When Israel launched Operation Cast Lead against Hamas in the Gaza Strip on 27 December 2008 the reason for this decision was unknown to most of the public. The daily launching of rockets and shell mortars from the Gaza Strip that had been going on for the past eight years went largely unreported by the media. As long as Hamas was firing deadly missiles and indiscriminately targeting Israeli civilians, it did not raise much concern from the international community, but as soon as Israel used legitimate and legal force to put an end to terrorist violence against its people, the Arab world and European countries were quick to call for an “immediate ceasefire”. If Western countries had applied as much pressure on Hamas over the past number of years as they have on Israel over the past three weeks, the tragic consequences for the population in Gaza may well have been prevented. No effective measures were taken to stop the smuggling of arms from Iran, to halt the digging of an extensive network of tunnels running under the border with Egypt and within the Gaza Strip or to prevent the stockpiling of a massive arsenal of weapons and explosives. Israel was left with no alternative than to deal with this intolerable situation by itself while facing a barrage of condemnation from Western countries, such as France, who should actually have supported them.

Understanding Israel

As Daniel Finkelstein from ‘The Times’ has stated, we need to understand Israel. The idea of the reestablishment of the Jewish people in their land and the creation of the State of Israel came from Theodor Herzl, an Austrian writer and journalist. After the conviction of Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish French Army Officer who was falsely accused of treason in 1894, Herzl witnessed the ceremony of disgrace in Paris during which Captain Dreyfus’ epaulettes were removed. This case inflamed public opinion for several years and gave way to a manifestation of passionate anti-semitic feelings within French society and among French politicians. Herzl became convinced that the Jewish people could not be assimilated into other nations and that they would only be protected in a country of their own defended by their own people. Thus the Zionist movement was born and later reinforced by the horrendous experience of oppression, persecution and systematic attempts to destroy the Jews, particularly in Europe, during the Second World War. In 1948 the State of Israel was created to guarantee the future protection of the Jewish nation.

It is worth noting that the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen in 1789, which became part of the French Constitution that proclaims and protects “the natural, inalienable and sacred rights of man”, did not prevent Dreyfus from being victimised, nor 70,000 Jews from being arrested and deported by the French authorities to Nazi death camps. This demonstrates that legal safeguards, in a nation that has little consideration for the effective implementation of fundamental principles, cannot provide sustainable protection for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Dealing with Hamas

Israel was therefore established to ensure the protection of its people against any renewed attempt to eliminate them from the face of the earth. Unfortunately, since its inception the State of Israel has been faced with constant opposition from the Palestinian people who claim the whole land of Israel as their own, although they have little historical legitimacy to make such a claim. To accommodate them Israel has agreed to the existence of a Palestinian State comprising the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. This solution, from a pragmatic point of view, has been agreed since 1993 by the Palestinian secular Fatah, located in the West Bank, but is totally rejected by the Palestinian religious Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip and whose priority is to obtain the final destruction of Israel.

Hamas means “Islamic Resistance movement” and was created in 1987. The spiritual founder was Sheik Ahmed Yassin. He was killed by the Israelis in 2004 and the present leader is believed to be Hahmoud Zahar, a medical surgeon. The roots of Hamas go back to an alliance made by the Grand Mufti of Palestine Haj Amin al-Hussaini with Adolph Hitler in the 1930s in an attempt to revive the Islamic Caliphate. It is categorised as a terrorist organisation by Israel, the United States of America and the European Union. Hamas is fanatically pursuing a religious cause that is part of Islam’s struggle for world domination. This includes the obliteration of the State of Israel. It implies the rejection of a two-State solution and makes the creation of a Palestinian State a secondary issue. Hamas excludes any rival organisation, such as the secular Fatah. It made an alliance with the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad aimed at the destruction of the State of Israel. The group has different sectors of operation: it controls welfare, health, education and the economy; it has a political front headed by Ismail Hanya, who won the Palestinian legislative election in 2006; and it runs a paramilitary organisation of 20 000 men and women, the Iss al-Din Quassam Brigades.

The policy of Hamas has been to oppose the Oslo Accords, which provided a way forward for progress to be made towards the creation of a Palestinian State, as well as to hinder any advancement towards that end by launching terrorist attacks. Since its inception Hamas has systematically opposed a permanent ceasefire as long as Israel has not completely withdrawn from the West Bank and East Jerusalem. It also claims that Palestinians who left Israeli territory in 1948 should be entitled to return to live there. By using violence Hamas has sought to advance its cause for the destruction of Israel and the creation of an Islamic State in its stead.

The Hamas strategy of “the rocket and the ballot box” is typical of a terrorist organisation and based on fanatical hatred and extreme violence. Its uses the democratic system to gain power and once in control denies the same right to any political opponent, hence the elimination of Fatah members in May 2007. Once in power Hamas has encouraged the Gazan people to express their hatred and demand more violence and destruction against Israel as they did by their thousands in the streets of Gaza a few weeks before Operation Cast Lead started. It is essentially a fascist group that does not hesitate to kill other Palestinians accused of allegedly collaborating with Israel. In 2000 it launched a campaign of violence against Israeli civilians by way of suicide bombings .

Since Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005 rockets have been continually fired into Israel. Over the past eight years not less than 8,000 rockets and shell mortars have been fired from the Gaza strip, putting at risk one million Israeli civilians. A huge arsenal of weapons and explosives has been smuggled through underground tunnels from Egypt to the Gaza Strip. Hamas deliberately uses fellow Palestinian civilians, including women and children, as human shields by setting up rocket-launchers in built-up areas so as to provoke a calculated response from the Israelis and then be able to accuse them of the massacre of innocent civilians.

The five-fold propaganda strategy of Hamas consists of (1) launching relentless attacks against Israeli civilians, thus (2) forcing Israel to react, before (3) posturing as the victims of a ruthless aggressor, (4) claiming alleged breaches of human rights to tarnish and undermine the respectability of Israel internationally and finally (5) justifying a new wave of attacks against Israel and its people. The tragedy that occurred at the United Nations-run school on 6 January is a typical example of this obnoxious, evil strategy. Hamas terrorists moved into position next to the school and fired mortar shells at Israeli troops. Israeli forces returned fire, which set off a series of bombs that Hamas had planted as booby-traps within the school. As a result 40 Palestinians civilians who had taken refuge in these premises were killed. The UN failed to ensure that the building was a safe location for civilians, refused to take its share of responsibility in the massacre and was quick to blame the Israelis, adding its voice of condemnation to Hamas supporters.

Supporting Israel and helping innocent civilians

How should a democratic State like Israel, which abides by the rule of law and respects human rights, deal with terrorist groups such as Hamas to protect its people? For years on end Israel has asked Hamas to stop and finally agreed to a truce via Egypt’s mediation, which Hamas has not respected. Hamas was warned and knew that rocket and shell mortar launching would not be tolerated by Israel indefinitely. Faced with the lethargy shown by Western democracy in addressing this matter, Israel had no other option than to try to dismantle the source of violence itself. The measures taken by Israel were absolutely necessary and by all standards proportionate in circumstances made extremely difficult by Hamas, which was using the civilian population as a human shield. Instead of exercising pressure to obtain a ceasefire that would benefit the terrorists, Western democracies should have given their support to Israel by helping to put the Hamas murder machine out of action and protect innocent Palestinian civilians. Israel refused to give up the operation despite adverse media propaganda and international pressure. This is a courageous stand, and one that Western democracies also need to take in order to root out home-grown terrorism from their own societies, while at the same time devising measures to effectively ensure the protection of innocent civilians, particularly children.