The Hamas rockets matter too: a reply to Owen Jones

Yes, some of those obstacles are found on the Israeli side. But the rocket threat from Hamas is a huge obstacle, too.

Yes, some of those obstacles are found on the Israeli side. But the rocket threat from Hamas is a huge obstacle, too

Owen Jones’s claim (‘Israel under renewed Hamas attack’, says the BBC. More balance is needed’, Guardian, 9 July) that the Hamas rocket threat against Israeli civilians is no more serious than a child spitting at Mike Tyson is still reverberating. ‘Wall Street Journal emphasizes Hamas rocket capabilities; Guardian compares fight to Mike Tyson punching a toddler’ runs one angry Times of Israel headline.

Actually, there was much to cheer in Owen’s article about the conflict in Gaza: his reminder that every human life is precious and of equal value; his clear statement that “there is no defence for Hamas firing rockets into civilian areas” – brave, given the one-sided anti-Israel animus on some parts of the hard left these days – and his admonishment (to some) that “the fear among ordinary Israelis should not be ignored or belittled”.

Owen and I both stand for the democratic solution: ‘two states for two peoples’; a viable Palestine alongside a secure Israel.

But Owen was wrong to claim the Hamas rockets being fired at Israeli civilians are not a genuine threat. Wrong to liken them to ‘a child spitting at Mike Tyson’. And wrong to think there is no justification for Israel to use force to stop such ‘shitty rockets’.

Reading Owen’s article I was reminded of what about David Grossman told last week’s Haaretz peace conference in Tel Aviv. (By the way, the hundreds of participants were sent running for cover by incoming rocket fire.) The Israeli novelist, long-time critic of the occupation, and the father who lost his son in the Second Lebanon War in 2006, said we must have hope not despair if we are to achieve peace, but not just any kind of hope. We need that kind of hope “that does not disregard the many dangers and obstacles” to peace, but sees them plain.

Owen, I think, disregarded one major obstacle to peace when he breezily dismissed the Hamas missile threat as an inconvenience, like being gobbed at in the street by a child.

Tell that to the relatives of Aharon Smadga, Itzik Amsalem, and Mira Sharf (who was pregnant), three Israelis who were killed by a direct hit which devastated their house in the Israeli town of Kiryat Malahi in 2012.

In fact, the rockets flying into Israel areincreasinglypotent – Fajr-5, R160 and M-302 – and their range is growing.

Yes, back in 2008 Israel faced an arsenal of 5,000 rockets, mostly crude, home-made Qassam rockets fired over the border onto the people of Sderot. But then Hamas (and Palestinian Islamic Jihad) acquired more powerful Grads and Qassams. Then came Iranian-supplied Fajr 5 missiles that are more accurate and able to set off sirens in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. (Israel destroyed most of those in Operation Pillar of Defence in 2012).

On 9 July Hamas rockets reached as far as Zichron Ya’akov in Israel’s north, around 100 miles from Gaza, representing the longest range strike recorded.

No child spitting at you in the street can kill you. Or even terrify you. These rockets do both.

In 2009, Human Rights Watch, no supporter of the State of Israel, condemned the rocket attacks as war crimes. Speaking in 2009, Fred Abrahams, Senior Emergencies Researcher at Human Rights Watch said: “Since 2001, rocket attacks from Gaza have killed 15 Israeli civilians.”

Over 4,000 Sderot residents are suffering from symptoms of post-traumatic-stress disorder (PTSD) whilst one third of Sderot children, ages 13 to 18, have trauma-related learning disorders.

Hamas do not think their rockets are ‘shitty’. The Islamist group bragged on 8 July that “For the first time, the (Ezzedine al-) Qassam Brigades strike Haifa with an R160 rocket, and strike Jerusalem with four M75 rockets and Tel Aviv with four M75 rockets.”

The M-302 rockets are similar to those found onboard the Klos-c, a vessel intercepted by the IDF on March 5, on which was an Iranian shipment of advanced weaponry, including 40 M-302 rockets with a range of 160 kilometres, intended for terrorist organisations operating in the Gaza Strip.

That there have been few Israeli causalities is not for want of trying by Hamas. It’s Charter commits it to the ‘obliteration’ of Israel in the name of Islam and the murder of Jews as Jews. The absence of fatalities is due to the seven Iron Dome batteries deployed throughout Israel that have blocked 90 percent of all incoming rockets headed to populated areas.

Comparing the rocket threat to the irritation of being spat at by a child is pretty close to the belittling of ordinary Israelis that Owen objects to.

Yes, of course there is no military solution to the conflict. For that we need trust, mutual recognition, compromise, negotiation and a final status agreement based on two states for two peoples. But if we are to restore the kind of chastened and clear-eyed hope that David Grossman calls for, then we must face up to the obstacles to peace.

Yes, some of those obstacles are found on the Israeli side. But the rocket threat from Hamas is a huge obstacle, too. It does no one any good to dismiss it so breezily.

Alan Johnson is the editor of Fathom – For a deeper understanding of Israel and the region

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by becoming a Left Foot Forward Supporter today.