by Alan M. Dershowitz
President George W. Bush's announcement in 2001 to support the creation of a Palestinian state offered a unique opportunity to Palestinians to end the violence and begin building a new future. Hamas's response came a few weeks later, when it fired the first Qassam rocket into the Israeli town of Sderot, population approximately 20,000.
It was only after Hamas's coup in June 2007, and the heavy rocket attacks that followed, that Israel imposed more extensive sanctions on Gaza. Palestinian rocket attacks against Israeli civilians were not a response to Gaza's increasing isolation, but the cause.
The sanctions imposed on Gaza -- not only by Israel, but the world -- were the direct result of Hamas's refusal to meet the international community's basic, reasonable demands: stop terror, recognize Israel, and respect previous agreements. Hamas and its fellow terrorist organizations deny the right to live in peace.
The Goldstone Report not only falsified the past; it had a negative influence by encouraging Hamas to repeat its own double war crimes: firing rockets at Israeli civilians from behind Palestinian human shields -- and killing and kidnapping Israeli civilians and soldiers through its terrorist tunnels.
Operation Protective Edge—The Historical Context"Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it." This truism, by philosopher George Santayana, well describes the current situation in the Middle East in general and Gaza in particular. Israelis and Palestinians have been condemned to repeat the tragedies of the past because history is neglected or misunderstood. That is why it is necessary to place the recent events in Gaza into a brief historical context. On October 2, 2001, only three weeks after the terror attacks of September 11, President George W. Bush announced that the United States supported the creation of a Palestinian state. It was a major milestone for the Palestinian cause, since no previous American administration had officially acknowledged a Palestinian state as an explicit goal of US foreign policy. The announcement was all the more remarkable given that the US was still reeling in the wake of 9/11, and that Palestinian extremists were still using terror against Israelis to achieve their goals. The American announcement came just months after Yasser Arafat had rejected an offer of statehood by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Bush's predecessor, Bill Clinton.
Bush's announcement offered a unique opportunity to Palestinians to end the violence and begin building a new future. Hamas's response came a few weeks later, when it fired the first Qassam rocket at the Israeli town of Sderot, a city with a population of approximately 20,000, of which some two dozen were killed, hundreds wounded, and thousands traumatized. The Hamas website proudly proclaimed: "The Zionist army is afraid that the Palestinians will increase the range of the new rockets, placing the towns and villages in the [Zionist] entity in danger." It was only the first of thousands of rockets that Hamas and other Palestinian terror organizations would fire in their relentless effort to kill Jews and destroy the peace process.
Rocket and mortar fire from the Gaza Strip peaked in late 2004 and early 2005. There was a brief halt in March 2005, in the aftermath of Mahmoud Abbas's victory in the Palestinian presidential elections, and an agreement signed by the various Palestinian factions in Cairo to halt violence. Hamas and other organizations merely used the lull to rearm, however. In August of that year, Israel carried out its disengagement from Gaza, voluntarily withdrawing thousands of settlers and soldiers, leaving twenty-one communities behind and completely ending the Israeli presence there. The hope was that Palestinians would use the end of Israeli occupation to build Gaza's economy and prepare it for political independence, along with the West Bank, as part of a Palestinian state. Private donors stepped in to buy the Israeli greenhouses that had been left behind and hand them over to the Palestinian Authority. James Wolfenson, the former head of the World Bank, contributed $500,000 of his own money to the purchase. But almost immediately after the disengagement, Hamas and other terror organizations destroyed the greenhouses and renewed their rocket fire, launching a barrage of rockets at the Israeli towns of Sderot and Ashkelon. The immediate trigger was an accident during a Hamas victory rally, in which a truck filled with weapons exploded in a Gaza refugee camp, killing nineteen Palestinians. There was little media focus on, and no demonstrations against these largely civilian deaths.
Rocket fire continued throughout the months that followed, though Israel was no longer occupying Gaza. In November 2005, Israel signed an agreement with the Palestinian Authority to open the Rafah Crossing on the Egypt-Gaza border. The agreement was part of an effort to encourage trade and economic development in Gaza, and to increase the responsibilities of the Palestinian government for the welfare of the Palestinian people. And, indeed, the Rafah Crossing remained open throughout the first half of 2006. The border remained open despite Hamas's victory in the Palestinian legislative elections in January 2006, which caused deep worry in Israel and throughout the international community. The Middle East Quartet—comprised of the European Union, United Nations, United States, and Russia— warned the new Palestinian government that further aid would be conditional on its "commitment to the principles of non-violence, recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations." Hamas considered and rejected each of these conditions. That decision, in turn, prompted the Quartet, and Israel, to cut off financial assistance to the Palestinian Authority, though Israel continued to supply electricity and water to Gaza.
Hamas quickly resumed its attacks. In February alone, forty-seven rockets were fired. By June, Hamas and other groups had launched hundreds of Qassams, as well as an Iranian-made Grad rocket. On June 25, Hamas launched an attack inside Israel, having tunneled under the border near the Kerem Shalom (Vineyard of Peace) border crossing. In the ensuing battle, Hamas kidnapped an Israeli soldier named Gilad Shalit, killing two Israeli soldiers in the process and injuring others. Following the tunnel attack and kidnapping, Israel attacked terrorist targets in Gaza and closed the Rafah Crossing. The closure was not an attempt to punish Palestinians for the elections result five months before, but was the direct consequence of Hamas's attack on Israel.
Even after Hamas abducted Shalit, the Gaza borders were not completely closed. The Rafah Crossing was open for twenty-four days over the next six months, and some movement of people and goods—albeit restricted—was allowed. Throughout this time, rocket fire from the Gaza Strip continued to terrorize Israeli civilians. Still, the international community gave the Palestinian leaders another chance to meet the basic demands it had issued in January 2006. But the two main Palestinian factions—Fatah, which controlled the executive, and Hamas, which controlled the legislature—began fighting openly with each other. After extensive negotiations, the two parties agreed to form a unity government, which was formed in March 2007. But the rockets continued to rain down—reaching a record high of 257 in May 2007—and in June 2007, Hamas launched a military coup against the Fatah executive, driving its leaders out of Gaza and killing over one hundred of their fellow Palestinians, including many civilians. Again, the events garnered little media focus and no protest marches. With the entire territory of Gaza under its iron-fisted control, Hamas increased rocket attacks against Israel, with other Palestinian terror organizations joining in. These attacks accelerated dramatically after Israel and the exiled Palestinian Authority leaders—still legally governed by Fatah, in the eyes of the international community—signed an agreement in Annapolis, Maryland, in November 2007, pledging to work toward a two-state solution.
It was only after Hamas's coup, and the heavy rocket attacks that followed, that Israel imposed more extensive sanctions on Gaza. In January 2008—two years after Hamas took power, and after thousands of rockets and mortars had fallen on Israel's southern towns—Israel began restricting fuel and electricity to Gaza, in accordance with a nuanced ruling by Israel's High Court of Justice. Still, it continued to allow fuel and humanitarian aid to enter, and allowed Palestinians to come in to Israel to receive medical treatment in Israeli hospitals. Israel did not want ordinary Palestinians to suffer and did all that it could to alleviate their living conditions while reducing Hamas's ability to function as a terrorist regime. And yet Hamas continued to smuggle weapons into Gaza via underground tunnels on the Egyptian border. More than two thousand rockets and mortars were launched from Gaza into Israel in the first six months of 2008. In June of 2008, presidential candidate Barack Obama visited Sderot, and after viewing the rocket residues and meeting with residents, this is what he said:
I don't think any country would find it acceptable to have missiles raining down on the heads of their citizens.
The first job of any nation state is to protect its citizens. And so I can assure you that if—I don't even care if I was a politician. If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I'm going to do everything in my power to stop that. And I would expect Israelis to do the same.
In December 2008, Hamas unilaterally declared that it would resume its attacks with full force—and it promptly did so, forcing Israel to respond with Operation Cast Lead in late December of 2008.
When these facts are examined, it is clear that Palestinian rocket attacks against Israeli civilians were not a response to Gaza's increasing isolation, but the cause. The first rocket attacks began in October 2001, precisely when the world was most eager to create a viable Palestinian state. They continued even after Israel pulled its army and its settlements out of Gaza in 2005. They accelerated after Hamas took power in 2006, increasing dramatically in 2007 when Israel and the Palestinian Authority resolved to renew negotiations toward a two-state solution. And the attacks were renewed in December 2008 when Hamas unilaterally declared that it would refuse to extend a period of calm that had been accepted by both sides.
The sanctions that were imposed on Gaza—not only by Israel, but the world—were the direct result of Hamas's refusal to meet the international community's basic, reasonable demands: stop terror, recognize Israel, and respect previous agreements. Even after Hamas took power in the 2006 elections, the Gaza borders remained relatively open, until Hamas escalated the conflict by abducting Gilad Shalit in June 2006, overthrowing the legitimate Palestinian executive in a violent coup in June 2007, and launching more and more rockets and mortars at Israeli civilians. Hamas brought about the isolation of Gaza because it is neither interested in peace nor in the welfare of the Palestinian people. Instead, it is fanatically committed to the destruction of Israel itself, a goal it pursues using weapons and funding it receives from the Islamic Republic of Iran, for which Hamas acts as a proxy and whose ambitions of regional domination it serves. More recently, Hamas has also been supported by Qatar and Turkey.
Israelis and Palestinians have the same right to live in peace. Hamas and its fellow terror organizations deny that right, and disrupt every attempt to move the peace process forward. That is why Operation Cast Lead, which ended on January 21, 2009, was necessary.
It was against this backdrop that I began to write a series of op-eds during Operation Cast Lead. These op-eds comprised the bulk of my short book, The Case For Moral Clarity: Israel, Hamas and Gaza. Following the publication of that book, the Goldstone Report was issued under the auspices of a UN fact-finding mission. It accused Israel of war crimes during Operation Cast Lead and exculpated Hamas from the charge that it used civilians as human shields. It turned a military defeat suffered by Hamas into a legal and public relations victory. Because of its importance, I begin this book with my response to that mendacious screed. The Goldstone Report not only falsified the past; it had a negative influence on the future by encouraging Hamas to repeat its own double war crimes: firing rockets at Israeli civilians from behind Palestinian human shields—and killing and kidnapping Israeli civilians and soldiers through its terrorist tunnels.
* * * This was neither the first nor last such offer. The Peel Commission in 1937, the UN in 1947, and Israel in 1967 made similar proposals, all of which were rejected by three noes: "no peace, no negotiation, no recognition." And in 2008, then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered the Palestinians the most generous proposal, which they did not accept.
 "Rocket Threat from the Gaza Strip, 2000–2007," Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center at the Israel Intelligence Heritage & Commemoration Center, citing the Hamas website following the first rocket fired at Sderot at the end of October 2001: 33–34.
Excerpted from Alan Dershowitz's new eBook "Terror Tunnels: The Case for Israel's Just War Against Hamas", published by Gatestone Institute, which is currently available from Amazon.com and will be available Sept. 15 for the Barnes & Noble Nook and Kobo.
Alan M. Dershowitz
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.