June 19, 2021

The Right to Exist

By Stephen Tuttle | May 29, 2021

Israel and Hamas have, at least temporarily, finished one of their somewhat regular skirmishes, with predictable results. We've seen this before. Hamas, the elected government in Gaza, almost wholly funded by Iran and declared a terrorist organization by the U.S. and others, finds a reason to fire a fusillade of rockets across the border into Israel. Israel, the only democracy in the region, then responds with overwhelming force, exacting what their military leaders have called a “blood cost” on those who attack them.  

This time the alleged offense was an Israeli intrusion into the Al-Asqa mosque in East Jerusalem, a Muslim holy site from which they believe Muhammad ascended to heaven. Since Muslims believe East Jerusalem, which Israel annexed during the Six Day War in 1967, belongs to them, any offense there is reason enough for more rockets.

But let's back up.

Hamas has only existed since 1987, founded to “liberate Palestine” and establish an Islamic State. The problem is their charter does not recognize Israel’s right to exist and specifies Israel is the land to be “liberated.”  They would simply erase Israel and, presumably, the Jewish population living there. It makes it more than difficult for Israel to negotiate with them.

In the 1990s, displeased with peace accords between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), Hamas undertook a campaign of suicide bombings, killing dozens. Israel, which had controlled Gaza since the Six Day War, returned it to the Palestinians in 2005, calling home 9,000 Israeli settlers in the process. Hamas took control of Gaza's embryonic government in 2006 elections.  

Israel, about the size of New Jersey and with a total population of less than 9 million, is a bit touchier than most countries, and with mighty good reason: It has been under constant attack since before it officially became an independent country in 1948. The list of aggressors it has fought off represents a land mass several hundred times bigger than Israel with a population of more than a billion people. But David consistently beats up Goliath. 

It started when Israel’s about-to-be new neighbors — Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria — joined forces in an attempt to prevent Israel from existing in the first place. It didn't work. That led to a decade-long insurgency and attacks inside Israel in the 1950s in an attempt to destabilize the new government. That didn't work, either.

Then came the famous Six Day War in 1967. Egypt, Syria, and Jordan (supplied and assisted by Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait), tried again. In less than a week, Israel had scattered their attackers and taken over the West Bank, the Golan Heights, Gaza, and the Sinai. 

Then came more attempts by those countries to regain the territory they lost, including a surprise attack on Yom Kippur in 1973 that worked temporarily, but in the end, not a foot of ground had been retaken.

Since then, there has been an endless series of attacks big and small from Hezbollah, a terrorist group in Lebanon, and Hamas, in Gaza. Sometimes the attacks come from within; almost 21 percent of Israel's population, more than a million people, is Arab. They've been elected to local offices and have been members of the Knesset, Israel's version of Congress. (By contrast, there are perhaps a dozen Jews, total, living in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and Egypt combined.)

As a result of all of this, Israel has undertaken a controversial policy of settling land it acquired in war but is now disputed. If for no other reason, it creates broader and more defensible borders for the Israelis.

Yes, it is unpleasant seeing Palestinians being removed from their homes. And, yes, it is horrific watching Israel's overwhelming military response in Gaza after the Hamas rocket attacks. Israel listed 12 dead and dozens wounded from those rockets. The death toll in Gaza is more than 200, with hundreds more injured and thousands rendered homeless.   

None of this should be a surprise. Israel's policy responding to attacks is to inflict sufficient pain to discourage future attacks. They make no pretense about “proportional” responses; quite the contrary. They will try to avoid the obvious — schools, hospitals, mosques — but if Hamas leaders or their weapons are being housed in those locations, they will be considered legitimate targets.  

It's easy to feel sorry for the residents of Gaza, whose incompetent, terrorist government has condemned them to fights they cannot win. But Gaza is among the world's biggest recipients of humanitarian aid. And the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees has been spending millions annually since 1949, assisting those “displaced by Israel statehood.” No such agency has ever existed for Jews booted out of the Arab world.  

If Hamas and their Iranian keepers would accept reality and recognize Israel's right to exist, the Israelis would be happy to just leave them alone.


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