Rafael Barak is Israel’s ambassador to Canada.
On a soccer field in Israel’s southern city of Be’er Sheva, a group of boys and girls gather to enjoy the summer break and play the game they love. Like their peers around the globe, they drape themselves with the jerseys worn by their idols who they watch compete for the World Cup. Yet, the difference between these kids and their peers is that they must play with a harsh reality in the back of their minds: If a siren goes off, they have just 15 seconds to run and find shelter from the rockets launched by Hamas.
It is important to remind Canadians about the true face of Hamas. Hamas is similar in its nature, ideology and methods to other Islamist terror organizations proliferating in the Middle East. Declared a terrorist entity by the Canadian government in 2002, the Hamas Charter – its DNA – openly calls for the destruction of Israel, the killing of Jews and rejects all peace talks with the State of Israel. Hamas operatives are responsible for the abduction and murder of three Israeli teens. Today, Hamas possesses an arsenal of over 12,000 missiles of various ranges, some obtained from Iran, that threaten approximately 3.5 million citizens (40 per cent of the population). Since Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, terrorists from the strip have fired more than 8,000 rockets into Israel.
Hamas has recently escalated the situation. This wave of violence has come even after the Palestinian Authority’s President Mahmoud Abbas signed a deal with Hamas to form a unity government – a deal which some impetuously claimed would improve the possibilities for peace. Since this agreement went into effect in early June, Hamas has increased its terror activities with kidnappings and a barrage of more than 500 rockets launched at Israel from Gaza. Hamas has openly claimed responsibility for these attacks and is liable for those launched by other Islamic terror groups. In addition, it continues to dig tunnels into Israeli territory to kidnap soldiers and civilians.
In the face of three weeks of terror and incessant rocket fire, Israel has shown great restraint but we cannot compromise our security. After a day like Monday, when more than 80 rockets were fired from Gaza, Israel launched Operation Protective Edge. Our response is measured and our objective is to restore calm without major military action. Unlike the methods of Hamas who fire at our civilians and hide behind theirs, the Israeli Defense Forces uses pinpoint targeting to erode the terror infrastructure. We also continue to keep the crossings into Gaza open even as Hamas fires on these sites.
It is no secret that during the past three and a half years, the Middle East has undergone many violent changes and terror has been on the rise from the banks of the Euphrates to West Africa. Nevertheless, Israel has continued to be an island of stability in a sea of turmoil. Our economy thrives as we harness the tools of science, innovation and entrepreneurism. Israelis of all backgrounds – Arab and Jewish – prosper as our neighbours delve deeper into a vortex of violence. Israel did not choose this fight with Hamas and we do not want to be drawn into the regional chaos, yet as the sole democracy in the region our government has an important duty.
A democracy’s first duty is to protect its citizens. Guaranteeing their safety comes above all else. We want to live in peace and negotiate a lasting agreement with our Palestinian neighbours, but terrorists and those that unite with them are not partners for peace. No democracy would tolerate an onslaught of rockets against its cities and communities. Not Israel, not Canada, not anyone. No democracy would allow its children just 15 seconds between life and death.