Israel and Gaza: Who is really to blame?

David Saks says media reaction plays into Hamas' hands, which guarantees further civilian deaths


Feelings continue to run high over the recent deaths and injuries along the Israel-Gaza border. In view of the completely one-sided nature of the confrontation, it is easy to buy into the “brutal massacre of innocents” narrative being assiduously propagated by anti-Israel agitators. Emotional, knee-jerk reactions are nevertheless unhelpful when trying to understand how such a tragedy could have taken place in the first place and, more importantly, how they might be prevented from reoccurring in the future. 

Amongst the hard questions that need to be asked is how much of the current outrage is motivated by a genuine concern for the best interests of the Palestinians and how much of it is simply driven by a visceral hatred of the Israeli state? Logically, one would expect that those who care for the well-being of a particular community would urge them to refrain from behaviour that is likely to have negative consequences for them. This, however, is not happening with regard to how the international community relates to the Palestinians, particularly those living in the Gaza Strip. 

Since the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 its people, under the totalitarian rule of the Islamist fundamentalist movement Hamas, have used their freedom to carry out continual attacks against Israel. They have fired over 12 000 missiles at Israeli towns, carrying out such attacks from densely populated residential areas so that when Israel retaliated, civilian casualties were inevitable.

A massive proportion of international aid to Gaza has been diverted into smuggling in weaponry and building scores of cross-border infiltration tunnels. Hamas has perfected the art of disguising militants as civilians for purposes of carrying out suicide terror attacks. Now, it is resorting to inciting thousands of civilians to try to force their way into Israel, knowing full well that no sovereign state could allow such an invasion from a hostile territory and would do whatever was necessary to prevent it.

Instead of continually excoriating Israel, shouldn’t the logical response to all of this be to denounce Hamas for its reckless, callous and self-destructive behaviour? If the welfare of the Palestinian people is what the many vocal critics of Israel truly care about, surely they should be imploring their leaders to cease sacrificing the lives of their followers in futile, self-defeating acts of aggression, abandon their unattainable aim of destroying a neighbouring country and concentrate on building a peaceful, functional democratic society?  

Regardless of what people might claim, organising peaceful protests was never Hamas’s intention. Its explicit purpose was rather to incite a mass invasion of Israel. Hamas Prime Minister Yahya Sinwar baldly stated as much when he declared, “We will tear down the border, and we will tear out their hearts from their bodies”. It has since emerged that far from being “peaceful protestors”, some 80% of those killed were Hamas militants (something Hamas itself readily conceded). The “unarmed protestors” canard is disproved by the fact that militants fired on and threw grenades and pipe bombs at Israel soldiers and attempted to plant explosives along the border. 

In using unarmed Arab civilians as behind whom to hide their weapons, it was Hamas and not Israel who were guilty of multiple war crimes. As for those who try to liken the undeniably tragic events of 14 May to the Sharpeville massacre, this is surely an insult to the unarmed men and women who gathered to protest against the monstrously unjust pass laws to which black people were subjected to simply on account of their racial classification and who in scores of cases paid for their defiance with their lives.    

The manner in which Hamas has pursued its war against the “illegitimate” Jewish state has completely blurred the distinction normally made in warfare between combatants and civilians. This is true not just in terms of those who are targeted by its attacks, but in terms of those who perpetrate them. Israelis have experienced countless instances of apparently harmless people pulling out a gun or a knife and attempting to kill as many innocent bystanders as they can, even at the cost of their own lives.

What may look like an unarmed civilian can easily turn out to be a human bomb – literally. Not just in Gaza, but in the West Bank as well, Palestinians are being exposed to a culture, one that permeates their society at all levels, extolling those who sacrifice their lives in carrying out terrorist attacks against Israeli Jews. The reality that Israel has faced in recent weeks was that every one of those trying to invade its territory was a potential mass murderer; it had no choice but to do whatever was needed to stop them.

Richard Kemp, a former British army colonel with thirty years of experience of counter-terrorism operations, describes Hamas as “the first government in history that has deliberately sought to compel its enemy to kill its own people”. What is apparently not being realized is that those who react by demonizing Israel whenever it responds to such lethal acts of provocation make themselves complicit in endorsing and encouraging those morally repugnant tactics. If provoking confrontations whose most likely outcome is multiple deaths and injuries amongst those who carry them out continues to be rewarded with propaganda victories, it simply ensures that they will happen again - and again. Those who care about the Palestinians should surely be urging their leaders to pursue an altogether different course of action.  

David Saks is Associate Director SA Jewish Board of Deputies