‘‘YES, the armed groups are firing their rockets into Israel from the vicinity of UN facilities and residential areas. Absolutely.’’
The speaker was John Ging, former director of the United Nation’s Relief and Works Agency in the Gaza Strip, following revelations that Hamas had been storing rockets in UN offices, schools, homes and public buildings.
Hamas, a listed terrorist organisation in Australia and other countries, has been internationally condemned for using the ‘‘human shield’’ tactic of hiding its members and their weapons in civilian areas. They have even made a local hospital their de facto headquarters. Their tactics have resulted in death and destruction in both Israel and Gaza.
Hamas targets Israeli civilians and all its rocket fire is aimed at Israeli towns, though civilians in Gaza have also been directly affected by Hamas’ tactics.
Last week, in the space of 24 hours, Hamas fired 140 rockets at Israel with 50 falling short and landing in Gaza, with a total of 280 Hamas rockets landing in Gaza in July. Targeting civilians is a war crime and with Hamas rockets falling on both sides, it is responsible for terrorising both Israelis and Palestinians.
Hamas does not provide warnings when it launches rockets. Further, instead of using cement and aid given by the international community to build hospitals or schools, it uses these resources to build dozens of secret tunnels into Israel, designed to conduct terror attacks.
When I was in Israel during the conflict between Israel and Hamas in 2009, a class of children from a town close to the border with Gaza had been evacuated from their homes and were staying in our hotel.
I was going to approach them, when I was told to be careful with what I told them. I asked why and was informed that most of the children were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder following the attacks and just weren’t coping.
Only in these past few weeks, I have been chatting to friends in Israel on Facebook who have had to run whenever they hear sirens. I still find it shocking when someone ‘‘checks in’’ from a bomb shelter, or when I see status updates of friends at the footy next to friends posting pictures of rockets flying over Israeli cities.
Israel does not have any reason to target civilians; its enemy is Hamas, which has carried out cross-border terror attacks on Israel, kidnapped Israeli soldiers and fired rockets at Israeli families.
To minimise civilian casualties in Gaza, the Israeli military makes phone calls to residents and gives other warnings to evacuate Hamas bases of operations before they are struck. Hamas has gone on TV to tell civilians to ignore these warnings.
Hamas makes no secret of its long-term agenda – the destruction of Israel and a global campaign against Jews. It has posted its charter online, and anyone who wants to read it can do so.
All fair-minded Australians look forward to a long-term solution to the conflict where both Palestinians and Israelis can live in peace and security.
For the welfare of the people of Gaza and Israel, the Strip must be demilitarised and Palestinian leaders must renounce violence and use the billions of dollars they receive in aid to help Gaza’s civilian population.
Glen Falkenstein is a policy analyst at the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council