British Airways flight 164 paused on the tarmac at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv. The Boeing 777 awaited final clearance for takeoff when the alert came over the phone. The “Red Alert” app screams with an alarm whenever Israel detects a rocket launched from Gaza. The alert read: “Rockets Launched: Tel Aviv.”
Just a week earlier, a similar rocket was allowed to land near an open field near the country’s only international airport, prompting the American Federal Aviation Administration to order U.S. carriers to halt all flights.
A few minutes after the latest rocket warning, BA 164 took off as planned. There would be no closing of the airport this time. The Iron Dome defense system worked. Not long after, however, another rocket was fired into the city of Kiryat Gat. This time, it got through. A house was destroyed and a civilian killed.
For the residents of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, incoming rocket attacks are something they mainly read about, but have rarely experienced. The crude rockets in the Hamas arsenal are shorter range, threatening the cities and towns of southern Israel, but rarely reaching the larger cities to the north. The rocket attacks into Southern Israel are so commonplace they rarely made their way into western news reports until Israel launched Operation Protective Edge a month ago.
I traveled to Israel together with other supporters on a solidarity mission organized by the Jewish National Fund, a charitable organization mainly concerned with building civilian infrastructure in the country. I joined the mission because now is the time when American leaders must speak with absolute clarity in support of our allies such as Israel, and in equally clear opposition to terrorist groups such as Hamas.
Since 2004 I have made 13 trips to the region, usually as a member of American educational and training missions. Through these experiences I came to understand that Hamas and other terror groups are not representative of the Palestinian people, but they do use them as pawns.
Protective Edge was launched as a result of an increase in rocket fire from Gaza into Israel following the murder of three Israeli teenagers in June, followed by the apparent revenge killing of a Palestinian teenager. The operation initially aimed to degrade Hamas’ stockpile of rockets and related infrastructure.
Much of the mainstream media reporting on the conflict glosses over the difference between Hamas, which glorifies “martyrdom” and places Palestinian lives in direct danger by stockpiling rockets in schools, hospitals and mosques and launching them from areas where civilians live, and Israel, which targets military assets while dropping leaflets and sending recorded phone and text messages warning civilians to clear out in advance of strikes.
Every time Israel destroys a Hamas military asset and civilian lives are lost, the Hamas PR machine kicks into gear to turn media coverage, and by extension world opinion, against Israel.
Israel’s operations are not without fault, but no one should attempt to assign to the Israelis a level of perfection that does not exist. Yet, America would never tolerate rockets raining down on San Diego County from Tijuana, and we should not expect Israel to endlessly tolerate rocket attacks on its civilians either. During our five days on the ground, we quickly grew weary of the Red Alert app’s notifications of incoming rocket fire. No one in our group could fathom how the Israelis have tolerated it for so long.
International demands that Israel negotiate with Hamas (as opposed to other Palestinian groups) to reach a long-term solution are about as realistic as America negotiating with Al Qaeda following 9/11. One group wants the other dead. There is no mutually acceptable negotiated position between these two points.
While the media often equate Hamas specifically with the Palestinian people generally, the former isn’t doing the latter any favors. In addition to turning innocent Palestinian civilians into martyrs through its military tactics of using them as human shields, more broadly the group continually wrecks the prospects for a comprehensive peace by attempting to move the goalpost from the achievable goal of a peace treaty that Israel can accept, to one of its destruction.
Leaders such as Sen. Marco Rubio (FL) and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper deserve credit for identifying Hamas as the instigator of violence and recognizing that peace becomes possible when Hamas no longer controls the outcome. Until then, the group will continue to place Israeli and Palestinian lives in danger, and make a lasting peace only more elusive.