ISRAEL’S OPERATION SWORDS OF IRON
The surprise Hamas assault on Israel took place in the early hours of Saturday, 7th October 2023, a day after the 50th anniversary of the launch of the 1973 Yom Kippur war. Hamas achieved what no one had thought possible. Thousands of deadly missiles overwhelmed Israel’s Iron Dome defences and the great Israel defence forces seemed to evaporate in Israel’s moment of desperate need. Hamas did everything it could to shock the Israelis, to humiliate and horrify, kidnapping children, and desecrating corpses. It is the worst atrocity in the many years of Palestinian conflict with Israel.
Hundreds of young Israelis attending a music festival were attacked by Hamas. 260 were murdered. Across Israel, at least 1,300 Israelis have been killed and many more wounded while Hamas holds up to 150 hostages. Israel has retaliated pounding multiple terrorist sites in Gaza. Over 1,800 Palestinians have been killed and thousands wounded.
Following the invasion, Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu and leading opposition figure, Benny Gantz agreed to form an emergency government. However the main opposition leader, Yair Lapid has not joined the alliance although a seat has been reserved for him in the War Cabinet. Netanyahu has declared that “What happened today has never been seen before in Israel and I will ensure it never happens again”. On top of 170,000 active soldiers, the Israel Defence Force (IDF) has called up 300,000 reservists. Israel has amassed 100,000 Israeli troops near the border with Gaza.
Israel now aims to capture or kill all Hamas leaders and to destroy the group’s militant capability. It is striking at Hamas’ labyrinth of tunnels built underneath the Gaza Strip, tunnels which according to Hamas stretch over 500 km. Israel has dropped more than 6,000 bombs on Gaza since the beginning of the invasion. Israel has called for the population in north Gaza to evacuate for their own safety, but Hamas has called upon them to remain in their homes and to ignore the Israeli call for evacuation. According to the Israel Defence Force, Hamas militants are hiding in tunnels beneath civilian homes and in heavily populated areas. It is accustomed to using human shields and putting civilians at risk in the face of imminent attack.
In 1947 the United Nations General Assembly voted in favour of resolution 181, creating the Jewish State. The UN called for the creation of two states in Palestine, one Jewish and one Arab. Despite the small size of the territory allocated to the Jews, they chose to accept what was offered, but the Arabs rejected the offer.
When the Zionists were offered something, they always accepted it and, in the end, they got everything. The Arabs continually said “no” and in the end they were left with nothing. One commentator remarked, “The Palestinians never lose an opportunity to lose an opportunity”!
Israel declared Independence on 14 May 1948 at a time when there were only 600,000 Jews in Israel. Five Arab nations, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, and Iraq immediately attacked the new Jewish State. They failed to destroy Israel, but the Arab state which the UN had proposed, never materialised. The war led to a mass exodus of Palestinians with 700,000 fleeing the country. Palestinians refer to this as the “Catastrophe” or “Nakbah”. Lebanon, Syria, and Egypt took in many Palestinians, but thousands have been left stateless. Even then, a Jordanian official said that war would be renewed and even if the struggle lasted 100 years, “The day of vengeance would come”.
In 1967 Egypt and Jordan invaded Israel. Nasser threatened to drive the Israelis into the sea. However, Israel launched a pre-emptive strike destroying the Egyptian Air Force on the ground. After that, Israel took control of the Old City, where Jews returned to live and pray at the Western Wall, the holiest site in Judaism. [The Western Wall is what remains of the First Temple in Jerusalem constructed by King Solomon in 970BCE. The Temple was destroyed and rebuilt a number of times but was finally demolished in 70CE and the Western Wall is all that remains.] Palestinians also live and pray at the Al Aqsa Mosque on the hill located above the Western Wall.
Following the 1967 war, the Israelis occupied Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza, the Sinai Peninsula, and the Golan Heights. Despite that, Arab leaders emerged with their famous “Three Nos”: “No peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with Israel”.
When Egypt and Syria attacked Israel on Yom Kippur in October 1973, Israel was unprepared. Israel clawed its way back, although 3,000 Israeli soldiers were killed and thousands more were wounded. Israel’s existential vulnerability had returned. Prime Minister of Israel, Golda Meir (1969-1974) said, “We will only have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us”.
No Arab army has attacked Israel since 1973 until now, 50 years later. Hamas is back with a vengeance.
At the dawn of the 20th century, Jew hatred oozed from the European continent. Hundreds of pogroms ignited across Europe with Jewish men, women, and children being indiscriminately beaten, mutilated, and murdered. There were signs which read “Jews get out of Europe – go to Palestine”, but when they arrived in Palestine, the local Arabs taunted, “Jews go back to Europe”.
In 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini came to power in Iran beginning its proxy war with the creation of Hezbollah in Lebanon in 1982. In 2001, Ayatollah Khamenei stated, “It is the mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to erase Israel from the map of the region”. After Ahmadinejad rose to power in 2005, he reiterated Iran’s absolute opposition to Israel’s existence and in 2012, the Iranian chief of staff announced, “The Iranian nation is committed to the full annihilation of Israel”. As recently as 2021 Iran’s Brigadier said, “We will not back off from the annihilation of Israel. We want to destroy Zionism in the world”.
The Oslo Accords
Israel’s Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin engaged in peace negotiations with the Palestinians, leading to the Oslo Agreement in 1993. This would turn over the Gaza Strip and part of the West Bank to a Palestinian Administration. Yasser Arafat, Rabin, and Bill Clinton shook hands on the White House lawn. Instead, a period of intensified Palestinian violence against Israel began with Islamist groups carrying out suicide bombings, killing Israeli citizens.
Nevertheless, Rabin pursued the Oslo Accords but he was assassinated on 4 November 1995 by Yigal Amir, a 25-year-old Jewish law student. Thousands wept in the streets realising that the dream of peace had died. Shimon Perez succeeded Rabin as Prime Minister and pushed on with Oslo. In mid-2000 Ehud Barak, Arafat and Bill Clinton met at Camp David. Barak offered Arafat 92% of the West Bank and sections of Jerusalem for a Palestinian state. Arafat refused to even consider the offer.
In December 2000, Clinton presented a further proposal that the new Palestinian state should include 94-96% of the West Bank and in January 2001 he added the Gaza Strip. However, Clinton left the White House without succeeding, saying that believing Arafat “was the biggest mistake I made in my presidency”. Later, George Bush remarked “Arafat had lied to me. I never trusted him again. By the spring of 2002, I had concluded that peace would not be possible with Arafat in power”. Later, Barack Obama learnt a similar lesson and was unable to get then Palestinian President Abbas (who succeeded Arafat in 2004) even to come to the table.
Hamas was founded in 1988 with the central aim of annihilating Israel and liberating Palestine from “Zionist occupation”. Hamas seeks to replace Israel with a Palestinian state, stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River and has consistently attacked Israel with rockets and mortars.
In 1987, an Israeli truck driver ran over four Arab workers in an accident in the Gaza Strip. The West Bank and Gaza exploded in violence. Thousands sought confrontation, throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails. This would become known as the first Intifada (Arabic for “shaking off”).
In September 2000, Ariel Sharon provocatively went up to the Temple Mount although he did not enter the Mosque. The following day, 20,000 Palestinian rioters stormed the Temple Mount. In the ensuing clashes, many Palestinian rioters were killed and wounded and many Israeli police were wounded. The Palestinians called for a Jihad. It was the beginning of a four-year battle known as the second Intifada.
Israel gave up control of the Gaza Strip in 2005, withdrawing 9,000 Israeli settlers from Gaza. However, Hamas came to power in Gaza in 2006 and although Israel give up control of the Gaza Strip, it maintained a land, air, and sea blockade to protect Israelis from Palestinian rocket attacks.
Gaza has more than 2 million people living in one of the world’s most densely populated territories. It relies heavily on Israel for water, electricity and food, but since the October invasion, Israel’s defence minister has ordered a “complete siege”, cutting off food, fuel, electricity, and water supplies. Israel has announced that this will change only if and when Hamas releases their hostages.
Anthony Albanese has condemned the Hamas attack as indiscriminate and abhorrent saying that Australia stood with “our friend Israel in this time” even though his Australian Labor Party voted in August to recognise a Palestinian state although in the absence of identifiable Palestinian territory and meaningful Palestinian leadership such recognition would be merely symbolic.
US President Biden has pledged “full support” for Israel drawing a distinction between Hamas as a terrorist organisation and ordinary Palestinians who are seeking an independent state, arguing that “Hamas does not stand for the Palestinian people’s right to dignity and self-determination and its stated purpose is the annihilation of the State of Israel and the murder of Jewish people”. He told Netanyahu that Israel’s response should be “swift, decisive and overwhelming”. The US has deployed its Navy’s most sophisticated aircraft carrier plus six other ships and jets to the Mediterranean and has pledged to send munitions to Israel.
Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, followed by Jordan in 1994. In 2020, Israel signed the Abraham Accords with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain. Palestinian President Mahmood Abbas denounced the Abraham Accords as a “despicable decision and a betrayal” as Palestine had anticipated that Arab normalisation would take place only after Israel allowed independence for Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Instead, Israel has gained acceptance and the Palestinians have again been the big losers.
Morocco agreed to diplomatic ties with Israel in December 2020 and Sudan did so in January 2021. With more Arab countries coming to terms with Israel there is hope that, if this process continues, the Palestinians may have to accept the State of Israel.
The US and Saudi Arabia have been engaged in talks over the normalisation of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia. These talks have revived discussion regarding Area “C” which constitutes 60% of the West Bank, where most of Israel’s settlements are located (the other 40% is controlled by the Palestinians) and there have been suggestions of a transfer by Israel of a significant portion of Area C to Palestinian control as part of an agreement between Riyadh and Jerusalem.
Normalisation of relations with Saudi Arabia could lead to a three-way partnership among Saudi Arabia (Iran’s Sunni Muslim nemesis), its Zionist foe Israel, and the “Great Satan”, the USA. It would be Iran’s worst nightmare. If Saudi hostility ends, much of the rest of the Muslim world is likely to fall into line. However, the Hamas October attack could blow up or suspend the talks.
The Two-State Solution
For the international community, the only sensible solution is the “two-state solution”, but today, most Israelis believe that no matter what they do to accommodate the Palestinians, the international drive to delegitimise Israel will not cease. Although Israel is blamed by some for the failure of the two-state solution, the Palestinians violently rejected the two states offered in 1947 and they again rejected the two state proposals in 2000, 2001, and 2008.
In the 56 years since 1967, 450,000 Israelis have settled in the area beyond the 1967 borders and not one Palestinian leader has ever demonstrated the will to reconcile with Jewish statehood. Unsurprisingly, many Israelis have concluded that the Palestinians only want Israel’s destruction. Before a two-state solution can be revived, reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah is essential.
Anti-Zionism and Apartheid
In 1947 the UN Gen Assembly voted in favour of resolution 181, to create the Jewish State and yet 28 years later, in 1975 the UN declaring that “Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination” leading to the Wall Street Journal warning that such a resolution would “restore respectability to the dormant irrational hatred of the Jewish people”.
Anti-Semitism is on the rise, even in Australia. I was privileged recently to attend a JNF event where 750 people heard the Israeli actress, author and advocate, Noa Tishby speak about classic anti-Semitic tropes being spewed proudly by political and cultural leaders. She did not hold back, saying “Let me just be clear. Anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism”. I agree with her but would go further and add that anti-Semitism is racism (look no further than Nazi Germany in the 1930s/40s).
The Sydney Peace Prize
In 2003, Bob Carr, then New South Wales Premier, was invited to present the Sydney Peace Prize to Hanan Ashrawi, a prominent Palestinian spokesperson. In his 2018 biography, Carr claimed to have been a supporter of Israel saying, “I and my Labor crowd were in the Zionist camp”.
However, soon after the peace prize was announced, Sydney’s Jewish leaders launched a petition to force Carr to withdraw. Lucy Turnbull, the then Mayor of Sydney, withdrew her attendance as did Kathryn Greiner (who was chair of the Sydney Peace Foundation). Carr considered the Jewish objections as amounting to, “How dare you agree to meet a Palestinian”. In his fury, Carr uses the expression “How dare you” at least 12 times in his chapter, Me and "The Lobby”!
I did not agree at the time, and I do not agree now with the Jewish lobby’s objections to the grant to Ashrawi of the Sydney Peace Prize. In my view theirs was an overreaction. As a Palestinian leader she might well have contributed to a negotiated settlement with Israel. However, that does not justify Carr, 15-20 years later maintaining his rage and blatant hostility to Israel, to Zionism, and to the Jewish people at large. He took the opportunity, only days ago, at a gathering of Palestinians, to claim that the Israel lobby relied on “bullying” to intimidate critics and, according to Carr the Jewish supporters of Israel do not believe that Palestinians have an equal claim to humanity! He referred to Israel as “an occupying power, truculent and implacable in its determination that its occupation will never end”. What rubbish!
Mark Leibler, a distinguished member of Australia’s Jewish community asked Carr, “Just how far does your hatred for Israel and the Jewish people go?” I am personally relieved not to be a friend of Carr and I am thankful that he is not “in my camp” – if he was, I would be looking over my shoulder every step of the way.
In June 2023, only three months before Carr’s anti-Jew rant, Daniel Andrews, the long-standing, recently retired Premier of Victoria, described Israel as “a beacon of democratic freedom, the only true democracy in the region” and the only place in the region where women are treated equally. He added that if you want peace, you need a partner for peace.
A Hypothetical – Imagine If!
Imagine if 75 years ago in 1948, the marauding Arab nations which attacked the new Jewish State had succeeded in erasing Israel from the map, annihilating the Israeli nation and destroying Zionism. Imagine if two thirds of the tiny Jewish population had died and the remaining 200,000 had fled into the desert to escape the Arab pogrom. Instead of fleeing, the Palestinians may well have taken occupation of the area which had been allocated to the Jews. Or would the Palestinians have waited patiently for 50, 60, or 75 years for the Jews to return to take possession of the land allocated to them by the UN. Or would they rather have “occupied” the area. Would the Western Wall have been preserved intact and respected as the most holy place in Judaism, or would it have become a garbage dump?
The Palestinians might have emerged as the “occupying power”. Would they have been called the “settler movement”? Would the UN have demanded that the Palestinians withdraw from the area occupied by them to allow the Jews to return? Would they perhaps have been more accommodating when Bill Clinton intervened in the hope of reinstating the “two-state solution” or would the Arab armies have attacked once more?
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