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OpEdNews Op Eds    H1'ed 1/5/09

The other side of the story: My response to Anna Baltzer

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Message Noah Liben

Anna Baltzer recently wrote a piece on what is going on in Gaza that was posted at OpEdNews.  This is my response.

Oh dear.  I disagree not only with Ms. Baltzer's perspective on some matters, but with her recitation of the simple facts.  Here goes.
"Gaza, an enclosed tiny area that is home to 1.5 million men, women, and children, most of them innocent civilians."  I am sure most Gazans are lovely, peace-seeking, innocent civilians.  But that does not change the fact that the tiny strip is rife with tens of thousands of Hamas terrorists, funded and heavily armed by Syria and Iran.  How else, after all, would they have been able to kick out Fatah in a violent and bloody coup last year?  Ever since then, the hundreds of underground tunnels have been used to smuggle in ever-more-advanced weaponry. 
Moreover, these innocent civilians are being used as pawns by Hamas, whose stated ideology is to use civilians as human shields for its fighters.  As Hamas representative Fathi Hamad explained in February of last year, "For the Palestinian people death became an industry, at which women excel and so do all people on this land: the elderly excel, the Jihad fighters excel, and the children excel. Accordingly [Palestinians] created a human shield of women, children, the elderly and the Jihad fighters against the Zionist bombing machine, as if they were saying to the Zionist enemy: We desire death as you desire life." YouTube

In the second half of this video, see how Hamas terrorists use children as human shields: YouTube.
This just in: News flash on Palestinian television, which states, "Following a threatened airstrike – Hamas calls upon all Gaza children to gather near the house of Abu Hatal in the A-Shouqaf quarter, in order to form a human shield": click here

"This space is tightly sealed by Israel . . ."  First of all, the border with Israel has been sealed, but only as a result of continuing Hamas rocket-fire.  Remember, of course, that Israel withdrew every Israeli citizen and soldier from Gaza in 2005.  Thereafter, the border was not sealed.  The blockade was only imposed as an attempt to isolate Hamas when they violently wrested power from Fatah, and as a punishment for continued rocket fire.
Second of all, Gaza shares a border with Egypt, too.  It is traditional to blame everything on Israel, but this border being sealed cannot be Israel's fault.  In fact, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit, who blames Hamas for instigating Israel's response by not renewing the cease-fire last week, also blamed Hamas for not allowing wounded Palestinians to be transferred to Egypt for medical attention: click here and here

" . . . Israel, which constantly denies Gazans electricity, food, medicine, and the ability to leave." This is not true.  Here is a list of the aid that was transferred to Gaza during the 6 month ceasefire: click here

As for during the current war, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, in an interview on Al Arabiya, told the Palestinian people in Gaza: "I know how much you want to get up in the morning to quiet, to take your children to kindergarten or school, the way we do, the way they want to in Sderot and Netivot . . . . We want to live as good neighbors with Gaza.  We do not want to harm you.  We will not allow a humanitarian crisis and that you should suffer from a lack of food or medicines.  We do not want to fight the Palestinian people but we will not allow Hamas to strike our children."  Click here.  

These were not mere words.  Despite the Hamas rocket attacks, Israel has nonetheless continued transferring humanitarian aid to Gaza.  Click here and here.    
Furthermore, Israeli hospitals continue to treat Palestinians, even as Hamas rockets rain down from Gaza.  Click here.  
"The death toll is up to 428 in the past 7 days. That's more than the number of Israelis killed in the last 7 years. This is what I would call a massacre."  It is a tragedy when any civilian dies.  There is no doubt about it.  Disclosure: I am a Zionist, and I love Israel.  But that does not mean I am anti-Palestinian in any sense.  The two are not mutually exclusive.  Palestinians deserve a state of their own and better lives for themselves, and it saddens me when any innocents are killed.  However, one must read with a critical eye when the newspapers report how many "civilians" have been killed in Gaza.  Keep in mind that Hamas terrorists do not always distinguish themselves in military clothing.  The Times of London reports, "Radio stations ordered all members of the security forces, who have borne the brunt of the attack, to slip into civilian clothes, stay away from their bases and avoid congregating in groups to escape death from above." Click here.  
Another note: one particular Israeli strike that made headlines was the killing of the notorious Hamas terrorist, Nizar Rayan.  Among the casualties in that strike were two of Rayan's wives and four of his children.  It is hard for me to convey by mere words alone (I am not that good of a writer) that I am truly saddened, if these people indeed were innocent.  But were they necessarily all civilians?  It is hard to tell.  After all, Rayan had previously sent his own son on a suicide mission that killed two Israelis.  Click here.   Of course this does not mean that his relatives are necessarily evil people who deserve to die; that is patently untrue.  It just goes to show you how hard it is to determine who is an innocent civilian, and who is not.
Moreover, although Israel is never (I must stress that word) "beyond judgment," Hamas bears the lion's share of responsibility as Hamas terrorists hide among the civilian population using them as human shields. (See above.)  Under the Geneva Conventions, as well as customary international law, if a military objective, such as a missile launcher or weapons stockpile, is placed in the heart of a civilian area, it does not cease being a lawful military objective. The primary responsibility for civilian causalities arising from the 'shielding' lies with the party that deliberately placed civilians at risk.
"Would Rice ever respond to a Palestinian attack on Israelis by blaming army's the Israeli government for holding its citizens hostage with their violence?"  This is a classic case of false moral equivalency.  It would be instructive to view this Hamas video, in which Hamas celebrates the targeting of Israeli civilians and includes captions such as "Let them taste violent death," "Send them to Hell! Tear them to pieces!": click here.  In addition, Hamas intercepted Israeli cell phone frequencies and sent the following message to dozens of Israelis a few days ago: "Rockets on all cities, shelters not protect, Qassam rocket, Hamas."  Clearly, Hamas is proud of targeting all civilians, in all Israeli cities.  This, after all, is what they mean by an end to the "occupation": destroying any Jewish sovereignty in the Middle East.

Whereas Hamas intentionally targets civilians, Israel is making every effort to avoid civilian casualties.  Israel is targeting Hamas installations only, and is regrets the accidental deaths of any innocent civilians.
" . . . it clearly fits the definition of terrorism: unlawful violence intended to frighten or coerce a people or government in order to achieve a political or ideological agenda."  All wars aim, in a sense, to achieve a political or ideological agenda.  That does not mean they are all unlawful.  Ms. Baltzer's rhetoric is unsurprising, but erroneous nonetheless.  Israel's response to aggression is not unlawful.  In fact, it fits the very definition of self-defense recognized under international law.  That is why, for all the criticism you have heard, mainly for Israel's response being "disproportionate," most world leaders and bodies have not said that the response is "illegitimate."  The only ones who have said as much are those who always fault Israeli self-defense as illegitimate, and thus nothing can be learned from their statements.
Contrast that to statements from the following people, and think, Are these people whom always side with Israel?  I could understand Ms. Baltzer's reluctance to rely on President Bush's statements, but what do other people have to say?  President-elect Obama has said, "[Hamas] terror is intolerable. Israelis should not have to live in danger in their homes and schools." Click here.  German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that responsibility for the Israeli offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip lies "clearly and exclusively" with Hamas (click here) and stated that "the terror of Hamas cannot be accepted." Click here.

Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg said Israel had the right to defend itself: "Let us realize one thing: Hamas increased steeply the number of rockets fired at Israel since the ceasefire ended on December 19. That is not acceptable any more."  Schwarzenberg said Hamas had excluded itself from serious political debate due to its rocket attacks on Israel. Click here.   Even Nimr Hammad, an advisor to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said: "The one responsible for the massacres is Hamas, and not the Zionist entity, which in its own view reacted to the firing of Palestinian missiles. Hamas needs to stop treating the blood of Palestinians lightly. They should not give the Israelis a pretext." Click here
"Hamas was elected after an intentional shift away from violence towards a mainstream political agenda. Hamas stopped its attacks . . . Hamas continued to hold to its one-sided ceasefire (totaling almost 2 years) . . . " This is an unbelievably outrageous statement.  It would laughable, if this weren't so serious a topic.  Hamas has never "shifted away from violence"; just read their charter and watch the videos I mentioned above.  Or how about this quote, from a Hamas fighter in Gaza, giving an insight into the terror group's ideology: "The difference between us and them [the Israelis] is that they wait passionately for the day they can return home safely, while we bid farewell to our families and hope to die as martyrs." Click here.  He hopes to "dies as [a] martyr."  Does that sound like someone who had renounced violence?  Why would you not take their own words at face value?
If it wanted to become a "mainstream" political party, why would it have violently murdered their Palestinian brothers from Fatah en route to the Gaza coup?  Why would America, Canada and many European governments continue to regard Hamas as a terrorist organization?  See the Czech Foreign Minister's quote above.
Ms. Baltzer does not seem to be phased by the facts in this situation.  For instance, in the first six months of 2008 alone, Hamas launched 2,600 rockets from Gaza into Israel.  Click here. Two THOUSAND, six hundred rockets.  In SIX months.  Then, after June 19, the two sides signed a "ceasefire," which was really just an excuse for Hamas to re-arm.  And get this – it wasn't even really a cease fire, as Hamas lobbed another 65 missiles from June 19 to November 4.  So, Ms. Baltzer, when exactly did Hamas "stop its attacks"?  In what almost-2 year period did Hamas abide by a ceasefire?  Was it before or after they violated Israel's internationally-recognized sovereign border, killed a number of Israeli soldiers, and abducted a then-19-year-old soldier named Gilad Shalit, who remains in captivity after almost 2 ½ years?  If Hamas had a "mainstream" political agenda, why would they have kidnapped Shalit, and why do they deny the Red Cross or any other international body access to him, in contravention of international law?

Indeed, this current war was precipitated precisely because Hamas did not extend its pseudo-ceasefire of the previous 6 months.  Don't take my word for it: this is exactly what the Egyptian Foreign Minister said.  Click here.  Even Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said, "We talked to [Hamas] and we told them 'Please, we ask you, do not end the truce. Let the truce continue and not stop' so that we could have avoided what happened," he said in Cairo.  Click here.  
I can tell Ms. Baltzer really just wants peace between Israel and her neighbors, as do I.  That's why she urges Israel to comply "with international law and accepting repeated offers for a peaceful resolution."  Really?  What repeated offers?  Do you mean the Camp David or Taba accords?  Those were endorsed by then-PM Ehud Barak, but rejected by Yassir Arafat.  Don't believe me?  Ask Dennis Ross.  Don't believe him?  Ask former President Clinton!  They both blamed Arafat, not Israel, for the breakdown of those negotiations.  I challenge you to name me one offer of peace, just one, that Hamas has given to Israel.  I don't mean a temporary "ceasefire" that allows them to rearm, continue firing missiles at Israel, and abduct Israeli soldiers.  I mean a true, viable offer of peace from Hamas.
You won't be able to do it.  The reason why is obvious: Hamas does not want peace, but the destruction of Israel.  Anyone who believes otherwise is sadly naïve and willfully blind to reality.  Again, let us take them at their own words: Osama Hamdan, Hamas' representative in Lebanon, said: "Our goal is to liberate all of Palestine, from the (Jordan) river to the (Mediterranean) sea." Similarly, Hamas official Mahmoud Zahar has said: "We do not recognize the Israeli enemy, nor his right to be our neighbor, nor to stay, nor his ownership of any inch of land." Click here.  This is the "mainstream political" entity that has made "repeated offers for a peaceful resolution" to Israel?  You have got to be kidding me. 

Please do not misunderstand me.  I never favor war or hostility; I want peace for Israel and the Palestinians as much as anyone else in this world, including Ms. Baltzer.  That is why I sincerely hope that Hamas will be eliminated, and that more sensible Fatah representatives can work out a durable, lasting peace.
"Consider where you are getting your news, and what is not being told to you."  If only she took her own advice.
Let me conclude briefly by saying that deep in my heart, I understand where Ms. Baltzer is coming from.  I shudder at the pictures of bloody babies and terrified mothers in Gaza.  But as Israeli President Shimon Peres said recently when asked how he justified the suffering of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, "Why should they suffer? Let them stop shooting and they won't suffer." Click here

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Noah Liben grew up in Massachusetts, where he attended Solomon Schechter Day School and the Maimonides School. In December 2004 he graduated the joint program with Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary, where he majored in (more...)
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The other side of the story: My response to Anna Baltzer

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