May 20, 2019

How Should We Respond to the Terror Rockets from Gaza?

Streaks of light are pictured as rockets are launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, as seen from Israel May 5, 2019. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

It’s important to get one thing out of the way: Firing rockets at civilians with the intent to maim and kill is not an act of resistance. It is a vile, evil, cowardly act.

Never mind Startup Nation. Israel is Shelter Nation. One thing that struck me on my recent visit there is that bomb shelters are literally everywhere. When the bombs start falling and sirens start shrieking, Israelis know exactly how many seconds they have to reach their shelter. A combination of sirens, shelters and the Iron Dome is what minimizes casualties.

The nearly 700 rockets Hamas and Islamic Jihad fired at Israel over one ghastly weekend aimed to kill as many Jews as possible. The fact that four Israelis were killed instead of hundreds or even thousands is not a function of enemy restraint, but of Israelis’ brilliance at protecting and defending themselves.

For those of us in America who are not used to running into bomb shelters, what is an appropriate response? What should we do when our brethren in Israel are terrorized around the clock, even if for only a few days? Should we focus on their suffering or try to be more even-handed?

Here was one response from the Jewish activist group IfNotNow:

“18 Palestinians, 4 Israelis dead. In the last 48 hrs. While Israelis run to bomb shelters, Palestinians have nowhere to run or hide, trapped in the open air prison of Gaza. We pray for the safety of Israeli & Palestinian civilians, whose leaders treat their lives as expendable. We cannot look at this in isolation. This latest flareup is the result of years of deliberate Israeli political decisions to keep Gaza on the brink of a humanitarian crisis. The indifference of Israelis, Americans — Jews and non-Jews alike — to this is appalling.”

The fact that four Israelis were killed instead of hundreds or even thousands is not a function of enemy restraint, but of Israelis’ brilliance at protecting and defending themselves.

This response is perhaps more than “even-handed,” as Israel seems to be held responsible for Palestinians who “have nowhere to run or hide” and for putting Gaza “on the brink of a humanitarian crisis.”

Another attempt at an even-handed response came from Rabbi Jill Jacobs, who runs T’ruah (the rabbinic call for human rights):

“Came out of Shabbat to more news of needless loss of life. Praying for the families of the Israeli and the Palestinians killed today, and for political leadership with the courage to seek political, not military solutions. … Hamas has actually proven able and willing to negotiate and maintain ceasefires in the past. Unfortunately, they’ve learned that rocket fire is the best way to get concessions from Israel.”

Jonathan Greenblatt, head of the Anti-Defamation League, chose a different direction and unequivocally condemned the bombings:

“Shabbat ends in the US with news of hundreds of rockets launched by Hamas into Israel leaving 1 dead & scores injured. This indiscriminate firing at civilian population is inexcusable and must be immediately condemned by the international community.”

I understand the Jewish instinct to appear even-handed. It feels less tribal, more complex, more elevated. But let’s imagine that Israel’s security precautions had been less effective and, instead of four casualties, hundreds of Israelis had died. Faced with such horror, would it still be appropriate to appear even-handed and explain that terrorists have learned that “rocket fire is the best way to get concessions from Israel”?

When a neo-Nazi commits mass murder in America, we don’t try to be even-handed or nuanced. We are firm and unequivocal in our condemnations.

Of course, because Israel is so good at defending itself and Hamas couldn’t care less about protecting its people, casualty figures will always be higher on the Palestinian side. Activists who bash Israel because of those figures ignore the fact that they’re a direct result of Israel being attacked and forced to defend itself.

The reality is, we are slaves to our narratives. Groups like IfNotNow are invested in the belief that Israel is the prime culprit in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. No fact can change that narrative. Any event that comes along — even indiscriminate bombing of Israeli civilians — is an opportunity to strengthen their narrative.

When I saw the unrelenting firing of rockets from Gaza, I had only one narrative in mind. It was neither tribal nor elevated, but simply common sense: If terrorists fire rockets to murder people, they deserve no even-handedness.

When a neo-Nazi commits mass murder in America, we don’t try to be even-handed or nuanced. We are firm and unequivocal in our condemnations. The corrupt Palestinian terrorists who have betrayed their own people while firing rockets at Israeli civilians deserve no less.