Context is everything. As we anxiously monitor the ongoing crisis in the Middle East — with rockets terrorizing Israel’s population and the Israeli military’s forceful response to it in Gaza — it’s essential we understand the asymmetry between the Hamas terrorists who indiscriminately target civilians and the Israeli strikes against the political and military centers responsible for the attacks.
After years of rockets streaming into the country, during which time Israel acted with unparalleled restraint, and with the attacks intensifying in recent weeks, Israel could no longer turn the other cheek. Nearly a month ago, as some 60 rockets landed in southern Israel, attracting nearly zero international media attention, Israeli President Shimon Peres made clear Hamas had a choice: “I want to tell the residents of Gaza and their leaders, they have to decide what they want. If they decide on war, what can we do? If they decide to build, there will not be war.”
But Hamas chose not to build, instead persisting in its maniacal, unattainable goal to destroy Israel. And now, as Israel responds, in an operation supported by the majority of Israelis across the political spectrum, much of the world and the media are quick to condemn. But as President Barack Obama and others coming to Israel’s defense have made clear, Hamas precipitated the latest round of this conflict and Israel has every right to defend itself.
Cynical suggestions that the war was undertaken by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a political ploy as he runs for re-election ignore the restraint that his government displayed over the past years and months. “This is not about the elections. We didn’t want war,” Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, told Tablet. “What government in the world wouldn’t have responded with war a long time ago?”
Beyond restoring security, Oren said, “The Palestinian people have to internalize that as long as they choose leadership like Hamas, that will bring them no closer to statehood, no closer to economic and social development, and no closer to peace.”
So what can we do as we cringe at the images of death and destruction on all sides, as we worry about where this will lead and what will be the ultimate cost — in human lives and in further diplomatic isolation for Israel? We can remind our friends and family, our lawmakers and our local media that Israel didn’t just wake up one morning to declare war on Gaza. Its targeted killing of Israel’s equivalent of Osama bin Laden and the subsequent attacks on the terrorist infrastructure are sad but fully justified.