The heart-wrenching scenes coming out of the Gaza Strip and Israel in the present escalation of violence are as upsetting to me, as the consul general of Israel to New England, as I imagine they are to Americans. However, for me, there is the difference that the situation is personal, with my friends and family targets of a terrorist organization that calls for Israel to be obliterated. The sovereignty of my country and the lives of its Arab and Jewish civilians are at risk.
In Israel, wars and terror are unfortunately so prevalent that we have had to find ingenious ways, however imperfect they may be, for protecting our population. This includes air-raid shelters, bomb shelters in every dwelling, protection from chemical warfare, and children’s playgrounds constructed with colorful thick concrete walls to hide behind in case children are at play when attacks come. What other country has had to do that?
However, the protective measures we initially implemented have not been enough. Thus, with help from the United States, the Iron Dome was developed over the last decade — an anti-missile system to stop incoming rockets from raining down on our civilian population.
As the days have passed in this horrific terror attack on Israel, more than 4,000 missiles have indiscriminately targeted my country’s citizens, killing 12 civilians, both Arabs and Jews. Without the Iron Dome, the numbers of dead Israeli civilians would be more horrendous. There have been more than 225 deaths in Gaza, according to the Gaza health ministry. Further, at least 22 percent of Hamas’ rockets have fallen back, killing or maiming Palestinian civilians.
Without a doubt, the situation brings out a lot of emotion on both sides, and rightly so. Everyone seems to want to have a say, even those who are not always versed in the facts. I have been disheartened to see comments from citizens of our greatest friend — the United States — make statements that are not in line with the situation unfolding on the ground.
Hamas violently took over the Gaza strip from the Palestinian Authority in 2007 in a battle that cost hundreds of Palestinians lives. Since then, the Palestinian civilian population has been held hostage in a territory run by terror. Gaza was an opportunity for the Palestinian leadership to prove to the world that there is hope for peace. Instead, the terrorist group consigned the population to ongoing poverty by siphoning off billions of dollars in aid to Gaza from the United Nations, Europe, the United States, and many others. Think of what could have been built had hundreds of millions of dollars not been used to build terror tunnels and missiles. Unfortunately, this has only encouraged cycles of violence that, if not stopped, will, as has been proved, come back again and again.
There is a moral imperative for those who call for peace and care about liberal views, human rights, and progressive values. Peace, liberty, and fraternity are essential for the region. But the calls for Israel to stop its military response will only encourage Hamas to continue the attacks.
Israel has clearly been dealt a difficult hand. How does one protect one’s civilians from attack, fight the terrorists who seek to undermine one’s democracy while also protecting the Palestinian civilian population who are used by their leadership as cannon fodder? The sole solution is to stop Hamas from firing rockets and committing war crimes and violations against international human rights in targeting civilians from within a dense civilian population.
This conflict has gone on for far too long. Free Palestine from Hamas, and you might see a free Palestine.
What about no deaths of Palestinians or Israelis? It’s not an impossibility; it could have happened if the Palestinians had accepted the many offers of creating a state over the decades. Let’s hope that those in the region who have steadfastly rejected solutions in the past come to their senses so peace can be provided for the peoples on both sides of the conflict.
Ambassador Meron Reuben is the consul general of Israel to New England.