Yuval Rotem, Israeli Ambassador to New Zealand, responds to Matt McCarten's column of last week, in which he accused Israel of being a terrorist state.
Would New Zealanders ask their Government to sit idly by while a terrorist organisation fires missiles on the towns of Tauranga or Hamilton? For this is what is being asked of Israelis - to sit idly by while the residents of their southern town of Sderot are fired on by missiles from the terrorist organisation Hamas. It is asked only that New Zealanders put themselves in the shoes of Israelis for just one day, without a vast ocean to protect them, without a democratic and secure neighbour like Australia, and with a terrorist organisation mere miles away whose only reason for existing is their nation's destruction. Only then can democratic, informed debate happen.
The terrorist organisation Hamas in Gaza focuses its weaponry on civilians; on children in their schools and kindergartens, on families' homes and in the streets of Sderot. They fire their missiles from deep within civilian neighbourhoods, taunting Israeli Defence Forces to fire back, knowing that injury to the innocent people of Gaza would fuel their propaganda campaign. Israel acts only in self defence. When they do fire on Gaza it is merely in response to Hamas' missiles and they are focused on the militants themselves.
The people of Gaza are not the enemy, nor is there any benefit from Israel making them so. The people of Israel, in withdrawing from Gaza in 2005, sought to gain a democratic and secure neighbour; a neighbour with which they could engage and trade. Rather than yielding benefits for Gazans and calm for Israel, Hamas increased violence from Gaza, including raids over the border into Israel to kill and kidnap Israeli soldiers. To see the people of Gaza suffer is not pleasurable for Israelis. They only wish to circumvent the activities of the terrorists Hamas who control the area.
Ever since Hamas won parliamentary elections in January 2006, Israel and the international community - including the UN, EU, Russia and the USA - have put forth a consistent message: to end its isolation, Hamas must recognise Israel's right to exist, renounce violence and agree to abide by previous agreements signed between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
These are not very difficult conditions. Indeed, they are the bare minimum that Israel should expect from a "partner for peace" or even a non-belligerent neighbour. Hamas has steadfastly refused to agree to any of the three. Instead it has chosen to steadfastly pursue its sole objective of the destruction of Israel and thus hold ordinary Gazans hostage to its beliefs.
To draw parallels between Nazi Germany and Israel's current actions is offensive and undermines the indignity that the Jewish people suffered. The security fence was erected along a border for which the sole purpose was to protect the people of Israel against terrorism. What Matt McCarten fails to understand is the horror caused by these extremists using themselves as human bomb carriers; of climbing on buses, seeing innocent children and still pulling the trigger. Of then seeing these same children maimed, blinded and killed by the screws and nails the terrorists have embedded in their bombs to cause the utmost pain possible. The security fence was constructed in order to protect Israeli citizens, as an act of self defence.
Israel acted in self-defence by temporarily closing the borders. It prevented fuel supplies to travel through only after Palestinian snipers killed an Ecuadorian volunteer and continued to fire on a television crew, and only after Hamas continued to fire missiles on Israel. By stopping the passage of fuel, this slowed production by Gaza's power station, which supplies only 30 per cent of the total power to the area. Israeli-based power companies continued to supply the remaining 70 per cent of electricity to the region. Of the electricity that was available in the area, Hamas chose to divert it to their weapon producing factories, knowing that ensuing suffering by the people of Gaza would inflame public opinion against Israel.
Israel continues to allow humanitarian aid; food, medicine and other supplies into Gaza throughout Hamas' reign. This continues even though border authorities have foiled, in the last two weeks alone, attempts to smuggle under the guise of humanitarian supplies, tonnes of fertiliser for use in making missiles. In any informed debate on the virtue of Israel's actions, it is imperative to remember that the Israeli Government continues to aid those Gazans who are suffering under the Hamas regime.
Therefore, it is not asked that Matt McCarten in his opinion piece on Gaza, be denied the right to express his views, nor is it asked that a newspaper limit the freedom of speech by refusing to print them. With the right to freedom of speech comes a responsibility not to distort facts or inflame and play to prejudices. There is a fine line between fair and just criticism, and blunt anti-Israel sentiment which is a camouflage for anti-Semitism.
As the only democracy in the Middle East, Israel is a firm believer in the freedoms of speech and press in a vibrant society. Israel invites debate and council on its actions, but it asks that the dialogue be informed.