Analysis: Should Israel be in Gaza?

January 8, 2009
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Melanie Phillips: Yes

War is hell. There can surely be not one amongst us who does not feel the utmost horror and anguish at the devastation and misery in Gaza and the deaths of civilians, especially children. And it may well get even worse.

This is because Hamas are using the people of Gaza as human shields behind which to store and fire their missiles. That’s what happened on Tuesday, when the IDF returned mortar fire from a school where Hamas were hiding amongst civilians. It appears that IDF shells detonated bombs

Hamas had stored at the school. Hamas use this tactic not merely for its propaganda effect. They believe that embracing death in the cause of mass murder is the highest form of religious sacrifice. So they actually want families to die in this way.

Such depravity does not mean that those who fight them should abandon their own moral values. And Israel has shown precisely that moral scruple.

Whether one takes the Israeli estimate that 88 per cent of those killed were Hamas operatives or the UN figure of 75 per cent, it is clear Israel has been targeting Hamas and not civilians. Furthermore, what other country would treat its enemies in its own hospitals, or supply them with fuel and facilities enabling them to continue firing rockets at its kindergartens?

Even more extraordinary, the IDF is leafleting and texting terrorist households before bombing them to warn them to remove their families. Yet Hamas often use these warnings to place family members there to maximise the civilian death toll.

There is virtually no reporting of evidence that Hamas are stealing humanitarian aid which Israel is allowing in; nor that they have shot dozens of Palestinian “collaborators”, who are then counted among the civilian casualties of Israeli strikes. One can only shudder at the prospect of a further escalation.

But those who want Israel to stop are effectively ruling out defence against genocidal terror. A truce will always apply to Israel alone. There can be no truce or compromise for Hamas, whose unswerving goal is to destroy Israel and kill every last Jew.

This war also has wider strategic importance. Hamas are key to Iran’s strategy for genocide and world domination. If Hamas are neutralised, Iran will be damaged. If Israel aborts the task, Iran will emerge even stronger.

This is an issue of supreme moral clarity; there is no moral equivalence between Hamas terror and Israeli self-defence. Hamas are an existential enemy not just of the Jewish people but of the civilised world. The only way to stop them is to destroy them.

Jews do not abandon the innocent. They fight to defend life and liberty against terror and barbarism. It is a moral duty for Israel to fight this war.

Melanie Phillips is a Daily Mail columnist

Jonathan Freedland: No

Let’s make one thing clear: I write as someone who wants to see Israel not only survive, but thrive. Some people oppose Operation Cast Lead because they oppose everything Israel does, even its very right to exist.

I am not one of those people. My family, even my own life story, has been bound up with Israel.

Nor am I one of those blind to the suffering of Israel’s southern residents. I know that life in Sderot, under constant Hamas rocket fire, had become unbearable. I know how desperate ordinary Israelis are for those rockets to stop.

And yet I tremble at what Israel has unleashed these past two weeks. Even if the pummelling of Gaza does bring an end to the rocket fire, I fear it will have left Israel more, not less, vulnerable — and facing new and broader perils than before.

That will be clearest if Hamas is so battered that it is left incapable of governing Gaza. That will leave a vacuum, to be filled, either by Somalia-style anarchy or, worse, the likes of al-Qaida. Even if a weakened Hamas manages to cling to power, new dangers lurk for Israel.

A generation of Palestinians has been filled with fresh hatred for the Jewish state: they will be bent on revenge for the hundreds of deaths they witnessed this week.

Some will want to return to suicide bombings inside Israel, others will plan to hit Jewish targets abroad. What’s more, Operation Cast Lead has triggered a wave of anti-Israel fury far beyond Gaza, greater even than the anger stirred by the bombardment of Lebanon in 2006. Hamas are now hailed across the region as heroes of resistance; Arab moderates are dismissed as irrelevant or worse.

An early sign of the danger: the prime minister of Jordan this week said that even his pro-western country might now reconsider its
relationship with Israel.

In all these ways, Cast Lead could prove to be a cure worse than the original disease. But, say the operation’s supporters, what else could Israel do to stop the rockets? The answer is plenty. For most of the six-month ceasefire that held until December, Hamas had all but stilled the missiles hurled into Israel.

Those who know Gaza best say that had Israel used that period to loosen the severe blockade that was choking the strip, the response would have been positive. Ordinary Gazans would have seen that providing southern Israel with calm brought real improvement to their daily lives. They would not have forgiven Hamas for jeopardising that by launching Kassams.

But Israel did not loosen the
embargo on Gaza. Obviously, it could not make that move under heavy rocket fire: that would have been
rewarding terror.

But it could have done it when the quiet held: that would have been
rewarding calm. But it did not.

So now the best Israel can hope for is a robust truce that will end the Kassams and the arms smuggling. But Israel had every chance to negotiate that deal without resorting to war.

Instead, whatever its intentions, it has caused needless death and suffering — and grave harm to its own reputation.

Whatever short-term gains this operation may bring have come at a dreadful cost — one that Israel and the Jewish people will be paying for many years to come.

Jonathan Freedland writes for the Guardian is a Daily Mail columnist

    Last updated: 2:27pm, November 8 2010