Rocket attacks, missile defense, targeted airstrikes, and public executions are all hot topics of the recent Hamas-Israel conflict. But they all focus on the tactics of the recent fighting and not the reasons for the war. The ceasefire gives us a chance to discuss that question with more context.
CNN's Anderson Cooper asked former Senator George Mitchell (D-Maine) this week how peace can be achieved. Mitchell, a man involved in many negotiations in the Middle East and Northern Ireland, called the current Israeli-Palestinian question “the most complicated” one he’s been involved in.
However, when one looks at the history with a bird’s eye view the situation is not that complicated at all.
The Hamas rocket attacks on Israel began in 2001. Four years after the start of the rocket attacks from Gaza, Israel took a risk for peace. In 2005, Israel evacuated all Israeli citizens from Gaza, part of the Jewish ancestral homeland, in hopes of creating goodwill on the Palestinian side and paving the way for an independent Palestinian state. Israel asked for nothing in return.
Unfortunately, the peaceful gesture did not work. Since the 2005 withdrawal, Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups returned the favor with 10,000 rockets and missiles. What the international community had hoped would be a thriving Palestinian democracy instead became a launching pad.
Westerners ask why Hamas would shoot all of these rockets when Israel is no longer in the territory they claim. Hamas answers the question very openly.
Its founding charter says: “Israel will only exist until Islam will obliterate it” and that international conferences are “a waste of time” and that they serve “non-believers.” The charter predicts that rocks and trees will someday join their struggle and will cry “O Moslem! There is a Jew hiding behind me, come on and kill him.”
Hamas wants to destroy Israel. They say it all the time. That is why Hamas’ ideological brethren who do not have land disputes with Israel — Hezbollah, al-Qaeda, and Iran — join the fight as well. That is why Hamas’ prime minister called the killing of Osama bin Laden a “murder,” and called him a “Muslim Holy Warrior.”
That explains why Israel’s enemies attacked it so many times before 1967, before there was ever a land dispute. That is why the Palestinians attacked Israel after it gave up land in 1993, and after it offered even more land in 2000. That is why Hezbollah attacked Israel after it gave up its security buffer in Southern Lebanon in 2000.
See the pattern? Compromises on land disputes have not brought peace or even tranquility to Israel.
Cease-fire agreements have not done so either. In June 2008, Israel and Hamas struck an indirect agreement for a ceasefire. Unfortunately, Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups fired over 400 rockets and mortar shells during that ceasefire. Israel was forced to go in to Gaza through Operation Cast Lead in December of that year.
That operation restored some tranquility, but the rocket attacks slowly picked up again. Israeli civilians received 578 rockets in 2009, 129 rockets in 2010, and 375 rockets in 2011. Through all of these rocket attacks, Israel showed restraint.
Ten days ago, Israeli tolerance reached its limit and they were forced to go into Gaza again. And now there is another ceasefire, which Hamas violated with 20 rockets in the first few hours.
This situation is far less complicated than the one Mitchell helped solve in Ireland. There is one free society making tangible efforts for peace on one side. A theocratic regime committed to the other side’s destruction is on the other.
Perhaps the starkest symbolism of that dynamic during Operation Pillar of Defense was either side’s reaction to the visit of Egypt’s prime minister to Gaza. Israel held all fire in hopes of a ceasefire. Hamas seized the moment to launch rockets.
The ceasefire was eventually reached, but to solve the conflict, the world must understand the crux of the issue. This is an asymmetric conflict. Not only is the warfare asymmetric, but also the peace efforts are asymmetric, and most importantly, either side’s view of the conflict is asymmetric. Israel has continually tried to negotiate over land. Hamas has not been interested in land. It has only tried to destroy Israel, regardless of the location of Israel’s borders at any given time.
As long as Hamas rules Gaza, peace will elude the people of the region.