It is a terrible irony that Israel, revolted first by the murder of three of its teenage citizens and then by the revenge attack on a Palestinian teen, is the object of riots, bombs, and demands.
Following the discovery of the bodies of the three Israeli teenagers, six Israelis were arrested for the heinous murder of a teenage Palestinian. That murder did nothing so much as unify the people and the government of Israel in their revulsion for six of their own. One prominent Religious Zionist rabbi called for the death penalty for the killers of Mohammed Abu Khder. (Israel has no death penalty, but Judaism does.) There was unanimity from the prime minister to the defense minister to the leader of the nationalist Bayit Hayehudi Party, to the mother of one of the murdered teens who denounced the revenge killing, to his uncle who paid a condolence call on Abu Khder’s family.
And yet, it is Israel that is under major waves of Hamas rocket fire — 200 rockets of increasing size and precision in the past month, 50 one night this week — and major waves of international disapproval, including from President Obama who demanded that “all sides show restraint” as if Israel hadn’t, and that Israel get on with dispensing justice as if it wouldn’t. It helps little that the State Department finally and grudgingly agreed, “We condemn the firing of missiles at Israel and support Israel’s right to defend itself,” while at the same time, Secretary of State Kerry again asked PM Netanyahu to “act with restraint” in Israel’s response.
How did Israel get there?
June 12th was a normal day, but “normal” requires definition: Hamas was running its infamous summer camps teaching children as young as nine and ten to shoot guns and make bombs, and filling their minds with the glory of appearing before God in bloody tatters. It was faced with rising disapproval from its own people (63% negative in Gaza and 47% negative in the West Bank) and increasing penury from Egypt’s closures of Gaza smuggling tunnels.
The Palestinian Authority similarly was facing ongoing rumbling from Palestinians in the West Bank about government corruption and increasingly less tolerance for dissent. Hamas and Fatah were inching toward a “unity government” that would give Hamas more freedom to operate in the West Bank, while the U.S. announced that a listed terrorist organization in the halls of Palestinian government wouldn’t be sufficient reason to cut off the $400+ million American subsidy or its military training for PA forces.
By the end of June 12th, Naftali Fraenkel (an American citizen), Gilad Shaer and Eyal Yifrach, trying to get home from school in time for the Sabbath, were kidnapped and — we now know — killed during the course of the emergency phone call they placed to Israeli authorities. Their murderers sang after the shots were fired (there was a reason the Israeli government didn’t let that tape out right away). The boys’ bodies were not found for almost three weeks.
During those weeks, Hamas began launching rockets at the Israeli town of Sderot to distract the IDF — leaving 15 seconds for the residents to grab their children, or their elderly parents, and hit the safe room. During that time, Palestinians walked near Jews waving three fingers, signifying the three kidnapped students; staged “reenactments” of the kidnapping with the boys portrayed as soldiers; and gave candy to their children to celebrate. Children from a Hamas summer camp were used as the vanguard of a mob that attacked a group of Jews on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. During that time, Palestinians were told to place multiple calls to the Israeli Police emergency number to stymie any real calls that might come in. When the Israeli government announced it had suspects, one suspect’s mother said, “I will be proud of him until Judgment Day. If… it is true… My boys are all righteous, pious and pure. The goal of my children is the triumph of Islam.” Marwan Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Eishe are still being harbored in the West Bank, somewhere among the Palestinian people.
Israeli Arab Parliamentarian Ahmed Tibi declined to call the murderers “terrorists.”
The UN was no help, urging restraint on Israel. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon first said he “had no concrete evidence” that there even had been a kidnapping. He changed his tune, but the UNHCR gave only a tepid hearing to the three Israeli mothers who came to appeal for international help to get their children back.
This was all before the bodies of Gilad, Naftali, and Eyal were found and before the death of Mohammed Abu Khder.
Since them, Abu Mazen has called the death of Abu Khder a deliberate act by the Netanyahu government. Fatah has posted on its Facebook page, “Israel: Prepare all the bags you can for your body parts… We wish for the blood to become rivers.”
Since then, Hamas has increased the range of rocket fire to encompass large parts of Israel, and now calls “all of Israel” a target. Israeli Arabs have rampaged outside of Haifa and in the Galilee, and West Bank Palestinians have rioted in Jerusalem and the surrounding areas. The new light rail line connecting the Palestinian town of Shuafat to the center of Jerusalem (part of the larger system, giving Palestinians easier access to the city) has been bombed by Palestinians.
Hamas has committed at least two war crimes: firing on Israeli civilians and locating its military infrastructure within its own population, ensuring higher Palestinian casualties that can be blamed on Israel.
In order to accept a ceasefire, it demands from Israel the release of the Hamas operatives arrested in the search for the three teens and the lifting of security restrictions on imports to Gaza. From the PA, it demands a transfer of tens of thousands of dollars to pay salaries for Hamas officials in Gaza. From Egypt, it demands the opening of Gaza’s borders to imports.
There have been suggestions that the Hamas war was deliberately started to draw Israel (and the U.S.) into the broader religious and civil wars of the region. More likely, Hamas saw a target of opportunity. But it should be clear that Israel’s determination to find justice for Gilad, Naftali, Eyal, and Mohammad is the behavior of a country governed by rule of law, which should be supported by the United States as Israel deals with Hamas as required to protect its citizens and its territory.