In 1916, in an attempt to restore his revolutionary relevance, Mexico’s Pancho Villa attacked a border town in New Mexico to instigate an American response. President Woodrow Wilson complied. He sent an expeditionary force to Mexico, led by General John Pershing, who hunted Villa and his revolutionaries for 11 months while restoring order on our border. This provided valuable tactical experience for Pershing and his forces for the World War I command he would assume the following year.
One hundred and five years later, the Iranian-funded and -equipped Hamas, a terrorist organization committed in its charter to Israel’s destruction and to killing Jews, cannily seized an opportunity to win the Palestinian “street” and debase the Palestinian Authority’s standing by launching rockets over Jerusalem against the Israeli “oppressors.”
Since then, as of this writing, more than 3,200 rockets have been indiscriminately launched against Israeli civilians. Israel has responded vigorously, with dispatching close to 1,000 air and ground strikes, killing dozens of Hamas commanders, and degrading miles of tunnels that have been used to store military assets and troops and to serve as a launching pad for attacks against Israel.
What caused this conflagration in the first place? Like a Rube Goldberg contraption, it was the confluence of a number of factors.
The simultaneous ending of Ramadan and the celebration of the reunification of Jerusalem, with hateful rallying cries on both sides, created a combustible situation that led to riots. In response, Israeli police raided the Al Aqsa mosque, creating another flashpoint. Hundreds of people were injured or arrested.
Adding to the effect of the PA’s cancellation of elections, which thwarted Hamas’ probable victory and unsettled the likely results in the upcoming Israeli election, Hamas brazenly demanded the withdrawal of Israeli forces from East Jerusalem, which was appropriately ignored. Rocket fire on Jerusalem then ensued, widening to include all of Israel.
Hamas’ opening was buttressed by the Sheik Jarrah eviction controversy, where a court determined that several homes in an East Jerusalem neighborhood rightfully belonged to Jews whom the Jordanians expelled during the 1948 War of Independence. Until the Six Day War united Jerusalem, no Jews were allowed to worship in East Jerusalem; synagogues were burned and cemeteries desecrated. As an olive branch, the court allowed the Arab residents to rent the space. It was only after their refusal to pay rent that the Court allowed the eviction process to commence. This decision created a cause celebre for Palestinians and Western progressives.
But as law professors Avi Bell and Eugene Kontorovich argued: “The laws involved are the same any landlord would invoke. There is only one objection in this case: the owners are Jews.” Western progressives are seeking this neighborhood to be Judenrein, a condition that even the Jewish state must affirm. Meanwhile, Palestinians who sell land to Jews in any territory controlled by the PA are severely punished. Do progressives protest this ethnic cleansing?
What are some of the lessons to be gleaned?
As in earlier wars, Israel seeks to protect civilians through civil defense, the Iron Dome system, and the warnings it gives to Gaza civilians before attacks. By contrast, Hamas sees this war as a win-win: the more Israeli civilians killed the better. The more Gazan civilians who live within building complexes housing military assets killed, another plus. This is because the media displays the rubble and bemoans Israel’s “disproportionate” response, ignoring Hamas’ use of civilians as cannon fodder.
Hamas now will attempt to supplant the moribund PA as the protector of Palestinian rights. If it is successful, the quest for a two state solution is chimeric.
Israel’s resilience, the Iron Dome’s 90 percent effectiveness, Israel’s tactical success in degrading Hamas’ miles of tunnels — built by international funds diverted from humanitarian purposes — sends a clear message to Iran and Hezbollah. The message is that Israel will not be intimidated.
The United States’ support of the Israelis has, as of this writing, been steadfast, despite progressives’ vocal complaints. The big question on the horizon will be if the United States will exact Israel’s acquiescence for the Iranian deal as the price for its support. Or will Iranian support for Hamas and Islamic Jihad dissuade the United States for cutting a deal with Iran? That county is the world’s leader in fomenting terrorism.
The riots in Israeli cities with large Arab populations, which has resulted in deaths, injuries, the burning of synagogues, and extensive property damage is disheartening. It will take much soul searching by Arab and Jewish leaders to heal this rift in the heart of Israel. This may require a greater investment in the Arab sector and curbing the activities of extremists, including latter-day Kahanists.
Lastly, the precedent-setting role of an Arab party as kingmaker in Israeli politics has dissipated with Naftali Bennet’s return to the Likud coalition. As this war has put security in the forefront, it appears likely that a right-wing government will prevail.
As in any crisis, Israel may have made some mistakes. But in its hour of need and the rightness of its cause, we must stand behind the Jewish State as we stood together at Sinai.
Max Kleinman of Fairfield was the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest from 1995 to 2014 and he is the president of the Fifth Commandment Foundation.