October 8, 2023 — Boston, MA
After Hamas attack, Israel will protect its people and its future.
Hamas has always been clear and consistent about its goal: the destruction of Israel.
Fighting continued Sunday between Israeli soldiers and Hamas fighters after the Palestinian militant group hit cities across Israel with military strikes on Saturday. Hundreds have been killed on both sides and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said the country is at war.
Hamas soldiers stormed communities, and killed soldiers and civilians — at least 600 as of this writing — and kidnapped untold others, including women, young children, and the elderly. Thousands of rockets have been fired at Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and other population centers. And there is mounting evidence that Hamas has abandoned any pretense of safeguarding non-combatants.
The death toll on both sides of the conflict will only mount in the days and weeks ahead. The victims will not only be Israelis, but also Palestinians in Gaza, who, despite Israeli efforts, will be at risk as Israel strikes back against the terrorist infrastructure.
There is a difference, however, between the way the Israeli military and Hamas conduct themselves. Hamas seeks out innocent Israelis to kill and uses its own civilians as human shields against attacks. Israel warns civilians before it launches attacks and urges that they leave conflict zones.
Hamas, the Iran-backed terrorist entity responsible for this barbaric attack on Israel, has always been clear and consistent about its goals. Its founding covenant calls for the destruction of Israel and the integration of areas they identify as Palestine into a theocratic pan-Islamic state.
It has time and again rejected any form of accommodation with Israel, beyond temporary truces that have been followed by periods of rearmament and then renewed attacks. In the past decade, Hamas has shot thousands of missiles at Israel and inspired hundreds of terrorist attacks.
Israel is a small country. At its widest, it is only 60 miles. Missiles can easily blanket the country. Millions of Israelis are sadly accustomed to going into the safe rooms of their homes to weather missile attacks. The weekend assaults, however, introduce a new level of danger. Israel will feel compelled to act and protect its people, but also its future.
It didn’t have to be this way. In 2005, Israel withdrew its army and civilians from Gaza and invited the development of a Palestinian state. A port and an airport were under construction. Fully equipped farms were left to help jump start the fledgling state. The road was open to a new era between Palestinian and Israelis. Two years later, Hamas took over Gaza, and the missiles began flying.
We already have evidence of what could have been. Ted Deutch, the CEO of American Jewish Committee, was in the United Arab Emirates this weekend for the celebration of the third anniversary of the signing of the Abraham Accords, which ushered in a new era across the Middle East of trade and investment, tourism, technical cooperation in energy, scientific research, water desalination and desert agriculture, and state-of-the-art medical technology. Across the Middle East, Arabs and Israelis are working to forge paths to peace and reconciliation.
The 2020 Abraham Accords led to normalized relations between Israel and three Arab nations: the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Morocco. A pattern of gradually warming relations with other countries, such as Qatar, Libya, and Sudan, followed. Other countries are also quietly meeting with the Israeli government to forge a new era of cooperation and coexistence. The Middle East is transforming as former enemies are opening borders and forging new relations. This is Hamas’s nightmare.
Hopefully, a day will come when Gaza will be governed by Palestinian leadership committed to living together with Israel and joining the new Middle East. Until then, Israel will defend itself and its people, but it will also continue to build bridges with those eager to build a future built on cooperation rather than conflict.
Robert Leikind is regional director of the American Jewish Committee New England.