My Word: ‘Fire falcons’ and the fight-or-flight dilemma

Palestinian leaders in Gaza know that you don’t deliver a message of peace by attaching an incendiary device to a children’s toy or a living creature.

INPA and Gilad Gabai, July 17, 2018. (photo credit: INPA AND GILAD GABAI)
INPA and Gilad Gabai, July 17, 2018.
(photo credit: INPA AND GILAD GABAI)
It was a new twist in the current environmental warfare launched on Israel from Gaza. And it doesn’t come much more twisted than this. After hundreds of kites, balloons and even helium-filled condoms attached to incendiary devices have scorched vast areas of agricultural land, woods and nature reserves, Hamas this week came up with a new weapon. Forget the dogs of war and meet what was quickly dubbed “the fire falcon.” On July 16, an Israel Nature and Parks Authority official discovered the body of a common kestrel hanging in a tree, trapped by a harness linked to steel wires and flammable material. The dead, and deadly, bird was found following a blaze in Habesor National Park.
Some 2,500 acres of land in nature reserves and national parks close to the Gaza Strip have been burned since the “Fire War” broke out around three months ago, according to an INPA official. It’s a fraction of the overall damage caused by Hamas’s scorched-earth policy.
As The Jerusalem Post’s Ilanit Chernick reported on July 15, the Israeli Jewish Congress together with Knesset Deputy Speaker MK Hilik Bar launched a global campaign to bring home the scope of the damage, using figures that people could identify with especially as the World Cup drew to a close. Under the banner #IsraelUnderFire, the IJC campaign noted that overall, 7,500 acres of land have been scorched, roughly equivalent to 5,000 soccer fields.
IJC executive director Arsen Ostrovsky told Chernick that their focus is predominantly on Europe, from where the response to the arson war has been a resounding silence.
It is silence that echoes amid the devastation of local flora and fauna. The kestrel itself likely suffered from the fires as the rodents and other small animals that make up its preferred diet have been wiped out in blazing fields.
I have written about it several times because I am haunted by the images of the wildlife that couldn’t escape the flames. Until this week, I hadn’t considered the possibility that Hamas terrorists would deliberately try to set an animal alight in an attempt to cause even more damage.
“What kind of person thinks of attaching incendiary devices to kites and balloons, to children’s toys?” a Palestinian colleague asked me rhetorically last week, as shocked as I was at the latest weapons employed by Hamas and their Islamic Jihad partners.
Perhaps the “fire falcons” shouldn’t have surprised us. Hamas consistently uses children as human shields, stockpiling and launching rockets from schools. Even now, in a form of child abuse, kids are being used to launch the incendiary kites. From Hamas’s point of view it’s perfect. Either Israel hits the children, creating an instant PR victory, or the fires destroy “Zionist” land, creating a morale boost for the terrorist organization. Talk about killing two birds with one stone.
Following the kestrel attack, the INPA announced it is considering filing a complaint “under the appropriate international treaties” over the use of an animal for terrorism.
There needs to be more pressure on NGOs and governments to condemn these attacks. Friends suggested petitioning PETA to take a stand. Later in the week, the animal rights organization issued a very general condemnation via Twitter, relating to the use of animals in war everywhere. I can’t help thinking that the problem is that the victims of the ecological disaster are in sovereign Israeli territory.
The world usually yawns at the cynical and systematic abuse by the Palestinians as long as it is aimed at Israel. Israel, after all, is expected to quietly put up with hundreds of rocket attacks. My week started when I turned on the news on Saturday night, to discover that friends in Sderot had not had the same quiet Shabbat I had enjoyed in Jerusalem. Around 200 rockets and mortars were launched at the South between Friday night and Saturday night. Most were intercepted by the Iron Dome defense system but some landed in a synagogue courtyard and elsewhere. Four people were wounded, and never underestimate the real and long-lasting emotional injuries of those who suffer from shock.
In the spirit of the IJC’s football analogies, it should be noted that in the event of a rocket attack, residents in Sderot have a 15-second warning in which to grab their children, aged parents and pets, and get into the nearest safe room or shelter. How many players running across a pitch are capable of that? Residents of the “Gaza Envelope” area, adjacent to the Strip, have just seven seconds in which to perform the same lifesaving feat.
Apart from the flaming falcon, more incendiary devices and rockets were launched later in the week, causing damage to a kindergarten and a schoolyard, among other places. Only someone with a very warped way of thinking could consider this a “peaceful” or “legitimate” protest by the Palestinians.
Israel now has to decide how to respond. The crux of the matter is the question: Has  restraint against the incendiary kite-flyers led to the escalation in the number and scope of attacks or has it so far prevented an all-out war – a war which Israel would win militarily and the Gazans would win in world opinion? Both sides would suffer loss of life.
Hamas controls Gaza with an iron fist. Were it to decide to put an end to the fire war, the flames would immediately go out. The Palestinian Authority based in Ramallah is looking on with satisfaction. Hamas is its sworn enemy and few feathers would be ruffled in the PA were Hamas to cause a large-scale retaliatory attack by Israel. The PA itself is making sure that Gaza continues to suffer from a lack of fuel and electricity and is withholding salaries to ensure economic suffering.
This week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu twice went to the South, partly in solidarity with local residents, partly to assuage members of his political base who say he is not doing enough, partly to watch military exercises and partly to give Hamas the message, “Don’t test us.”
The slogan of the Hamas campaign along the border between Israel and Gaza, now in its fourth month,  is “The Great March of Return.” It is an attempt to regain global attention which has largely been deflected by the civil wars and massacres in Muslim countries following the Arab Spring. But the campaign name is telling: It does not focus on peacefully constructing a Palestinian state in Gaza, but yet again highlights the desire to get rid of the Jewish State. Once again, the Palestinians are playing the victim card while being the aggressors.
Ironically, while Hamas members in Gaza march on the border, setting land and wildlife on fire, trying to infiltrate and threatening to kill and kidnap Israeli civilians and soldiers, in the north, Syrians waving white flags gathered on the border near Quneitra, asking for more aid and sanctuary. Israel, while refusing them entry, has been providing humanitarian and medical assistance.
After Israel completely pulled out in 2005, Gaza could have chosen to become Singapore on the Mediterranean. Instead, its leaders feathered their own nests and it became another failed Middle Eastern state like Syria.
Palestinian leaders in Gaza know that you don’t deliver a message of peace by attaching an incendiary device to a children’s toy or a living creature. Fire falcons and doves of peace are birds of very different feathers. They don’t flock together.
The “fire falcon” is a symbol of Israel’s very real dilemma concerning how to respond to Gazan atrocities: The question of fight or flight. Meanwhile, Hamas, with its abuse of children and animals, is fouling its nest. It is time the world community clips Hamas’s wings and warns the terrorist organization that unless it stops its violence, it will never be as free as a bird – it will suffer like a trapped kestrel it has deliberately set on fire.
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