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July 28th 2014 print

Peter Smith

The Only Way To Deal With Hamas

Israel's assault on Gaza is out of proportion with the provocation, the so-called experts insist. Perhaps, if they and their families were obliged to live beneath a hail of rockets and threats of annihilation, their sense of perspective might be somewhat different

gazaUnder the guise of ‘news’, Sky reports on the conflict between Israel and Hamas by way of extensive coverage of the destruction of Palestinian lives and property. Tragic personal stories are featured. I sit through it and wonder how anyone could not feel compassion? If it were not badged as ‘news’ I would have no objection to the coverage. I would particularly have no objection if the reason for this suffering was properly aired, which has not been the case.

The devastation of war needs to be brought into living rooms — provided those watching are armed, so far as is possible, with an appreciation of the whole picture. Skip to Germany in 1945 on the brink of defeat and immediately afterwards. No-one could fail to feel compassion for the German people. Everyone knows the cause of their suffering; everyone knows it was nationally self-inflicted. This doesn’t mean help is denied. It simply means that we don’t have to immerse ourselves in conscience-ridden paroxysms of self-reflection.

I have seen no accounts, biased or otherwise, which have denied the fact that Hamas fired many rockets into Israel before Israel responded with force. I have also seen no rebuttals, only confirmations, of Israel’s claim that Hamas hides its arsenals and rockets in residential areas, or that it has built tunnels to infiltrate Israel’s territory. Hamas is a terrorist gang. Australia has said so, as have the US, the EU, Canada, Japan, Egypt and Jordan.

Israel warns civilians in advance of its intention to attack specific areas. Which other nation during times of war has ever done that? It is surely, even on its own terms, counterproductive. Hamas withdraws its fighters and armaments to safe areas and continues fighting. This is bound to bring even more civilian casualties in its wake, not to mention increasing Israeli casualties when the telegraphed offensive actually begins.

I don’t imagine Churchill signalled in advance which German towns he intended to bomb. Enormous civilian causalities resulted. But would fewer have resulted if he had prolonged Germany’s capacity to fight? It is at least an open question.

Anyway, none of this should diminish our feeling for ordinary Palestinians caught up in the conflict. At the same time, there is a moral clarity. Israel did not start it. Our human nature and our legal system uphold the right to self-defence. When a fight has broken out it is important to discover who threw the first blow.

Now proportionality — the buzz word of the moment — matters in many cases. We don’t expect the heavyweight boxing champion to accept being slapped in public by a puny guy in the local pub. On the other hand, we don’t countenance the boxing champion flooring the puny guy with a practiced combination of massive blows. Now put a gun or even a sharp knife in the hands of the puny guy. All bets are off.

Hamas is a relatively puny guy, but it has powerful rockets and its stated intention is to kill Israelis without compunction. Israel can’t afford to mess about. Bystanders might wring their hands in anguish at the results of Israel defending its citizens, but those critics are not in the firing line.

How about taking some commentators from the ABC, SBS and Sky News and their spouses and children and putting them in Israel under the flight paths of Hamas rockets. Then, after they have dived into bomb shelters some hundreds of times, ask them what they think should be done.

When the enemy will accept nothing short of your annihilation, what exactly do you do? This has nothing to do with the rights and wrongs of the establishment of Israel in 1948 or some property disputes in the West Bank. Israel says that it will sit down and be generous in negotiations if the Palestinians concede Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. Exactly how can this be construed as Israeli intransigence or belligerence?

It is hard to put any kind of perspective around distressing scenes of women and children being maimed and killed. It shouldn’t happen and must end. The only way to stop it is to stop Hamas, just as the only way to rid the world of a future of untold misery and death was to stop Hitler and his Nazis. While many thousands of civilians died in accomplishing this imperative there was moral clarity then, just as there is today for those not blinded by prejudice.

Peter Smith, a frequent Quadrant Online contributor, is the author of Bad Economics