I begged Ha­mas for a cease­fire, but they said: No, bring it on

Top Is­raeli peace ac­tivist says Is­rael had no choice but to de­fend it­self

The Jewish Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - GER­SHON BASKIN

I SPENT HOURS this week try­ing to con­vince my main Ha­mas con­tact to speak to his lead­ers to call for an im­me­di­ate, un­con­di­tional, 24-hour cease­fire in or­der to stop the es­ca­la­tion.

My mes­sage made it all the way up to Khaled Mashal, Ha­mas’s leader. I wanted to help pre­vent the in­evitable deaths of in­no­cent people and the de­struc­tion that this war would cause.

I tried to im­press upon him the se­ri­ous­ness of Is­rael’s prepa­ra­tions for a ground at­tack, in­clud­ing the fact that it has called up 40,000 re­serve soldiers. I tried to ap­peal to his sen­si­bil­i­ties re­gard­ing the un­nec­es­sary deaths of so many in­no­cent people. I am quite sure, hav­ing known him for eight years, that he agreed with me.

The Ha­mas lead­er­ship de­cided to ig­nore the pos­si­bil­ity of a cease­fire and in­stead chal­lenged Is­rael to “bringon” the bat­tle. These ir­re­spon­si­ble lead­ers are crim­i­nals to their own people.

I can hon­estly say that Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu did not want to es­ca­late this war. It is so un­for­tu­nate that Ha­mas lead­ers, some sit­ting in ho­tels abroad and oth­ers safely hid in gun­der ground in Gaza, put the in­no­cent people of Gaza in the di­rect line of fire.

Force alone will never be a proper re­sponse to hu­man suf­fer­ing. Is­rael had to re­spond with force, I am sorry to say, but Is­rael must also present a plan for ad­dress­ing the real and ur­gent hu­man needs of the 1.7 mil­lion people in Gaza, or this on­go­ing war will never end.

To all of my Pales­tinian friends and oth­ers on the left: In­stead of empty words, how about ex­plain­ing what you would do if you were Is­raeli prime min­is­ter fac­ing hun­dreds of rock­ets fall­ing down on your cit­i­zens? Would you sur­ren­der to Ha­mas and say, please shoot us, it’s ok, we un­der­stand your anger? Is that what you would do?

Get real! How about propos­ing some­thing con­struc­tive? That is what I have tried to do. Where is your con­struc­tive and log­i­cal con­tri­bu­tion to the dis­cus­sion? I don’t need to hear empty con­dem­na­tions with no pos­i­tive sug­ges­tions.

To all the right-wing people who have noth­ing con­struc­tive to say: Your crit­i­cisms and words of hate do not help any­one and are not wel­come.

I am tired of these con­ver­sa­tions of hate. Say some­thing con­struc­tive.

THERE IS no end in sight to the lat­est round of war­fare be­tween Ha­mas and Is­rael, in which hun­dreds of mis­siles have been fired from Gaza into Is­rael and a mas­sive Is­raeli air cam­paign was un­leashed in re­tal­i­a­tion.

The big­gest clash with Gaza since Novem­ber 2012 be­gan on Mon­day fol­low­ing an ex­plo­sion in a large tun­nel ex­ca­vated by Ha­mas. The ter­ror group had been in­tend­ing to use the tun­nel for an at­tack against Is­rael. Seven Ha­mas fighters were killed in the blast which they blamed on the Is­raelis. Dozens of mis­siles were then fired to­wards Is­raeli towns.

The es­ca­la­tion is only tan­gen­tially con­nected to the mur­der of Is­raeli teenagers Gi­lad Shaar, Eyal Yifrach and Naf­tali Frenkel by Ha­mas mem­bers four weeks ago and t he re­venge mur­der last week of Mo­hammed Abu Khdeir in Jerusalem, al­legedly by Is­raelis.

Ha­mas has been un­der in­creas­ing pres­sure due to its in­abil­ity to pay the salaries of civil ser­vants in Gaza, giv­ing lee­way for Salafists in the Strip to chal­lenge its dom­i­nance.

The dis­in­te­gra­tion of its unity deal with Fatah and the loss of its main sup­port­ers in the Arab world have also caused prob­lems. The rapid es­ca­la­tion, while be­ing por­trayed as a re­sponse to Is­rael’s ac­tions, is ac­tu­ally an at­tempt by Ha­mas to re­gain some diplo­matic stature and end its isolation.

As of Wed­nes­day night, more than 300 Ha­mas mis­siles had been launched a g a i n s t I s r a e l , many of them in­ter­cepted by the Iron Dome de­fence sys­tem, caus­ing three mi­nor ca­su­al­ties on the Is­raeli side. Is­rael’s Air Force car­ried out nearly 600 strikes in Gaza. Thirty five Pales­tini­ans were killed, around half of them civil­ians.

For some in Is­rael this has been in­suf­fi­cient and there are calls both from the pub­lic and the govern­ment to change the ob­jec­tive of the oper­a­tion and erad­i­cate Ha­mas from Gaza.

The main ad­vo­cate of this pol­icy is For­eign Min­is­ter Avig­dor Lieber­man, who an­nounced on Sun­day that he was end­ing his party Yis­rael Beit­einu’s al­liance with Likud, due to “fun­da­men­tal” dif­fer­ences with Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu. Mr Lieber­man’s party will be re­main­ing in the coali­tion for now.

De­spite the calls for a more force­ful oper­a­tion against Gaza, Mr Ne­tanyahu is not show­ing any in­cli­na­tion to launch a ground of­fen­sive sim­i­lar to Oper- ation Cast Lead in 2009. Nei­ther is he un­der any pres­sure to do so from the IDF and de­fence es­tab­lish­ment.

The govern­ment au­tho­rised the call-up of up to 40,000 re­servists, but so far the IDF is plan­ning to use only about a quar­ter of this num­ber. While three bri­gade-size groups are be­ing de­ployed near Gaza, this is not seen as a suf­fi­cient force for any ma­jor ground oper­a­tion.

Ha­mas is go­ing all out for a quick suc­cess. The or­gan­i­sa­tion has tried to make PR cap­i­tal from the fact that its mis­siles hit tar­gets north of Tel Aviv, though they caused min­i­mal dam­age and some were in­ter­cepted by the Iron Dome sys­tem.

The tun­nel oper­a­tion and an at­tempt to cap­ture an Is­raeli sol­dier by Ha­mas frog­men, which were both foiled, were also seen as at­tempts by Ha­mas to cre­ate a “vic­tory scene” which it would be able to present as an “achieve­ment” to the Pales­tinian pub­lic be­fore any cease­fire.

Ha­mas spokes­men said there would be no cease­fire if Is­rael did not ac­cept its de­mands to open the cross­ings to Gaza and re­lease its mem­bers who were ar­rested fol­low­ing the mur­der of three Is­raeli teenagers last month.

Dur­ing a visit to IDF South­ern Com­mand on Wed­nes­day, Mr Ne­tanyahu said that “the oper­a­tion will ex­pand and con­tinue un­til the mis­sile launches on our cities stop and quiet re­turns. Ha­mas will pay a heavy price for fir­ing on Is­raeli cit­i­zens”.

It is dif­fi­cult to pre­dict an end to hos­til­i­ties be­cause the Egyp­tian govern­ment is hos­tile to Ha­mas and does not seem anx­ious, de­spite of­fi­cial state­ments, to try to bro­ker a cease­fire.

Cairo iden­ti­fies Ha­mas with the Mus­lim Brother­hood move­ment, which it has des­ig­nated as a ter­ror or­gan­i­sa­tion. Last week, the di­rec­tor of Egypt’s In­tel­li­gence Direc­torate, Gen­eral Mo­hammed Al-Tuhami, vis­ited Is­rael for meet­ings with his coun­ter­parts.

Fol­low­ing his visit, Is­raeli sources ex­pressed the view that Egypt was not try­ing very hard to pre­vent es­ca­la­tion around Gaza and was con­tent to see Ha­mas suf­fer for the next few days.

The ex­pec­ta­tion in Is­rael is that the Egyp­tians will even­tu­ally bro­ker a cease­fire.

PHOTO: REUTERS

An Iron Dome launcher fires an in­ter­cep­tor rocket in Ash­dod on July 8th

An Is­raeli air strike hits Rafah in the south of the Gaza Strip

IL­LUS­TRA­TION: SYL­WIA SZYSZKA

Cities tar­geted by Ha­mas rock­ets

Lieber­man

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