Understanding the conflict in Gaza

Robert A. Cohn, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of the St. Louis Jewish Light

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

“No nation could tolerate rockets and missiles raining down on their citizens.”

— President Barack Obama, responding to latest Gaza crisis

New Mt. Sinai Cemetery advertisement

President Barack Obama got it exactly right in his first public response to the current conflict in Gaza, in which Israel has responded with robust force to the more than 1,000 rockets, mortars and missiles launched by Hamas terrorists into Israel over the past year.

After enduring, relentless pounding from Hamas and its allies, Israel, in a pinpoint raid into Gaza, succeeded in a targeted killing of Hamas’ top military commander, Ahmed al-Jabari, who was struck in an airstrike as he was riding in a car down a Gaza street. Jabari was responsible for numerous terrorist attacks against Israel resulting in the loss of hundreds of lives and many serious injuries.

In the days that followed the Jabari killing, Hamas has unleashed a barrage of hundreds of missiles and rockets against Israel, some of which landed near Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

Hamas is an official Gaza offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist organization to which Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi belongs. Morsi dispatched his prime minister to Gaza over the weekend, where he expressed “full solidarity” with Hamas in its “struggle with Israeli aggressors.” This language is hardly an “even-handed” approach to achieving a cease-fire.

Morsi is reportedly eager to put pressure on Hamas to agree to and comply with a cease-fire. If Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood indeed has leverage of its “branch” of Hamas, it should be used immediately.

At some point, the Western powers, including the United States need to get constructively involved. To his credit, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has demanded that Hamas stop the rocket attacks into Israel even while issuing the standard U.N. call for “restraint” on both sides. For its part, the Israeli government has indicated that it would prefer not to launch a ground invasion of Gaza. A similar operation in 2007 did not achieve its goal of stopping the rocket attacks.

A few facts should be pointed out again as the crisis unfolds:

• Israel is not “occupying” Gaza. Seven years ago, under the “hardline” Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Israel withdrew all 8,500 Jewish settlers from all 21 Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip. Since 2007, Gaza has been under the direct control of Hamas, having staged a coup to wrest control of the Gaza Strip from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, whose authority remains limited to the West Bank.

• Israel remains officially committed to a resumption of the Israel-Palestinian peace process under the auspices of the “Quartet” of the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia. It is urgent that those talks resume in earnest.

• Hillary Clinton’s direct involvement is a positive step, but we earnestly hope that a new “cease-fire” will not have the same fate of the three previous “cease-fires” between Israel and Hamas in the six years since “Operation Cast Lead.” During the first official “cease-fire,” according to the Sderot Media Center, Hamas launched 325 attacks on Sderot and the western Negev.  Israel did not respond to these attacks, remaining compliant with the terms of the cease-fire.  During the second, Hamas launched 530 attacks, and in 2008, the entire western Negev was under non-stop rocket fire, with nearly 3,200 aerial attacks on Israel. This time, if a cease-fire is  agreed to, it must not be another case of  “Israel ceases; Hamas fires.”

• If a true cease-fire can be achieved and earnest talks for a permanent cessation of all rocket and terrorist attacks by Hamas and its allies in Gaza, true peace can be achieved, including a total lifting of all restrictions of goods being delivered to Gaza for peaceful use and a reduction in security measures which have been necessary for Israel to protect its citizens for terrorist attacks.

One of the historic ironies of the current Gaza crisis is that in the days of the Bible, Gaza was the home of the Philistines, who established a kingdom in the region. At various points in his career, King David fought with and against the Philistines, and on a few occasions peace was achieved between these two ancient people. “Palestine” comes from the Roman word for the area, “Philistia,” or the Land of the Philistines.

We pray that an early and complete cease-fire can be achieved to stop all the bloodshed, and that the modern descendants of the ancient Philistines and Israelites can at last be achieved.