St.-Sgt. Dvir Emmanueloff is Israel's first casualty of the war in Gaza. He was a close friend of my colleague at work. St.-Sgt. Nitai Stern, who was killed shortly afterward, was a relative of another co-worker.
Israel is a small country. We all have relatives and friends in Gaza and/or in southern Israel. Living in the center of the country means I am not within range of Hamas rockets or subject to sirens alerting me to find shelter; however, I have family members and friends who are. I am concerned and worried about all of them, so you can imagine the constant flow of phone calls, SMSs and emails. It is difficult to concentrate on anything else.
Difficult - but necessary.Hamas terrorists use their population centers as a base to fire rockets at Israel in a cynical attempt to increase Palestinian casualties, and then complain when Israel retaliates. How dare the Hamas use their own people as pawns? My heart goes out to the hostages held by their own leaders for propaganda purposes.
In the past eight years, Countries and organizations have donated billions of dollars to better Gaza's crumbling infrastructure and poor living conditions. But instead of improving the lives of its citizens, Hamas used the monies to purchase rockets and train and supply suicide bombers who were sent into the centers of Israel, indiscriminately murdering innocent people. During this period, Hamas has fired rockets into Sderot and other villages around the Gaza Strip.
Whenever a rocket is fired, an alarm goes off. People run for the safest room in the house or the nearest bomb shelter. Theoretically, every rocket could be their last. Rockets hit people, houses, cars, or "just" open spaces, damaging the environment, causing psychological damage and disrupting daily lives.
Until three weeks ago, we had a six-month "cease fire", during which Hamas still occasionally fired rockets. Furthermore, Hamas used this period to purchase new and improved rockets that can reach 40 kilometers, from Beer Sheba in the south to Gedera up north. Compared to "only" about 50,000 residents previously in danger, now 1 million people are within rocket range, more than 1/7 of our population. As I mentioned, Israel is a small country.
When Hamas started firing again, just before the official end of the cease fire, Israel finally decided - enough is enough. What we see on TV or on websites is a result of Israel pursuing terrorists who cowardly hide within their own population, stashing weapons in mosques, universities, hospitals and homes of innocent people. On Sunday, Israeli soldiers in Gaza discovered a booby trapped school, and a zoo, full of explosives.
The children of Gaza live in a war zone, courtesy of Hamas. By the way, so do the kids in Sderot and southern Israel, for the past eight years, also thanks to Hamas. The difference (one difference): Since the beginning of the war, Israel has closed down all the schools in the south, which is fortunate, since rockets, fired randomly, destroyed three schools and two kindergartens. In Gaza, kids are used as human shields. So are the adults, of course.
We will only have peace with Hamas when they start loving their children more than they hate Israel (to paraphrase former Prime Minister Golda Meir, who was referring to the Arab world back in 1970. Unfortunately, little has changed since then).
Meanwhile, Hamas has only one grievance: Israel's very existence. Israel is the litmus test for the rest of the world. Hamas is a puppet on Iran's strings, which provides weapons, funds and an anti-Western ideology. Our problem today is the world's problem tomorrow, if not today.
I wish things would be simpler, but they are not. There is moral clarity, on our side, but that doesn't make it any easier, only clearer.