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The Situation at Hand – More on the Gaza War

January 5, 2008 
By Sondra Oster Baras
Director of CFOIC’s Israel Office
Dear Friends,
I hope you have all had a wonderful holiday season. I have waited until today to update you on the situation in Israel because I didn’t want to spoil your holiday. But today, after the New Year has begun, I want to bring you up to date on what has been happening along our southern border and how it is affecting us.
On Saturday afternoon, the 27th of December, the Israeli Air Force attacked Gaza, targeting known Hamas headquarters and terrorist centers. Several hundred Palestinian Arabs were killed, most of whom were armed terrorists. We were blissfully unaware of all of this until after night-fall. When the Shabbat ended, we lit our Hanukkah candles and then turned on the television to discover this most welcome news. After days of intense shelling of the south by Hamas terrorists, and after years of similar shelling of Sderot and the surrounding area, the Israeli army had finally responded.
Although the Israeli attack provoked even more intensive shelling on the part of the Hamas, including long-range Grad missiles which hit such cities as Ashdod and Beersheva for the first time, the entire country is united behind the Israeli attack. “Enough is enough” were the words of Foreign Minister Zippy Livni and we can’t agree more.
This past Shabbat, the attack was escalated as ground troops joined the campaign and entered Gaza. Tanks and infantry are now in Gaza, fighting their way through the streets and sands of the Gaza Strip, in an effort to stop the terrorist attacks against Israel. We cheered as we heard this latest bit of news, but a part of us was hesitant and fearful as well.
My own sons are not in the army right now. One son was just released a month ago. But I do have two sons who could be called up to the reserves any day to help with the war effort. The Knesset has approved the emergency draft of tens of thousands of reserve soldiers.
But so many of our friends are involved in the fighting. Doron, the son of my assistant Estelle, is currently in Gaza with his unit. Our dear friend Laurence Beziz, a Gush Katif refugee whom many of you have met, has her son fighting in Gaza. What an irony. Laurence’s son was born in Gaza and their entire family was forced from their beautiful home in Gedid 3 ½ years ago. Now, Laurence’s son is back in Gaza, as an Israeli soldier, trying to repair the damage that was caused by the folly that was disengagement.
In 2005, there were less than 1,000 artillery and rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza. In 2008, there were close to 3,000. The disengagement, a painful concession which was supposed to improve Israel’s security situation, turned out to be more painful than anyone had dreamed and only served to exacerbate Israel’s security situation. And as Laurence’s family huddles in their flimsy temporary home in Nitzan, with little protection from the missiles now aimed at their new home, their son is risking his life in a place that we never should have left.
Life in the south has become unbearable. Missiles are being shot at all communities within a 40 kilometer range of the Gaza Strip. All schools and colleges in the area have been closed as a result. One of the missiles hit a school in Beersheva! What a miracle that the authorities understood the danger in time and ordered the schools closed.
Many of the residents of southern towns and cities have left for safer places and citizens all over the country are opening their doors to host and house these people. My own community of Karnei Shomron has undertaken this project, as has the community of Efrat. We have been asked to help with the costs of this, particularly to provide transportation for the families who want to leave the south for a time.
One of the challenges of fighting terrorists is their tendency to hide behind civilians. For years, Israel has hesitated to bomb civilian areas for fear of harming non-combatants. No more. This war has marked a major change in the war against terror, a change that may well influence the way terrorism is combated all over the world.
Nizar Rayan, a Hamas leader, was killed in an Israeli air strike while at home with four of his wives and ten of his children. The home also served as a command headquarters for the Hamas and contained vast amounts of ammunition and explosives. The leader was warned that he was a target, but he did not protect his family. He thought the presence of his family would continue to protect him. It didn’t. As one television commentator put it – It was Hamas, not the IDF, who put women and children in terrorist headquarters. These civilians will no longer serve as shields against IDF attacks.
Similarly the IDF bombed a mosque and killed many individuals inside. But the mosque was a terrorist center, loaded with bombs and explosives and most of those inside were terrorist fighters. When you turn a mosque into terrorist headquarters, it can no longer be treated as a religious center.
The Hamas has often played upon Israel’s respect for humanitarian issues and have accused Israel of depriving Gaza residents of basic necessities such as food and fuel. Israel continues to allow food supplies to enter Gaza even as it shells the area. Just a few days ago, the IDF shelled a fuel depot which provides the fuel needed by the terrorists for the missiles they are firing. The fuel depot burned for hours, even as Hamas continued to accuse Israel of blocking Gaza’s access to fuel.
And for those who contend that the Hamas does not represent the will of the Gazan citizens, the other day a Gazan was interviewed on television and announced what is clearly a widespread sentiment there: “We are Hamas and Hamas is us!” Hamas controls the Palestinian parliament throughout Judea and Samaria as well as in Gaza, the result of democratic elections. It is not just Hamas who is at war with Israel. It is a majority of the Palestinian people.
We have never wanted war. All we have ever wanted is to settle our land, build good lives for our families and children and live in peace with our neighbors. We have never sought to drive out the Arabs who live among us and we have tried often and in good faith to achieve peace. But the Arabs have rejected every overture on our part. Since 1993, they have received valuable land assets from Israel, but instead of turning these areas into peaceful areas, living side by side with Israel, they have established terrorist centers and training bases, ammunitions warehouses and factories, everywhere we have left.
The time has come to stop the withdrawals and to start holding on to the land — to stop attempting to negotiate with the terrorists and to start talking about defeating them. The current war against the Hamas in Gaza is a good start. Let’s hope and pray that the campaign is successful and that our soldiers return home safely. Let’s hope and pray that the attacks against Israel stop entirely and the people of the south are safe to return home and resume ordinary lives. Let’s hope and pray that Israel finally and totally defeats the terrorists. The time has come for the war against Israel to stop. And to stop the war, we must win it.
Sondra Oster Baras
Director, Israel Office
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