Shemi Tzur: Hamas rockets a terrifying fact of life

The latest round of Middle East trouble began with an anti-tank missile, says Israel's ambassador to NZ.

Two people were hurt when a rocket fired from Gaza hit the community of Ofakim in southern Israel. Photo /  AP
Two people were hurt when a rocket fired from Gaza hit the community of Ofakim in southern Israel. Photo / AP

Imagine what it would be like if 15 per cent of New Zealand were living every day under direct fire.

Imagine if every person in greater Wellington or Christchurch lived in fear of an imminent rocket attack. Imagine all the schools closed in a 40km radius of either city. Imagine not waking up to the sounds of nature but sirens calling everyone into bomb shelters and stairways.

Sadly, this isn't a situation my countrymen need to imagine. Once again it has become a terrifying fact of life for the one million souls who inhabit southern Israel.

Yet the reality of the situation between Gaza and Israel is very different than what many believe. The convulsion of violence that we are seeing reported in the news media did not begin with an Israeli operation on Wednesday, November 14, but rather with an anti-tank missile fired by Hamas on the Saturday before.

That attack was immediately followed by rockets targeting the civilian population of southern Israel, including one in which three Israelis were killed in a direct missile hit on a house in Kiryat Malachi. In another incident, four people were injured, among them a young boy who was seriously injured and an infant.

Nor was this escalation the first in recent memory, but rather the third of the past month and the latest in an 11-year campaign to terrorise Israeli citizens within their own borders. The firing of rockets and mortars has become particularly acute in the period since my country disengaged from Gaza in 2005.

When Israel left the Gaza Strip, it did so in the hope that removing every army base and civilian community would lead to a better future for the peoples of Gaza and Israel. Instead, Hamas grabbed control over the Gaza Strip, murdered their opponents and intensified their fanatical campaign against Israel.

Israel demonstrated great restraint in the face of the ongoing bombardments. Finally, it could not stand by any more and was forced to activate its right of self-defence. No state - certainly not New Zealand - would allow its citizens to be constantly threatened by rockets, and nor should they. Governments have a right and a duty to protect their citizens from terrorists.

Israel's response to the terrorism from Gaza, Operation Pillar of Defence, was launched to protect its citizens from a strategic threat. (It was also launched with the Israeli Defence Forces making 20,000 phone calls to Gaza residents to warn them about the military operation.) The Israeli military took action against Hamas' long and short-range rocket forces, reducing Hamas' ability to launch its Fajr rockets which are capable of hitting Tel Aviv and beyond.

The IDF also carried out a surgical strike against Ahmed Jabari, Hamas' military chief, who was responsible for all Hamas terrorist activity emanating from the Gaza Strip in the past decade. Jabari gained international attention for his direct involvement in the abduction of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit in 2006.

Israel did not seek this conflict. It does not want to see the people of Gaza harmed by the operation. Therefore, Israel is doing everything in its power to ensure that its strikes are surgical and to minimise injury to uninvolved civilians.

But Hamas has a long history of using its own people as human shields. It fires its rockets from among the population of Gaza, and then aims them at the population of Israel. Under international law, that's a double war crime.

The international community, including peacemakers such as New Zealand, can play an important role in this crisis. Firstly, it can make it clear to Hamas that the rockets launched at Israel must cease.

Not only would that help save Israeli lives, it would also assist the Palestinians. Their goals can never be reached by violence, which causes suffering on both sides.

Secondly, the international community should make it clear that it will not abide by Hamas using the population of Gaza as human shields. The only method to stop this war crime is to condemn those terrorists who deliberately place civilians in harm's way, using schools and homes as launching pads for rocket attacks.

Then and only then, perhaps, all of us might be able to imagine some relative peace in our part of the Middle East.

Shemi Tzur is Israel's ambassador to New Zealand.

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