Ironically, the biggest problem Israel has had in selling Operation Protective Edge to the world is its success in surviving thousands of Hamas rocket attacks relatively unscathed, baruch Hashem.
B’chasdei Hashem, the Iron Dome civil-defense system has been highly effective in alerting citizens to incoming missiles in time to get to secure areas. Add to that the iopen miracles that have been so frequent as to become commonplace — and the result is that the 2,500 missiles fired at civilian targets throughout Israel have caused astonishingly few fatalities and minimal physical damage.
The uninformed outsider looking at the dry figures, insofar as casualties and damages are concerned, sees a lopsided picture in which Israel is the Goliath, striking with “disproportionate force” at Hamas, the underdog. Since the start of the military operation, the Israeli army has suffered the loss of 53 of its soldiers, H”yd (as of Monday) with some 120 wounded, while Gaza has seen more than 1,000 killed and some 5,000 wounded.
Israel has seen damage to a few homes and facilities, while Gaza has seen more than 1,000 homes razed to the ground by Israeli bombs and close to 20,000 damaged to one extent or another.
Throw in the terrible pictures of children’s bodies being evacuated from schools in Gaza and you have a slam-dunk PR victory for Hamas (which first used these poor children as human shields against Israeli retaliation and now uses them to prosecute Israel for its legitimate, defensive operation).
But to understand the bottom line of Operation Protective Edge, to understand why it is an unprecedentedly just military action that must be given the chance to achieve its objectives, the international community has to look beyond the dry figures.
It must see the teenagers of Sderot, who have grown up with the reality that missiles can careen out of the sky at any moment. In their city, the bus stops double as bomb shelters, and when they walk to school or friends or shopping, they always have in mind how far they are from the nearest bus stop.
It must see the children of Ashdod who brag that they can get out of their clothes, take a bath and get into pajamas in 45 seconds, in time to make it to a shelter if the siren sounds.
And it must see, and identify with, the men, women and children who now face a new threat: terror tunnels that have been dug from Gaza directly into their communities.People walking to the grocery store or shul have to worry that any large rock or bush could be the entrance to a tunnel holding terrorists ready to pounce — to kill or kidnap and bring them back to Gaza.
“The rockets we somehow got used to,” says Ofra Benudiz, a 52-year-old mother of four in Nir Am, a kibbutz near Sderot. “This is something else. They are under our homes. Our greatest fear is that they will infiltrate.”
And the fear isn’t unfounded. Terrorists captured in Operation Protective Edge revealed to their interrogators that Hamas had planned to use the tunnels to execute a mega-terror attack on Rosh Hashanah, R”l. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told the Cabinet last week that had the attack not been foiled, the number of Israeli fatalities could have been higher than the over 2,200 deaths Israel suffered during the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
Fear, anxiety and trauma are not quantifiable, especially when they are prolonged, but must be taken into account to understand the imperative of this war. After Israel executed the painful disengagement and withdrew from Gaza, the Palestinians chose to invest in missiles and tunnels instead of education, health and welfare (indeed, the concrete Israel allowed into Gaza for the building of schools and factories was used for the terror tunnels).
Hamas, in its behavior, has proven the justice of Israel’s blockade of the enclave and its demand that the terror group be disarmed and the tunnels destroyed. It’s time for the world to recognize the right of Jews in Israel to live in security and to support the Netanyahu government’s demands.
Finally, with regard to civilian casualties in Gaza, the international community must point the finger of blame at Hamas for using schools and hospitals as weapons storehouses. As U.N. Secretary Ban Ki-moon said in a statement this week, those who do so “are turning schools into potential military targets, and endangering the lives of innocent children.”
While Hamas has purposely put civilians in harm’s way, the IDF has taken extraordinary measures to spare them. “There are no armies like this, which drop leaflets, call on the phone, bomb next to the target or carry out a ‘knock on the roof,’ and even disperse the residents with smoke” before bombing, IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz said.
In many instances, the IDF has even put the lives of civilians ahead of the lives of its own soldiers. In the devastating battle in Shjaiya, Gaza, last week, 13 Golani soldiers were killed after the army’s legal adviser nixed a request that the Air Force bomb the area, known to be a Hamas stronghold, ahead of the ground entry. The legal adviser was concerned that civilians might be hurt — a questionable call.
According to military correspondent Nir Dvori of Channel 2, fighter pilots are complaining that they haven’t been allowed to provide air support “when they see terrorists drawing near [Israeli forces] from short range, firing at them,” because of concern that civilians will be hit.
The international pressure on Israel to halt legitimate anti-terror efforts is hypocritical and outrageous.
May the political and military leadership be granted the wisdom to make the right decisions regarding this defensive campaign.