Hamas rockets and the Israeli response

I blogged earlier about the hot water Lib Dem MP David Ward got himself into yesterday and today by suggesting if he were a Palestinian in Gaza, he may himself resort to drastic measures. He said:

“What it is doing is understanding the state of mind of people who are absolutely desperate and are looking to the world to help them.”

“If you lived in Gaza and you saw people being blown to pieces by one of the world’s most powerful military forces and no-one was doing anything about it, save for platitudes about calling for a ceasefire, what would you do?

“Well, I don’t know what I would do but I can imagine I would be in a pretty desperate state and would then do things I wouldn’t normally do.”

I don’t know what I would do either, but if I knew that by firing rockets on Israel, it would give Israel an invitation to respond forcefully, risking the lives of my loved ones, would I still do it? I’m not sure I would. The vast majority of Palestinians don’t respond that way either. So why are Hamas doing it?

I spent a bit of time searching for answers to this question from a Palestinian perspective. While it’s very easy to find Israeli talking points from the likes of Mark Regev and Benjamin Netanyahu, finding more than quick soundbites from Palestinian voices is less easy (if anyone has any good links, please share below). I did however find this Telegraph interview with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal. Asked why Hamas were firing rockets onto the civilian population in Israel, he explained that the strategy is “not about the impact of each rocket” but the political effect they have in Israel, and that they are a symbol of the Palestinian’s will to resist “occupation”. If this is true, it’s a strategy that is failing badly, as the Israeli public comes out in support of the Israeli Government’s attack on Gaza. It could be perceived from the outside that the action of Hamas is designed purely to provoke a harsh response from Israel that will generate sympathy for the Palestinian cause around the world. This may have been partially successful, although Western Governments who have influence seem to be firmly on the side of the Israelis, and the cost of this strategy has been heavy civilian casualties. Two whole generations of Palestinians have lived their whole lives under Israeli occupation or blockade, so it should not be surprising that some try to resist the occupation, but doing so by targeting civilians in Israel is unlikely to gain sympathy for the legitimate cause of ending the occupation.

We hear that 90% of rockets fired into Israel are destroyed by their “Iron Dome” defense system, and so casualties on the Israeli side have been light, but the question from the Israeli’s will always be “what would you do if faced with these constant rocket attacks?”. It’s a good question, and I don’t know the answer to that, but I’d hope I wouldn’t do what Israel appears to be doing now which is engaging in an indiscriminate act of collective punishment against the people of Gaza, shelling small children from naval vessels, shooting up ambulances and hospitals and using snipers to fire on civilians. The Israelis say they take great care to warn civilians to leave areas they are about to attack, but where are they supposed to go?

Hollywood conditions us to believe there is always a battle of good versus evil, but reality is never like that. Both sides are doing great damage, it’s just that one side is fighting with pea shooters and human shields, while the other is fighting with bazookas and highly effective anti-pea shooter shields. Our support should be with the ordinary people on both sides who are suffering, for an end to the violence, and support for genuine negotiations towards a long-term solution.

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