an Egyptian-proposed cease fire, which was supported by the U.S., the Arab League and other members of the international community. As a gesture to Hamas, Israel halted airstrikes in Gaza for several hours. Hamas in turn rejected the terms of the cease fire and bombarded Israel with at least 50 rockets during that period.
While Israel exercises its obligation and sovereign right to defend itself against an entity that is committed to Israel’s destruction, Hamas continues to be actively responsible for casualties to its own Palestinian civilians. Its political and community leaders encourage their constituents to sacrifice themselves by standing on the roofs of weapons facilities so as to discourage Israel from bombing the stockpiles. In addition to sometimes successfully deterring an attack, this is also done so that Hamas can demonstrate to the world the brutality of the IDF, which “purposely kills Palestinian civilians.” Conveniently ignored is the fact that the civilians who are killed are often being used by Hamas as human shields.
We are appalled but not shocked by this behavior from a terrorist organization that in its charter vows to destroy Israel. This is far from the first time Hamas has exhibited such disregard for its own people. Disappointingly, Hamas is not the only regime in the world whose high-ranking officials willingly sacrifice its citizens for their own political gain.
This is the nature of the enemy Israel is currently forced to fight. Until Hamas abandons its stated goal of destroying Israel and decides to care more about the health, safety and welfare of Palestinians more than it cares about annihilating Israel, no one should be surprised by the need for Israel to protect itself. What’s more, no one should be confused about who is to blame for the rising number of Israeli and Palestinian casualties: Hamas.
Gary Jones is the director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Connecticut Regional Office.