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Friday, January 9, 2009

Neil Salowitz: Israel must defend itself, but it still desires peace

January 9, 2009

Guest column: Israel must defend itself, but it still desires peace

NEIL SALOWITZ is president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Des Moines. Contact:

"If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I would do everything to stop that, and would expect Israel to do the same thing."

- Barack Obama, July 23, 2008, Sderot, Israel

Imagine that for the past eight years, terrorists from outside the United States have fired thousands of rockets toward Iowa. Some of them have hit the schools your children attend, the church where you worship, the stores at which you shop. You and your family have been under constant fear of rocket attack - for eight years.

How would you react? Would you want the U.S. government to "negotiate" with the people threatening your family? Would you want our government to respond "proportionately," whatever that means? Would you want our government to put a stop to the rocket attacks by whatever means necessary?

The Israeli government is now engaged in a battle against Hamas, which has been branded a terrorist organization by both the United States and the European Union, and which has as one of its stated missions the destruction of the Jewish state. For the past eight years, Israelis have been subjected to nonstop terrorism in the form of Hamas rockets. Several years ago, the Israeli government negotiated a cease-fire with Hamas. The rocket attacks continued unabated despite the cease-fire.

The agreement was formally broken by Hamas in December, and the rocket attacks against innocent civilians intensified until Israel took its recent steps to defend its citizens, first with an air campaign and now with ground forces. Israel took this action only after warning Hamas repeatedly that it would not continue to tolerate deliberate attacks on its citizens.

The world, which was silent for eight years while Hamas repeatedly targeted Israeli civilians, has now suddenly found its voice, condemning Israel for doing what we would want our own government to do if someone were attacking the United States. The world ignores the fact that the Israel Defense Forces are taking steps to minimize civilian Palestinian casualties, going as far as calling Palestinians and dropping leaflets to warn of impending strikes. The world also turns a blind eye to the fact that Israel has been sending trucks into Gaza with humanitarian supplies. What other country would do that in the midst of a war?

Contrast this behavior with that of Hamas, which callously uses innocent Palestinians as human shields and stores weaponry (much of which is supplied by Iran) in houses, schools, hospitals and mosques. In these circumstances, civilian casualties, always tragic, are inevitable. Hamas bears the responsibility for those casualties by deliberately putting Palestinian civilians in harm's way.

Despite the current Israeli course of action to protect and defend its citizens - a course of action that has been forced upon Israel by a terrorist organization - I believe that Israelis fervently hope for the day when just and lasting peace will come to the region. The Israelis to whom I've talked have no problem with a two-state solution to the conflict in the Middle East. They simply want what the citizens of every country want - to be able to tuck their children into bed at night without fear of physical harm.

In May 1948, the state of Israel declared its independence. Within hours, the combined might of five Arab armies attacked the nascent state. Israel defeated those armies in battle. Since that time, Israel has been attacked again and again, and has been forced to defend itself. The current situation is no different. Israel's actions are designed to change the security equation in order to make Israelis safe. Israel is not fighting the Palestinian people; it is fighting the terrorists who have hijacked Gaza, terrorists whose intransigence harms Palestinians as well as Israelis.

Once Israel has met its security objectives and a more robust, verifiable cease-fire has been put in place to protect innocent Israeli citizens, Israelis and Palestinians of goodwill can continue on the road to true peace.