Israel began to mobilize troops Thursday to the area around the Gaza Strip in response to what it said was a sharp increase in rocket fire into its territory over the past 24 hours. The move comes as tensions between Israelis and Palestinians flared to their worst level in years following the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli students and the suspected revenge killing of an Arab teenager in East Jerusalem.
Israel said the deployments were ordered as a defensive measure after an estimated 30 rockets were fired into its territory from Gaza, which is ruled by the Islamist militant group Hamas. Israel pounded 15 targets in the Gaza Strip overnight — including rocket-launching sites and weapons warehouses — in response to the rocket fire, the Israeli military said.
Several people in the crowded territory were reported injured in the airstrikes. In Israel, a residential building and kindergarten were damaged by Palestinian rocket fire.
We will hear calls in the days that follow for Israel to “end the cycle of violence.” There is no more noxious phrase than that to describe the conflict. It presumes that violence is a thing, virtually independent of the players or, worse, the result of lack of “restraint on both sides.” The phrase conceals how the “cycle” began and treats all violence — the kidnapping and killing of children as well as the targeted response directed at Hamas military targets — as morally interchangeable. Moreover, lost in the discussion is the response of the two sides to the killing of three Jewish students and of one Palestinian — gleeful celebration by Hamas and denunciation, direction to investigate and eventual prosecution by Israel. That tells us all we need to know about which side is prepared to live in peace with the other.
Let’s roll the film back to events before the discovery of the bodies of the three teens. Sunday, some 20 rockets rained down on Israeli civilians from Gaza. About 200 rockets have been lobbed at Israel this year alone. Imagine if 200 rockets had been fired at the United States from Mexico. Would any president show “restraint” or cease until every terrorist and weapon was eliminated?
Monday, before the teens’ bodies were discovered, the Israeli air force hit 34 select military targets in Gaza. Understand that these targets existed and were tolerated for some time. That “restraint” put Israelis at risk for exactly the sort of missile barrage they’ve recently absorbed. After the discovery of the bodies of the teens Israel continued its strikes and is amassing troops on the border, although it is far from clear that a ground action is in the cards. Meanwhile street violence rages, fueled by the killing of a Palestinian youth which may or may not be an act of retaliation for the killing of the three Israeli teens.
But, as if on cue, the State Department spokeswoman on Wednesday intoned that “all sides [should] find an alternative path forward.” Her moral confusion was on full display: “There is no question there are strong emotions on the ground. . . . [We’re] encouraging parties to continue to cooperate on security measures and continue the dialogue as well.” Whom specifically is she recommending Israel have a dialogue with – Hamas, the unity government containing Hamas or the hapless PA? “Strong emotions” is once again a great equalizer: Israelis are angered by the deaths of innocents, Hamas is angry Israel exists.
It would be refreshing if for once the administration would say plainly: The violence is the result of terrorist atrocities against Israeli citizens. Israel has the right of self-defense and the right to respond when innocents are killed in order to deter future attacks and punish those responsible. As a responsible democracy it is investigating the killing of a Palestinian youth and has already condemned the violence; one half of the unity government suspected in the killing of three Israelis openly celebrates death. When Hamas terrorists stop bombing Israelis there will be no need for retaliatory strikes or even for the blockade, which as we know from recent events has not stopped the flood of weapons and explosives into Gaza. As for the PA, its leaders need to choose: a unity government with Hamas or a productive relationship with the U.S. and the potential for statehood. They cannot have both.
It will never happen under this president, but it should. It would be, as they say, a teachable moment. It would deprive the terrorists of the equal standing they achieve by such phrases as “cycle of violence” and unmask Mahmoud Abbas as a feckless leader who abets terror. But for a president who sees Israel as responsible for the collapse of peace talks and who cannot bring himself to punish the PA for its association with Hamas, moral relativism is a necessity. Otherwise people might expect him to actually do something on behalf of our lone ally in the region.
UPDATE: A brief look at what Fatah is sending out through social media confirms that Fatah is, as usual, glorifying violence.