The genius of the Israel Defense Forces has always been to wage war in the enemy’s territory, as far away as possible from the small parcel of land it is charged with protecting from destruction. The Yom Kippur War of 1973 was a disastrous exception, and the surprise attack fought on its own soil resulted in terrible casualties for Israel.
Israel’s navy therefore stopped the self-styled humanitarian flotilla in international waters. The flotilla’s leaders had stated repeatedly, even after Israel’s stern warning, their intention to sail through Israel’s blockade of terrorist group Hamas-run Gaza. Israel had offered to deliver the humanitarian goods (there already exists a proper and successful channel for doing so), but the activists were not interested. Israel has since attempted to deliver them. Hamas refused to take delivery.
The blockade of Gaza represents an inconvenience to the Gazans and to Israel, but not a humanitarian crisis. As cold as this might sound, it is necessary to state this to those critics, often otherwise sober minded, willing to make absurd charges and slanderous comparisons of Gaza to the Jews’ own historical ghettos.
In 2005 I was escorted to the Karni Crossing between Israel and Gaza. There was already growing concern that this new border was a looming challenge for the Israeli military. As a rabbi and someone concerned with the lives and welfare of all innocent people, even those whose leadership swears proudly and on paper to eliminate my own, I had wanted to confirm the situation first hand.
Looking at the crossing surrounded by military officers, I thought of a childhood visit to Hunts Point Cooperative Market in the Bronx, with its open, bustling exchange the best of capitalism and democracy. At the crossing, tens of millions of Shekels were once exchanged in a massive two-way flow of produce, construction materials, household goods, and electronics that sustained and improved the lives of both peoples. The crossing had been temporarily closed due to Hamas’ cross-border terrorist activity, and I stood there wondering if the disengagement really served the interest of the Gaza population. What was once a major point of commerce was now a desolate structure.
In 2007 I returned to Israel with student members of Yale’s Eliezer Society. We visited Sderot in the south of Israel where I was stunned to see how the thousands of missiles launched from Gaza into Israeli neighborhoods had changed the once bustling city. I looked through the window of the office of Sderot’s then-Mayor Eli Moyal and saw the damage done by Hamas missiles to buildings just next door. Mayor Moyal told us of the ongoing construction of bomb shelters in preschools and hospitals and the effects of psychological terror on the innocent children.
While serving coffee he showed us Kassam rockets that had been gathered from the playgrounds and gardens of Sderot. Hundreds of psychiatrists had been brought in from all over Israel to counsel the children living daily and nightly under assault from the missiles, jolted awake by the explosions and sirens. These children, he told us, do not sleep at night, cannot concentrate in school, and are suffering from the worst form of trauma. An entire generation of children will be permanently scarred by the terror.
In 2008 I saw the tragedy in its completion. With the Gaza war fully raging, our trip was confined to Northern Israel. We were not allowed near the conflict, which we watched on our hotel televisions, horrified that Hamas’ actions left Israel no choice but to return fire. Though condemned by the international community and the one sided, calumnious “Goldstone Report” (the Report of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict), Israel stopped, albeit temporarily, the Hamas rockets, while desperately avoiding a retaliation that would subject innocent Gazans to the same fear of imminent death as the children of Sderot.
These three visits summed up for me how and why Israel is blockading Gaza. The blockade was brought on solely and consciously by the terrorist leadership of Gaza’s population. The actions Israel has taken aimed solely to prevent attacks on its civilian population, and it has done everything possible to minimize the suffering of the people of Gaza.
Last week’s attempt by anti-Israel agitators to cross illegally into Israel’s waters represents a violation of Israel’s sovereignty. The countries involved, foremost Turkey, should be called to task by the international community and prosecuted. The financial backers of this project, as well as the NGOs and non-profits that support criminal trespass into Israeli territory, should be investigated and prosecuted by the International Court and the United Nations.
Every country claims the right to inspect goods coming into its ports. If its soldiers are attacked while defending their borders, as were the Israeli soldiers who were beaten while landing on the Flotilla, any government would authorize the use of deadly force.
Israel cannot and should not wait for the world’s approval to undertake a defensive action well within the rights and obligations of any nation, and it must remain alert for more such tests of its sovereignty on land and sea. In the meantime the world must begin investigating and prosecuting all those responsible for the devious flotilla escapade.
Shmully Hecht is Rabbinical Advisor Of Eliezer, the Jewish Society at Yale University, and a panelist for the Washington Post’s “On Faith” blog. Hecht’s description of his encounter with Richard Goldstone, author of the “Goldstone Report,” can be found here.