My Word: Hidden hostages in Hamas’s war in Gaza

Hamas is committing daily war crimes, while managing to cast the blame on the victim, Israel.

The damaged house in Beersheba from the rocket attack on Wednesday, October 17, 2018. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The damaged house in Beersheba from the rocket attack on Wednesday, October 17, 2018.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Hamas is holding a lot more hostages than is generally recognized: The terrorist organization has the bodies of two IDF soldiers it abducted during Operation Protective Edge in 2014: Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul. It is also preventing two Israeli citizens with special needs – Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed – from having any contact with their families and the outside world. But more than that, Hamas holds millions of people hostage: both Gazans and Israelis. Using human shields is Hamas’s strongpoint.
Israel faces a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” dilemma – blasted for any action that might cause civilian casualties in Gaza, while losing its deterrence and element of surprise if it does not react to the constant attacks. Hamas, on the other hand, is in a win-win situation: Since any dead Palestinian is considered a “martyr” and gains more world sympathy, Hamas doesn’t mind who gets killed – Israelis or Palestinians.
Such callousness makes it a particularly cruel enemy and hard to fight.
The rocket that crashed into the home of an Israeli family in Beersheba in the early hours of October 17, causing light injuries to a mother rushing her children into the safe room, didn’t have a specific address on it. Hamas doesn’t mind who it kills or wounds. A second rocket landed in the sea, south of Tel Aviv.
Had either rocket caused loss of life, Israel would have had no choice but to risk escalating the situation (amid international condemnation) with a swift and harsh response. The question is whether avoiding a serious military response encourages more attacks.
A regular discussion at my family’s Friday night meals hinges on whether the escalation of the so-called “Great March of Return” on the Gaza-Israeli border and the hundreds of attacks using incendiary devices could have been prevented by knocking out the terrorists who launched the flying firebombs and tried to breach the border fence months ago. Or would this type of action just drag Israel into another war with Hamas, with the potential loss of lives of Israeli citizens and soldiers (as well as Palestinians in Gaza)?
Does restraint show moral strength or does it undermine Israel by ruining deterrence?
The question is not theoretical – and it should be of interest beyond Israel’s borders. Just like Islamist bus and train bombings, vehicular terror and lone-wolf stabbings were considered Israeli problems until they spread to major cities around the world, a metaphorical ill wind is likely to be carrying the use of fire-kites and explosive balloons to new green pastures further afield.
Israel has repeatedly been told that Hamas is not interested in war, yet attacks take place day after day. And just last week, the IDF found and destroyed a Hamas terror tunnel stretching 200 meters into sovereign Israeli territory, the 15th tunnel discovered this year. This is already a war: a war of attrition.
If Hamas truly wants peace and quiet, it has a strange way of showing it. But some bleeding hearts are falling for its deceptive ways. They advocate that lifting the “Israeli blockade” on the Gaza Strip, allowing Gazans to enter and work in Israel, and maybe even building a new seaport or airport would stop the attacks.
This ignores the point that if Hamas achieves all this without laying down its arms – and even more crucially without destroying its rocket arsenals, terror infrastructure and indoctrination of hatred – it has absolutely no incentive to stop attacks on “the Jewish entity.” On the contrary.
Egypt, of course, keeps a very tight lock on their border with Gaza for the same reason: It suffers from Islamist terrorism that emanates from Sinai and Gaza. Were the Egyptians to open the Rafah crossing to their Palestinian brethren, there would be no blockade.
Launching fire-balloons and burning fires are not a nonviolent way for the local population to let off steam, as some suggest. They are a way to heat things up.
Other factors are involved: Hamas presumably is happier for its impoverished and frustrated population to take out its aggression on Israel rather than on the regime that has ruled Gaza with an iron fist and Sharia law since getting rid of the Palestinian Authority’s Fatah control in 2007. Similarly, PA head Mahmoud Abbas is pleased to let Israel take the blame, while deliberately withholding salaries, supplies of fuel and electricity from Palestinians in Gaza.
In an unusual move, Hamas, perhaps fearing that there might finally be repercussions, claimed that the midweek rocket attacks were not its doing. But either Hamas is in control in Gaza or it isn’t. If it controls the Strip, then it must accept responsibility for what goes on there; if it can’t rein in other Islamist groups, how is Israel meant to trust that Hamas will prevent more attacks if only its demands are met?
Meanwhile, Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy in Lebanon, doubtless is looking and learning from what its ugly terror twin, Hamas, is doing with Iranian assistance.
Israel has been literally burned by the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, which was followed by thousands of rocket and mortar attacks. It is reminiscent of how the Oslo Accords 25 years ago blew up in a wave of bus bombings and suicide attacks that killed more than a thousand Israelis. With these precedents, no matter what left-leaning politicians and pundits say, the majority of the Israeli public is not willing to risk more territorial concessions for a promise of peace with no guarantees.
Hamas has squandered millions of dollars of international aid, preferring to construct terror tunnels and build up rocket arsenals rather than construct homes, workplaces, infrastructure, hospitals and schools. Even now, it is doubtful all the tons of provisions that pour into Gaza every day via Israeli crossings reach the poor residents they were intended for.
The International Criminal Court sent its own warning shot in Israel’s direction on October 17, while the family in Beersheba was still choking in the dust of the rubble that used to be their home. In a statement clearly aimed at the Israeli leadership, Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said, “I continue to keep a close eye on the developments on the ground and will not hesitate to take any appropriate action, within the confines of the independent and impartial exercise of my mandate under the Rome Statute, with full respect for the principle of complementarity.”
I would like to remind the chief prosecutor that every single rocket and mortar launched from Gaza on Israel is a war crime. Every incendiary device burning Israeli fields, farms, forests and nature reserves is an act of environmental terrorism. That Israeli parents must warn their children not to touch balloons because they might blow up should not be considered normal or acceptable. Hamas is committing daily war crimes, while managing to cast the blame on the victim, Israel.
At a security assessment at the IDF Gaza Division headquarters on October 17, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeated his warning “... if these attacks do not stop – we will stop them.”
But strong talk that is not backed up by tough action creates the hot air that lifts terror balloons and fire-kites up high.
Low-level conflict can’t stay low when rockets are flying above. If Hamas is unwilling to stop the rocket attacks and fire-intifada on Israel, it should be left to suffer its own burning devices.
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