EDITOR’S NOTE: In light of the serious situation in Israel as we were preparing this issue of Oregon Jewish Life, the following Guest Editorial replaces the Letter from the Editor this month. Bob Horenstein is the community relations director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland.
As most of us sleep soundly in our beds here in the Pacific Northwest, millions of Israelis have passed the hours of darkness in absolute fear. In one 24-hour period in mid-November, more than 200 rockets were fired at Southern Israel from Gaza. In the past year, that number is nearly a thousand. Over the course of the past 12 years, it soars to more than 12,000 rockets and missiles. To put it plainly, Israelis have been living in a state of terror for far too long.
Although Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system, developed with the assistance of the United States, can intercept many incoming missiles, it can’t prevent all from hitting their targets. When the violence flares, hundreds of thousands of Israelis must listen for the blare of an alarm, in Hebrew tzeva adom, signaling the need to take cover in nearby shelters. Those warnings will afford civilians a mere 15 seconds to run to safety. Fifteen seconds – roughly the time it will take you to finish reading this paragraph.
No government in the world should, or would, tolerate a situation where more than 25% of its territory and a fifth of its people – over 1 million – live under a constant threat of fire. To put that in perspective: if a terrorist group from Mexico were launching rockets into 25% of our country, southern California and most of Arizona, New Mexico and Texas would be under attack. Just like any other country, Israel has the inalienable right to defend its citizens, and yet, inexplicably, some still question that right.
As we observe this conflict from afar, we should ask ourselves several poignant questions: If Hamas truly had the best interests of the Palestinian people at heart, why does it engage in terrorism that is knowingly counterproductive to peace? Why smuggle thousands of rockets and missiles into Gaza, many of them manufactured in Iran, and deliberately place them in civilian homes, schools and hospitals, putting their own population at risk? Why, despite Israel’s total withdrawal from Gaza seven years ago, does the Hamas leadership remain focused on targeting innocent Israelis instead of building towards a peaceful future for its own citizens?
Sadly, the answer is obvious. Hamas targets Israel because it rejects Israel’s existence as the democratic nation-state of the Jewish people, leaving the Israelis with no choice other than to employ military means to eradicate the terrorist infrastructure in Gaza while at the same time seeking to minimize casualties among non-combatants who are frequently exploited as human shields.
Ultimately, rocket fire from Gaza not only poses a threat to the safety of both peoples, it also makes it infinitely more difficult to move toward a just and lasting peace – a negotiated solution – that would enable both Israelis and Palestinians to live securely side-by-side. Only when this terror is defeated will peace become possible.