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opinion

Shimon Koffler Fogel is CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.

Events at the Gaza-Israel border have left a tragic and sadly familiar trail of misery, particularly poignant in this country with a Canadian among those injured in the recent violence. No one can be unmoved by the heartbreaking suffering experienced by Gazans, not only in the last six weeks, but in successive conflicts between Israel and Hamas.

This is not the first time Hamas has provoked violent clashes with Israelis designed to put civilians in harms’ way. Nor is it likely to be the last. Hamas recognizes that, by mobilizing 40,000 Gazans to mass at the border fence, it ensnares Israel in a painful dilemma: Either Israel allows mobs of Gazans, Hamas operatives among them, to swarm into Israel, or Israel uses force to prevent the incursions.

The first option demands the impossible of Israelis. More than 20,000 Israelis live within a 15-minute walk of the Gaza border. A mass breach would be a nightmare scenario for these communities: It would almost certainly result in a Hamas massacre of civilians and, ultimately, in an all-out war – with greater suffering on both sides. No elected government could leave its citizens exposed to such a threat. The second option has, tragically but predictably, resulted in bloodshed.

The fact that this outcome is a direct result of Hamas’s tactics, which put civilians squarely in the path of danger, doesn’t diminish the pain and despair Israelis and Jews worldwide feel at the sight of what is happening in Gaza. If we are to have any hope of finding a constructive path beyond this terrible predicament, we must examine how we arrived at the current situation.

For decades, Hamas has continually adapted its tactics in response to effective Israeli defensive measures. In the 1990s and 2000s, when Hamas deployed suicide bombers against Israeli restaurants and buses, Israel built a security barrier that successfully blocked the entry of attackers. When Hamas began firing missiles into Israeli cities, Israelis developed the Iron Dome air-defence system.

Hamas’s decision to mobilize human waves to crash the border is its latest adaptation. Members of the terror group have revealed that their orders are to urge civilians, including children, to break through the fence, with armed Hamas operatives waiting for a breach to exploit. Protesters were prodded to rush the border fence, with organizers announcing over loudspeakers that Israeli soldiers were fleeing their posts, even as they were reinforcing them. On social media, Hamas posted maps showing the shortest routes from the border to Israeli communities, and it has pledged hundreds of dollars to the families of anyone injured in the protests and thousands more to the families of anyone killed .

Most of the fatalities occurred when Hamas members wielded firearms or firebombs or succeeded in breaking through the fence. On Wednesday, Hamas announced that 50 of 62 fatalities in the latest clashes were indeed members of the terror group, releasing photos of the slain wearing Hamas uniforms. Another three were proudly claimed by Palestinian Islamic Jihad as their own.

While this explains Israel’s response, these facts do not diminish the real suffering of Gazans – including the thousands of protesters simply seeking a better life who did not take part in violence. Many clearly received Israel’s warnings to avoid the fence, broadcast online, on the radio, by text message and in leaflets dropped throughout Gaza. And yet, Hamas’s use of human shields and tire fires as cover for its armed fighters makes it impossible for Israel to rely solely on tear gas, rubber bullets and other non-lethal means to protect Israel’s border communities.

This tragic situation is discouraging for anyone who cares about peace. Polling shows most Israelis support a two-state solution and are prepared to make big compromises to achieve it. History shows that even formerly bitter enemies can make peace, as Israel did with both Egypt and Jordan. But, in each of these cases, national leaders put the needs of their people above historical grievances.

Peace will only come when Hamas values the lives of Gazans more than their deaths. Until then, the world must advance positive alternatives for Gaza. The Israeli government has offered major incentives for Gaza – including a seaport, airport and shared industrial zone – should Hamas demilitarize and end its call for Israel’s annihilation.

Countries such as Canada should make it absolutely clear not only that Hamas will never achieve its fantasy of destroying Israel but also that a better life for Gazans tomorrow depends on Hamas investing in its people rather than in violence today.

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