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Whatever happened to the ceasefire that was supposed to be in place between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza strip? Is it a surprise that Hamas, little more than two weeks after Israel withdrew from Gaza, began to launch rockets and mortars into Israel again? Yesterday a rocket from Gaza struck the Isreali city of Ashkelon causing only property damage fortunately. Hamas went back to their old ways back on January 27 when they detonated a bomb near an Israeli border patrol that killed an Israeli soldier. On Sunday Palestinians fired at least four rockets and a “shower of mortar shells” into Israel. (Kershner, Isabel, “Rocket from Gaza Strikes Israeli City“, The New York Times, February 3, 2009). Israel responded with air raids against terrorists in return.

All this is going on while the Egyptians are trying to negotiate a more lasting truce between Hamas and Israel. Hamas wants all of the crossings opened and the lifting of the economic embargo and Israel wants an end to the smuggling tunnels. Egypt has announced that the U.S. Army Engineers had arrived to set up ground-penetrating radar to detect smuggling tunnels (Kershner, Isabel, “Rocket from Gaza Strikes Israeli City“, The New York Times, February 3, 2009). One has to wonder why they are even there when the tunnels are not really a secret as Sarah Topol of The New Republic notes in her February 2nd 2009 story “Tunnel Vision:

Finding the tunnels proved much easier than I had expected. Together with two other journalists, I hired Mahmoud, who moonlights as translator while co-owning a profitable, albeit somewhat vague, telecommunications company in the Palestinian town of Rafah. His best friend drove us the 15 minutes from Rafah to just outside the Philadelphi corridor, the heavily guarded strip of no-man’s land that separates the two countries. Approximately 70 yards from the border, we hit dozens of tattered white tents, organized row upon row, tens of feet apart. Each tent houses the mouth of a tunnel that snakes beneath the border to Egypt.

…Around us, the flurry of activity is anything but surreptitious. Trucks, heavily laden with unmarked, small white parcels, loiter outside the tents ready to transport goods around the Strip. Tractors push and pull mounds of sand disgorged by bombings, looking to recover lost goods. Some tents have been damaged by the war, but many remain unscathed.

“What are the tents for?” I ask Mahmoud.

“They are to protect from sun and rain,” he answers.

“It’s not to keep the tunnels secret?”

“The tunnels are not a secret!” he exclaims over the din of generators and the frantic scraping of shovels.

(Topol, Sarah, “Tunnel Vision, The New Republic, February 2, 2009)

Thanks to Yisrael Medad for the New Republic article link.

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Of all the unlikely stories I thought I would ever read in the New York Times this was one of them. Normally I expect the Times to take the most left-leaning perspective and just slam Israel for anything that it does especially when it comes to Palestinians. It makes me wonder why I even bother to read the New York Times anymore (or the Washington Post for that matter). But this story just had my jaw dropping. Here was a semi-balanced piece that somehow slipped through the Times’ editor’s fingers. Here’s just a sample:

Hamas, with training from Iran and Hezbollah, has used the last two years to turn Gaza into a deadly maze of tunnels, booby traps and sophisticated roadside bombs. Weapons are hidden in mosques, schoolyards and civilian houses, and the leadership’s war room is a bunker beneath Gaza’s largest hospital

(Erlanger, Steven, “A Gaza War Full of Traps and Trickery“, The New York Times, January 10, 2009)

Who would have thought that Hamas would hide their weapons inside of mosques, schoolyards and civilian houses. And on top of that, running their war from a bunker underneath a hospital! Isn’t this what Israel has been saying all along…and said about Hezbollah’s conduct of their operations during the war in the north of Israel 2 and 1/2 years ago? But it didn’t matter to the New York Times that that was the case…in their editor’s minds Israel was still in the wrong for even daring to fight. But it gets better,

Unwilling to take Israel’s bait and come into the open, Hamas militants are fighting in civilian clothes; even the police have been ordered to take off their uniforms. The militants emerge from tunnels to shoot automatic weapons or antitank missiles, then disappear back inside, hoping to lure the Israeli soldiers with their fire.

In one apartment building in Zeitoun, in northern Gaza, Hamas set an inventive, deadly trap. According to an Israeli journalist embedded with Israeli troops, the militants placed a mannequin in a hallway off the building’s main entrance. They hoped to draw fire from Israeli soldiers who might, through the blur of night vision goggles and split-second decisions, mistake the figure for a fighter. The mannequin was rigged to explode and bring down the building.

In an interview, the reporter, Ron Ben-Yishai, a senior military correspondent for the newspaper Yediot Aharonot, said soldiers also found a pile of weapons with a grenade launcher on top. When they moved the launcher, “they saw a detonator light up, but somehow it didn’t go off.”

(Erlanger, Steven, “A Gaza War Full of Traps and Trickery“, The New York Times, January 10, 2009)

Here is how Hamas really works. And if it’s not enough for the world to read it in the New York Times (as the saying goes “you can’t believe everything you read”) then here’s a video showing how Hamas booby trapped a school and a zoo to blow it up when Israeli soldiers entered it…a school where children learn

While I’m saddened by the tragedy that the everyday Palestinian suffers in Gaza, the Israelis are not the ones who are fighting dirty. It’s the Hamas terrorists who feel that civilian shields, booby trapped houses and schools and launching rockets and mortars from civilian areas are legitimate fighting techniques. They’re the ones who violate international law and perpetrate war crimes against humanity. Israel cannot tolerate rockets being rained down upon its citizenry — not on a sporadic basis and certainly not on a continual basis.

Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times penned an op-ed yesterday titled “The Gaza Boomerang” in which he excoriates Israel for their incursion into Gaza. He notes that

Since the shelling from Gaza started in 2001, 20 Israeli civilians have been killed by rockets or mortars, according to a tabulation by Israeli human rights groups. That doesn’t justify an all-out ground invasion that has killed more than 660 people (it’s difficult to know how many are militants and how many are civilians)

(Kristof, Nicholas D., “The Gaza Boomerang“, The New York Times, January 8 2009)

Sitting in an office a few thousand miles away Mr. Kristof balances the lives of 20 people on the one hand and 660 people on the other (which is probably more now) and says that the 20 people are not worth the 660 people. He uses this balance to say make the old tired response that Israel’s response is “disproportionate.” Israel, as Mr. Kristof believes, should simply have bombed the tunnels which Hamas is using to smuggle weapons into the Gaza strip or, better yet, eased the blockade of the Gaza strip in the hopes that in would have created “an environment in which Hamas would have extended the cease-fire.”

Whether Hamas would have extended the cease-fire or not we will never know now. I’m betting that they wouldn’t. They would have used the easing of a blockade to arm themselves with probably even more deadlier rockets as well as unleased their legions of suicide bombers on Israel. This sort of thinking originates from the Munich Pact of 1938 in which France, Britain, and Germany met to discuss Hitler’s demands for the Sudetenland (at the time part of the country of Czechoslovakia). Hitler reassured Britain’s prime minister Neville Chamberlain that if Germany was given the Sudetenland than he (Hitler) would make no more claims on the territory of it’s neighbors. Chamberlain went back to Britain with the pact in hand and proclaimed that he had secured “peace for our time.” Not long after, in March of 1939, Hitler’s army invaded the rest of Czechoslovakia and we all know the rest of the story.

Mr. Kristof’s naive assertion that if only Israel had made “nice” with Hamas then Hamas would make “nice” with Israel is completely off. It smacks of Gollum‘s quote in the Lord of the Rings movie, The Two Towers, “We’ll be nice to them, if they’ll be nice to us” — well, we all now how that ended. Gollum betrayed Sam and Frodo, tried to kill them and managed, albeit only briefly, to capture the One Ring for himself. Israel cannot afford to make “nice” with an organization that continually professes that it’s sole aim is the destruction of Israel with the concomittant explusion or mass murder of all Jews from their land. And Mr. Kristof clearly doesn’t understand that – it doesn’t enter into his calculus.

Hamas can easily bring an end to the Gaza tragedy it it would stop raining rockets down on Israel (which, just before the current fighting was around 60 per day), stop sending suicide bombers into Israeli cafes, shops, synagoguges, and malls, and realizes that a two-state solution is the only way to end this festering, open sore of a conflict. Instead, they only wish to continue the cycle of violence (which leads to Israeli retaliation which, in itself also contributes to the cycle).

The 20 Israeli lives that have been lost to the Hamas rain of rockets over the past 8 years (it’s been going on since 2001) are just as meaningful and valid as the Palestinian lives lost over the past two weeks. Those 20 were someone mother, father, child, brother, and sister. This is not a game of numbers that defines how hard Israel is allowed to strike back against an organization that is determined to see its destruction. It’s a question of survival. Israel’s response has to be strong enough that Hamas will think twice in the future of whether they want to keep the count going up to 21, 22 or beyond. It has to be strong enough that Hamas will realize that true peace comes with being willing to live with your neighbors rather than sitting and waiting to cut their throats whenever they let their guard down.

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