On Tuesday, January 6, an Israeli missile reportedly killed more than 40 people, including children, who had sought shelter in a United Nations school in northern Gaza. Who bears primary responsibility for this tragedy?
The answer is clear: It’s Hamas. With reference to the tragic deaths at the school, Canada’s junior foreign minister, Peter Kent perceptively noted: “We know that Hamas has made a habit of using civilians and civilian infrastructure as shields for their terrorist activities, and that would seem to be the case again today.”
It’s also clear that Hamas has brought on the entire conflict in Gaza by unilaterally renouncing a ceasefire with Israel on December 29 and unleashing hundreds of rockets on the tens of thousands of civilians residing in southern Israel. While few Israelis have been killed, who can blame the government of Israel for taking all necessary measures to stop this terrorism by rocket fire?
During a visit last July to Sderot, an Israeli town that has come under frequent rocket attack, president-elect Barack Obama observed: “If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I’m going to do everything in my power to stop that. I would expect Israelis to do the same thing.”
Indeed, the Israeli Defence Forces are now battling Hamas forces in Gaza for the express purpose of quelling the rocket attacks. And in doing so, Israeli troops strive to avoid the kind of civilian casualties that occurred at the United Nations school. Otherwise, the civilian death toll in Gaza would certainly be vastly higher.
In contrast, Hamas forces have long boasted of their deliberate targeting and killing of Israeli civilians with rocket attacks and suicide bombings. And the Islamist militants in Hamas have likewise made no secret of their ultimate aim to wipe the state of Israel off the map.
As a result, Canada has joined the United States, the European Union and other countries in listing Hamas as “a radical Sunni terrorist organization.” Canadians who take to the streets in explicit support of Hamas during the current conflict would do well to note that it is an offence under Canada’s Anti-Terrorism Act for anyone “to knowingly participate in or contribute to, directly or indirectly, any activity of a terrorist group.”
To justify rocket attacks on Israeli civilians, Hamas argues that it has no other means of opposing the economic blockade which Israel imposed on Gaza in June 2007, after Hamas forces crushed the secular Palestinian Security Force in Gaza which served the government of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Like the Nazis, the Islamist extremists in Gaza had no sooner contrived to win power in a democratic election than they undertook to destroy all legitimate opposition to their dictatorial rule.
Regardless, it’s not just Israel that has placed an economic blockade on Gaza. Egypt has done the same, and for good reason: Like other secular Arab leaders, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak recognizes that the Islamist extremists who have seized power in Gaza are a menace to peace and stability throughout the Middle East.
What, then, can be done? Writing in the Washington Post on Monday, John R. Bolton, former United States ambassador to the United Nations, suggested that Israel abandon the idea of a two-state solution to the Palestinian dilemma and return control over the West Bank and Gaza to Jordan and Egypt. While there is much to be said for this proposal, there is little chance that it can succeed even with solid backing from the United States and the Arab League. The hard-pressed leaders of both Jordan and Egypt have made plain that they are no more eager than the Israelis to resume responsibility for governing the faction-ridden and violence-prone Palestinians.
The best conceivable outcome to the conflict is that Israel will drive Hamas from power and clear the way for restoration of the secular Palestine Authority in Gaza. Only in this way can the long suffering people of Gaza have any realistic hope of finally living in peace and freedom.
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