My Word: Sound bites and echoes of war

When during the 2014 Gaza War I foresaw today’s attacks in Europe, it wasn’t a sixth sense but common sense combined with experience.

Protesters climb on the statue in the Place de la République in Paris during a banned demonstration in support of Gaza on July 26, 2014 (photo credit: BENOIT TESSIER /REUTERS)
Protesters climb on the statue in the Place de la République in Paris during a banned demonstration in support of Gaza on July 26, 2014
Whenever I’m tempted to buy a subscription to the lottery I remember an expert trying to soothe the fears of Israelis in the face of a possible gas attack in the 1991 Gulf War: “The chances of a missile hitting your home are about the same as the chance of you winning the lottery,” he said. I didn’t want to test my luck – or fate.
I still don’t know anyone who’s won a fortune on the lottery, but I know more than one family who have had a rocket land way too close to their homes for comfort.
Rockets and political science have been on my mind lately.
For the last few weeks, whenever Facebook asks if I want to share a memory from two years ago, it is something I wrote during Operation Protective Edge in Gaza.
As the war dragged on throughout the summer of 2014, when Hamas broke cease-fire after cease-fire, I was frequently interviewed on radio stations abroad.
Some of the interviewers were pleasant; with others, the experience was safer but no nicer than being under rocket attack outdoors with nowhere to take cover.
Two interviews in particular stick in my mind: one for what I said, the other for what I didn’t say.
It’s the omission that most surprises me in retrospect.
At the end of July 2014, a London-based radio interviewer asked me the by-then familiar question: “Why don’t Israel and Hamas just sit down and talk instead of killing each other?” “Why don’t the US and al-Qaida talk?” I countered, leading the interviewer to smugly ask: “Are you comparing Hamas with al-Qaida?” With more respect than was due, I politely pointed out that Hamas and al-Qaida are both Islamist, jihadist, terrorist organizations and, yes, fundamentally the same.
What astounds me now is not the interviewer’s inability to see the similarities between the two groups, but that ISIS (or ISIL as it was still being called) was not familiar enough to come to mind as a possible comparison.
The more I think about it – a professional hazard, not an obsession – the more I am convinced that a major factor behind the growth of Islamic State was that the world was too busy focusing on Israel and the Palestinians to see what was developing in the post-Arab Spring turmoil.
US Secretary of State John Kerry shuttled for months between Washington, Jerusalem and Ramallah in an effort to kick start the peace process – an effort that kicked off a chain reaction that instead led to the war.
I might be forgiven for missing the early signs of the phenomenal growth of the barbaric terrorist organization, but where were the CIA and the intelligence agencies of the free-but-threatened world? Even Israel, busy with the 5,000 rockets and mortars being launched from Gaza, threats from Hezbollah in Lebanon, and a mini intifada in the West Bank and Jerusalem, did not have ISIS in its sights at the time.
Which leads me to the second interview that continues to reverberate.
In mid-August 2014, the British government announced (despite the wishes of then-prime minister David Cameron) that it would suspend some of its arms exports to Israel if hostilities resumed in Gaza, due to concerns that the products could be used by the IDF there.
A sympathetic-sounding interviewer in London asked my opinion. I don’t recall my exact words, but I remember the feeling of helplessness. Sitting in my living room, the window open so I could hear a siren in the event of an attack, I tried to convey how dangerous – and preposterous – the decision was. It gave Hamas and Islamic Jihad added incentive to break the cease-fire – they would fire on us, and Israel would be punished with reduced means of responding.
So are Israelis angry, I was asked.
Not angry, but sad and frustrated, I replied.
Israel is the front line, I noted. We’re the ones protecting Europe, and we’re being hampered instead of helped.
Several interviewers brought up the “disproportionate response” canard, to which I pointed out that Israel invested a huge amount in improving protection for its citizens, while doing its utmost to pinpoint non-civilian targets in Gaza. Hamas invested in building terror tunnels and deliberately placed its rockets and weapon stockpiles in schools and hospitals – anything to increase the outrage when Israel acted.
Just this week, IDF spokesman Lt.-Col. Peter Lerner released a video of a four-year-old Palestinian boy being urged by his father to throw rocks at Israeli soldiers and border police, while the father calls on them to shoot his son. An officer gives the child a high five instead.
If the father’s attempt to sacrifice his son to grab a propaganda image wasn’t sad enough, the Palestinian Media Watch monitoring group noted that the PA television edited out the handshake and a reporter claimed: “His son, who has yet to reach the age of five, also knows, despite his young age, that it is forbidden to shake hands with the soldiers, just as it is forbidden to make peace with them.”
It’s a double blow to hope.
“Israel is the first to come under attack, but we won’t be the last,” I wrote in a column in July 2014, following a particularly jarring interview. “Witness the atrocities against Christian communities wherever the jihadists have taken control around the globe.”
That summer no interviewer imagined that an elderly priest could be beheaded as he conducted mass in a French church – or that it would be just one of a series of despicable Islamist attacks in Europe and elsewhere.
In July two years ago, thousands of pro-Palestinians – most of them Muslim, some from the far Left – defied a police ban to gather in the Place de la République in Paris, where they climbed up the statue of Marianne to wave flags and set off flares.
In other incidents, a kosher supermarket in the Paris suburb of Sarcelles was attacked and hundreds of Jews were forced to barricade themselves in a Paris synagogue, seeking sanctuary from possible lynching.
No wonder the number of French Jews moving to Israel is increasing by thousands, especially as Muslim migrants continue to flow into Europe.
Similar rallies were held in England, Germany and the US among other places.
Today, each of those countries, like France and Israel, is living with the threat of more terror attacks. This week Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan- Howe announced the deployment of heavily armed, well-trained anti-terror forces in London, saying an attack in Britain is a matter of “when, not if.”
Forty-four years after 11 Israeli sportsmen were murdered by Palestinian terrorists in Munich, the Olympic Games in Rio are taking place under unprecedented threats of terrorism.
If I were clairvoyant I’d buy lottery tickets. When I foresaw the attacks in Europe, it wasn’t a sixth sense but common sense combined with experience.
As I said in the summer of 2014, a strong Israel isn’t the problem, it’s part of the solution. Some things don’t change.
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