Sunday, July 06, 2014

“Answering to Ourselves”

Shabbat has now ended, but I carry with me the messages of an incredible Shabbat afternoon, during which Rabbi Seth and Sherri Mandell spoke on “Faith in the Face of Tragedy.”   The Mandells lost their son Koby to terrorists 13 years ago, and devote themselves to good work in his memory, via the Koby Mandell Foundation.
Credit: Newtownbee
An inspiration to us all, they remind us of the importance of doing mitzvot (commandments/good works) in the memory of those who are gone. Sometimes, we have to go down into the darkness, says Sherri, to come to the brachot (the blessings).
And so I implore one and all not to stop: work on Jewish unity, increase prayer and Jewish study, show kindnesses to others, and give to charities, in the names of the three students - Gilad, Eyal, and Naftali – whom we have lost.
The world will never understand us and it’s pointless to hope that it will.  It is only to ourselves – and Heaven – that we must account for our behavior.
As to how the world sees us: we’re dealing right now with nothing less than an old-fashioned anti-Semitic blood libel, with regard to the charges that Jews killed the boy Mohammed Hussein Abu Khder.
It’s coming from Arabs, and most specifically Hamas: . We see it in modified forms in the international media, which has picked up some of the charges.
Last I wrote about Abu Khder, I provided arguments as to why there is every reason to believe his murderers were Arab.  I included the fact that his body had been burned and pointed out that this was not the Jewish way.  Which it most certainly is not.
But now I must carry this further: The initial autopsy result shows that this boy died of burns over 90% of his body.  Horrendous.  He was burned to death.
Well, it happens that burning alive is a “traditional” approach within Islamic law for executing a homosexual.
How do we combat it, when Arabs claim that Jews, knowing of the Muslim approach, did it to make it look like a Muslim did it?
We carry on, while the government and security agencies pursue a vigorous investigation to find the murderers.  Won’t be an easy job, as they are being shielded, undoubtedly.  Most importantly, we do not hesitate to take whatever actions we know must be taken, even though some portions of the world will now insist on seeing a moral equivalency  - Arabs kill innocent boys, Jews kill innocent boys.
We must not expect fairness from the world – we must answer to ourselves.
What seems reasonably clear to me is that some significant percentage of the Arab rioters in the Jerusalem streets probably knew full well – based on the information about how the boy died – that their own people did this.  Not that this stopped them from their rampage.  Perhaps they simply chose to adopt the the blood libel as truth.
Undoubtedly they see it as a win-win-win situation for themselves: Their community is rid of a boy who would have been considered an “abomination” (the ugly reality is that this is how Islam sees it), while they have been able to shift the blame onto Israel, which had the moral high ground after the murder of the students.  And they have a chance to riot, as well. 
The rioting hasn’t stopped, I must note: it has spread to the “triangle” area in the north that has a heavy Arab population.
Shifting gears, I want to look at the situation with Gaza, which is in flux at the moment.  Here I will provide background, mindful that by tomorrow another posting to address a new situation may be called for.
During the time that we as a nation were focused on the search for the boys and then the initial mourning for them, there had been a fairly regular barrage of rockets launched from Gaza.  Hamas did not do all of the launching, but it was reported as being more directly involved than it had been of recent.  And it was clear that they were giving other terrorists groups a free hand to promote attacks – a shift from the situation that had prevailed since our last operation in Gaza in 2012 (“Pillar of Defense”), after which it was said we had deterrence. 
In the course of the last few days, there were a few injuries (no fatalities) and some damage done by the rockets.  But what must be pointed out as well is the misery of life in southern Israel – and particularly Sderot – when there are sirens sounding, which require a dash to a shelter and make the heart pump furiously.  It’s no way for innocent civilians to have to live, and it is incumbent upon our government to act against this.
Additional IDF troops were moved along the border in Gaza by mid-week, suggesting the imminence of a major military action.  But I suspected that this was saber-rattling, and indeed this is what it turned out to be.
On Thursday, Netanyahu delivered a message to Hamas leadership via Egypt that said we would be “quiet” if they were “quiet.”  Thursday evening (at a Fourth of July celebration at the home of the US Ambassador to Israel), he said:
"Now we are preparing for two possibilities in the south: The first is that the firing at our communities will stop and then our operations will stop as well and the quiet that prevailed in the south after Operation Pillar of Defense will continue. The second possibility is that the firing at our communities in the south will continue and then the reinforcement forces that are located in the field will act forcefully. The security of our citizens comes first."  (Emphasis added)
Not a good policy, this “quiet for quiet.”  It has made me – along with many others – crazy for years.  This is what Dr. Aaron Lerner of IMRA had to say about this policy on Thursday.  It explains the situation very succinctly:
“Let me spell out what this message to Hamas is actually saying:

“Dear Hamas leadership,

“If you stop shooting - at least stop shooting much - then we will leave you alone so that you can continue to build up your offensive capabilities.

“We call this our ‘quiet for quiet’ policy.

“And we don't have to tell you just how much the "quiet for quiet" policy has been a gift for Hamas until now.

“When we first began the ‘quiet for quiet policy’ there were only very primitive launching devices in the Gaza Strip with extremely limited range and payload.

“At the time we adopted the ‘quiet for quiet’ policy because we didn't want to invest the military effort required to clear out the Gaza Strip of the terror threat as we did in the massive operation we carried out in the West Bank and we wanted to keep life bearable within the area that was within range of attacks from the Gaza Strip.

“Thanks to Israel's ‘quiet for quiet’, there are now weapons factories in the Gaza Strip producing rockets and missiles that can reach Tel Aviv and beyond...”
Hamas and related smaller jihadist groups in Gaza are estimated to have 70,000 rockets and missiles.
On Friday, we heard that Egypt was supposed to be negotiating a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas that was expected to kick in momentarily. 
This was already a bad way to go, and it then got worse:
It is standard policy for the Israeli Air Force to fly in over Gaza every time a rocket is launched, and hit something: a launching field, a weapons factory, an empty building.  Occasionally, a person who is involved with the rockets gets hit.  This is not a major operation, by any means, and not really expected to deter further launchings.  But it is a way of extracting a price for every rocket or missile fired into Israel.
What happened on Friday was that a decision was made NOT to respond to rockets.  This was nauseating. This was a “bang my head against the wall” scenario. 
Aaron Lerner, citing Israel Radio Reshet Bet, explained the “logic” thus:
“The idea is apparently out of the desperate hope that if the Jewish State allows Hamas to pummel it for a few hours that Hamas will consider itself the victor and return the ‘quiet for quiet’ arrangement.”
Our government was so eager for “quiet” that it was willing to let Hamas appear the stronger force?
It should be noted that Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman voiced opposition to a ceasefire.
I went into Shabbat – during which time there is a news blackout for me – assuming that by the time Shabbat went out a ceasefire would have been announced.
What I discovered tonight was that there has been no ceasefire: Hamas has not stopped firing rockets but has, instead, escalated its attacks.  Some 20 plus rockets were shot into Israel today, and, for the first time since 2012, rockets were aimed at the major Negev city of Be’ersheva.
Apparently, we have started responding again to at least some of the rocket launchings, but no major IDF action has been initiated, at least not yet.  NU?  It is more than 48 hours since Netanyahu delivered his ultimatum.  The prime minister consulted with military and security heads tonight and, say news reports, “may be considering” a larger operation. 
Why “considering.”  The head of our government said, clearly, that if the rocket attacks didn’t stop, we would act forcefully.  There had better be an operation now, or we will look very weak and foolish indeed, at a time when there is not the luxury of seeming weak.
What is going on? 
As is his wont, Netanyahu is attempting to answer to the world again, instead of accounting to ourselves for our actions. I have seen some analyses that say that the murder of Mohammed Hussein Abu Khder limits his options in Gaza. And I think this is nonsense.  An idiotic and judgmental US secretary of state alluded last week to the boy’s murder as “vengeance,” by which he meant that Jews attacked an Arab unreasonably in response to the murder of Jewish boys.  So this means we cannot take action in Gaza because we will be accused of additional vengeance?
It’s important to make matters clear here.  It is not as if Hamas was sitting quietly over there in Gaza, and we decided to hit them because our boys died.  (Which, by the way, still would not be vengeance, but rather – as I had discussed – justice, as we would attempt to weaken the leadership responsible for such acts.)  But as it is, our going into Gaza would be self-defense, plain and simple. And we are not only entitled to self-defense, it is essential.
Two important additional points here, with more to follow undoubtedly.
First, a ground operation is necessary to take out any significant part of the rocket capability of Hamas in Gaza. That is because those rockets are hidden in civilian areas – and Hamas counts on Israel to not inflict the sort of civilian damage that would likely result from targeting the rockets from the air.
And then this: Our goal should be as much destruction of Hamas weaponry as possible, and a diminishing/weakening of Hamas leadership.  However, it should not be our goal to take down Hamas completely, as much as this appeals to many.  That is because Hamas is not the worst of the jihadist forces in Gaza now. 
There is al-Qaeda. And, according to Khaled Abu Toameh, there is ISIS: . If we create a vacuum, one of these other groups will move in.  (Right now, for a variety of reasons, there is no thought being given to retaking Gaza.)
Economy Minister Naftali Bennett (head of Habayit Hayehudi) is screaming long and loud about the impression of weakness lent by current government decisions.  He is calling for tough action in Gaza. So are some others.
Let us see what transpires tomorrow...
As time allows, I may look at a variety of ways to handle Hamas that are being proposed.
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