Israel's actions necessary so our citizens can live in peace


OPINION:Fintan O'Toole's charges against Israel were ill-informed, outrageous and ignorant, writes Zion Evrony 

FINTAN O'TOOLE began his column this week (Israel must be held to account over Gaza action) by trying to insulate himself in advance from the charge of equating Israel with Nazi Germany. But in a transparent display of intellectual dishonesty, he then proceeds to do exactly that. In doing so he demonstrates a profound ignorance of the character and policies of Israel.

O'Toole, living in a State that, happily, has never had to defend its own existence, offers his readers a sophisticated version of a falsehood that draws a moral equivalence between the legitimate right of a democratic state to defend its own citizens and the genocidal actions of Nazi Germany.

Underlying this attitude is a prejudice that is comfortable with the stereotype of the Jewish people as victims, but becomes outraged when they act to defend themselves. O'Toole's implication is that the people of Israel should be the only people in the world to sit passively in the face of a systematic campaign to terrorise them.

I hope O'Toole will never have the awful experience of running with his children to reach a bomb shelter within 15 seconds.

This is now a daily reality for almost one million Israelis. But in a monumental failure of imagination, he can only understand Israel's response to this unacceptable situation as "a game of revenge".

O'Toole's pet theory, shared by some other commentators here in Ireland, seems to be that the Israeli psyche is so traumatised by the effects of the Holocaust that it must erupt periodically into outbursts of violence at the smallest hint of a threat. This is an attractive theory for those who do not pay attention to events.

His moral conscience seems to have slept through the years after 1993 when Hamas did its utmost to derail the Oslo peace process by murdering hundreds of Israeli civilians in suicide bombings of buses and cafeterias.

It slumbered on through the last eight years in which the people of southern Israeli towns and cities were bombarded by Hamas with 8,000 rockets and mortars (including over 3,000 in 2008 alone). When Hamas mistook Israel's restraint for weakness, ended the ceasefire and resumed its rocket attacks, using its new Iranian-supplied missiles to reach as far as the cities of Ashdod and Beersheva, it stayed asleep.

Only now, when Israel says "enough is enough" and fights back, is his conscience finally awake.

The problem with O'Toole's theory is that it is falsified by the facts. Here are just a few of them:

1. Israel has shown time after time its desire to live in peace with its neighbours.

In 1979 it signed a peace treaty with Egypt under which it withdrew its army and civilians from the Sinai peninsula (three times the size of Israel).

In 1994 it signed a peace treaty with Jordan.

At Oslo in the 1990s, at Camp David and Taba in 2000-2001 and most recently at Annapolis, it has shown its willingness to make painful sacrifices for the sake of peace with the Palestinians. In 2005 Israel withdrew all its soldiers and civilians from the Gaza Strip for the sake of peace and to allow Palestinians to build a prosperous society.

Its reward, however, was to be attacked from the vacated territory by Hamas and other terrorist factions.

Hamas took control of Gaza and turned it into a den of terrorism and oppression and smuggled in Iranian-supplied weapons and missiles through hundreds of tunnels dug under the border.

2. The actions of Hamas are perfectly in keeping with its ideology as set out in its charter, highly recommended reading for O'Toole and like-minded commentators.

This makes clear that its goal is to destroy the state of Israel and replace it with an Islamic state (Preface and Article 11), sets its face against all peace conferences, and declares that the only solution is by jihad/holy war (Article 13). It even includes a scriptural mandate for the killing of Jews (Article 7).

3. O'Toole disregards these realities and, instead, stretches the scope of the term "collective punishment" to include almost any Israeli defensive action.

The measures used by Israel to counter the Hamas terrorist threat before the present military action - such as preventing the traffic of materials used for the manufacture of rockets - were fully legitimate.

O'Toole chooses to ignore that it was Hamas that launched rockets at the Ashkelon power station supplying Gaza with two-thirds of its electricity needs, and also fired repeatedly at the border crossings.

4. Contrary to his assertion, Israel did not destroy the business infrastructure of Gaza. Hamas itself smashed the multimillion-dollar glasshouses left behind by evacuated Israelis and turned them into storage facilities for rockets and explosives.

It also used terror to force Israel to close the joint-venture industrial zones near the border that were an important source of employment for many Palestinians.

5. We come finally to his accusation that Israel's policy of self-defence is "profound racism".

In fact, Israel is a multi-ethnic democracy with an Arab minority of over 1.2 million represented in parliament, the supreme court and at all levels of the state.

The imbalance in the Israeli/Palestinian fatality figures, cited by him in support of his argument, results from the profoundly different moral approach taken by Israel and Hamas with regard to the lives of their own people.

Israel protects its civilians with shelters and early warning systems; Hamas deliberately puts Palestinians in harm's way.

As Hamas spokesman Fathi Hamad boasted last week on Al Aqsa TV: "We have created a human shield of women, children, the elderly and the jihad fighters as if to say to the Zionist enemy: 'We desire death as you desire life'."

To claim that, for Israelis, "one Israeli life is worth at least 20 Palestinian lives" is simply an outrageous violation of the truth.

For us, every civilian death, Israeli or Palestinian, is a tragedy and we do what is humanly possible to avoid them.

For example, at air force meetings and briefings 80 per cent of the time is dedicated to discussing ways of hitting known terrorist targets without injury to surrounding civilians.

Israeli aircraft distribute hundreds of thousands of leaflets calling on residents to leave buildings that house a Hamas HQ office or a stockpile of rockets and that are about to be bombed.

It was the hope for peace that led us to withdraw from Gaza; it was the terrorism of Hamas that compelled us to re-enter.

Israel's action there is necessary until Israeli citizens can live in peace.

In the meantime, O'Toole should educate himself as to the true nature, history and policy of Israel - a small democracy fighting for its right to live in peace and security.

• Zion Evrony is Israeli ambassador to Ireland