Military euphemisms have always played a prominent role in international media. During World War II, Nazi deportations to death camps were called “evacuations;” firebombing industrial and refugee cities was “strategic;” and destruction of worker villages was appropriately “de-housing” (yes, really). Today, euphemistic language maintains the same disingenuous message. Bombing raids are known as “sorties;” civilian deaths are “collateral damage;” the inability to extract resources and capital from a given region is “instability;” and cessation of hostilities is a “ceasefire.”
Supposedly, since June 19, there has been “ceasefire” between the Israel Defense Forces and the Palestinian leadership in Gaza. Yet for two days in early November, Hamas gunmen and members of Islamic Jihad’s al Quds Brigades fired 46 Qassam rockets and 16 mortar shells into Israel’s southern region — particularly at the border towns of Sderot and Ashkelon.
Hamas justifies these attacks — which continue, now, hourly — as a response to continued border closings, frozen aid and targeted killings of gunmen in tunnels and along Gaza’s security barriers. And their claims are not unfounded. According to the Israeli Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, the colossal barrage between Nov. 4th-5th followed incursion by IDF’s special forces into Gaza to blow up a tunnel created to abduct Israeli soldiers.
Gaza is one of the most media-covered regions in the world. We always get the “who did what to whom,” but we seldom see the “why” behind the actions of either Hamas or the IDF. Why, for example, is a ceasefire in Gaza not actually a ceasefire? Let’s try to understand.
Violence in recent weeks reveals the dichotomy between Israeli and Palestinian interpretations of ceasefire. For Israelis, a ceasefire means laying down weapons in order to resolve a conflict diplomatically. For Hamas, a ceasefire is a means of using peace to rearm. When Hamas stops launching rockets, it concentrates instead on importing explosives from tunnels under the Rafah border crossing with Egypt and building tunnels to kidnap Israeli soldiers. It is these acts that violate the ceasefire agreement, a tactic that becomes clear in the context of Hamas’s history.
Recently, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh proposed an offer first made by late Hamas spiritual advisor Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. Haniyeh proposed, “a Palestinian state that followed the 1967 borders and to offer Israel a long-term hudna, or temporary truce, if Israel recognizes the Palestinians’ national rights,” according to a Haaretz news story in September.
This proposal, and others like it, is presented strategically: it’s temporary. Hudnas are traditionally designed to allow Muslims to rearm under the shelter of temporary peace; eventually, though, they call to terminate peace in favor of sustained violence. Some scholars believe the Prophet Muhammad proposed the first recorded hudna in his Treaty of Hudaybiyyah, in the 7th century Muslim conquests. Arafat proposed a hudna in the 1993 Oslo Accords, and Hamas uses hudnas today to project the false reality of a commitment to peace.
According to members of the 1993 Nobel committee that nominated Arafat for its Peace Prize, hudnas may not be so bad. They were wrong.
Yassin, a key sponsor of Hamas’s terrorism activities, was killed by Israel in 2004. But his message continues as Hamas’s diplomatic and military platform: No recognition, ever, and violence until withdrawal. Ceasefires in Gaza will remain a façade unless this ideology adapts to modern reality: Israel not only exists, but it will ramp up efforts to eliminate Hamas if the group continues to threaten its citizens and existence. Israel can’t sit idly while its enemies rearm, and every other nation in the world in Israel’s position would do exactly the same thing.
Imagine a Gaza-like region on the U.S.-Mexico border. Would we send aid to rocket-ravaged border towns, or would we eliminate the rockets and those who launch them?
Since the beginning of the second intifada, Sderot has absorbed more than 7,000 rockets. Residents are alerted by the screaming sound of the tzevah adom (color red) siren. The impending explosion could sound from an uninhabited field — or from their living room.
The Israeli government and prominent American charities respond by pouring money into rebuilding Sderot’s infrastructure and reinforcing homes and schools with material to mitigate the effects of Qassams. Though these are necessary and vital means of responding to the attacks, they also send a poor message to those firing the rockets.
As the international community, headed by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, dwells on Israel’s naval blockade and other painful but unfortunately necessary means of defense, little can be done to protect Israel’s border residents. As such, Israel needs to adopt a new strategy in Gaza. An attack on Sderot should be viewed as nothing less than an attack on Tel-Aviv or Jerusalem.
Yet with Hamas in power, the screams of tzevah adom will continue, and Israel will remain without a partner for peace.
Ari Parritz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.