The UN Security Council has been discussing Gaza in recent days in an attempt to find a means of addressing the situation through diplomatic channels. Below is a statement from the Israeli Ambassador, Gabriela Shalev, to the Security Council, given on Tuesday, 06 January.
Statement to the United Nations Security Council by Ambassador Gabriela Shalev, Permanent Representative of Israel
Eight years. For eight years the citizens of southern Israel have suffered the trauma of almost daily missile attacks from Gaza. For eight years more than 8,000 rockets and mortar shells have targeted Israeli towns and villages. For eight years the residents of these towns have had a bare 15 seconds to hurry, with their children and their elderly, to find cover before rockets and missiles land on their houses and schools.
15 seconds, Mr. President, would not give the members of this Council time to leave this room. No State would permit such attacks on its citizens. Nor should it.
But Israel sought every way to avoid the current conflict. In 2005 Israel removed from Gaza every one of its soldiers, and every one of its eight thousand civilians, along with their homes and schools, their synagogues and cemeteries. We did this to try to create an opening for peace and for Palestinians to build a prosperous society.
But the Hamas regime that brutally seized control of Gaza, murdering scores of fellow Palestinians, has no interest in peace and prosperity. It is vehemently opposed to negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. It rejects the Annapolis process which was commended by this Council last month in Resolution 1850.
Hamas has no interest in making peace with the enemy; for Hamas peace is the enemy. Its only interest is in establishing a regime of tyranny for Gazans and of terror for Israelis.
Hamas likes to tell the Palestinians that it was terrorism that brought Israel to withdraw from Gaza in 2005. But the truth is plain to see: It was the hope for peace that led us to withdraw from Gaza and the terrorism of Hamas that compelled us to re-enter.
In our efforts to avoid confrontation, we also agreed six months ago to an Egyptian-brokered tahadia – a situation of calm. Hamas violated this arrangement on a daily basis. Over 365 rockets and mortar shells were fired during this period. And all the while it used the so-called ‘calm’ to build up its supplies of weapons and rockets, smuggled through tunnels into the Gaza Strip. Yet still we restrained ourselves.
But when Hamas unilaterally announced the end of the tahadia and began to wage a new campaign of rocket attacks against Israel’s citizens with the weapons it had smuggled in to Gaza during the ‘calm’, we could restrain ourselves no longer.
With its new Iranian-made missiles, Hamas is now able to reach as far as the cities of Ashdod and Beer Sheva, placing over one million Israelis in the shadow of its terror.
Many in this hall have condemned Hamas’ terrorist attacks, and we welcome this statement of basic principle. But the families at home in the city of Sderot, and children at school in Kibbutz Netiv Ha’asara will not be protected by these condemnations. In the face of such terrorism we have no choice. We have to defend ourselves – not from the Palestinian people, but from the terrorists who have taken them hostage. Not to gain territory or power, but to demonstrate that our restraint was not weakness and to give our citizens the basic right of a normal life.
In this campaign Israel has dealt the Hamas infrastructure a major blow. Dozens of its terrorist factories and training bases have been destroyed, its stockpiles of rockets have been significantly depleted, and many of the tunnels used to smuggle weapons have been put out of action.
But we have not only sought to change the reality for our citizens, we have also sought to uphold the values that set us apart from the terrorists.
Hamas rejects every core humanitarian principle. Instead of waging its battle openly between combatants, it directs its attacks against civilians. Some have called these attacks “indiscriminate” but this is not the case; Hamas’ attacks are very discriminate – directed deliberately at innocent men, women and children. In the past week alone, Hamas rockets have landed on a school and on a kindergarten.
Hamas shows a similar disdain for the lives of Palestinians. It has adopted the terrorists’ tactic – the coward’s tactic – of using civilians as shields while its leaders themselves flee from combat with Israel’s soldiers and make pathetic demonstrations of bravado from their bunkers. It hides its missiles and terrorist bases in homes and hospitals and mosques, and, as we saw earlier today, deliberately launches attacks from in and around schools and United Nations’ facilities – with tragic results.
For Israel, every civilian death – Israeli or Palestinian – is a tragedy. In responding to terrorist attacks that show no respect for human life – either Israeli or Palestinian – Israel takes steps to protect both. It takes every possible measure to limit civilian casualties – even where these measures endanger the lives of our soldiers or the effectiveness of their operations.
The IDF has dropped tens of thousands of leaflets and made thousands of phone calls to Palestinian civilians, beseeching them to leave the areas of terrorist operation to avoid harm.
But let it be clear. Failing to respond to terrorists simply because they are using civilians as cover is not and cannot be an option. To do so would simply broadcast an invitation to every terrorist group in the world to set up shop inside a hospital or a kindergarten.
Unlike the Hamas regime, which has targeted crossing points to prevent the entry of aid and has prevented Palestinians from boarding ambulances, Israel respects its humanitarian responsibilities. It has permitted Palestinians in need of medical care to enter Israel for treatment and has set up a special humanitarian situation room to coordinate with the aid organizations working in Gaza.
Since the start of the fighting, Israel facilitated the entry into Gaza of over 540 trucks, delivering over 10,000 tons of humanitarian assistance. In fact, just a few days ago Israel was asked by the World Food Program to halt supplies of food shipments since their warehouses were full.
It is time, Mr. President, for the international community to place responsibility for the humanitarian situation in Gaza where it lies – on the shoulders of the terrorists that have chosen violence over peace. It lies on the shoulders of those Hamas leaders who, from their bunkers and luxury hotels in Damascus, have abandoned the people of Gaza, and have chosen to endanger and exploit them rather than protect them.
This conflict, Mr. President, is a fundamental clash between two world views. Between moderates and extremists. Between those who seek to preserve life and humanity and those who glorify death and destruction.
As Hamas spokesman Fathi Hamad was proud to announce on Al Aqsa TV:
Palestinians have created a human shield of women, children the elderly and the jihad fighters as if to say to the Zionist enemy: “We desire death as you desire life.”
For this reason, there is no – and can be no – equivalence between Israel and the Hamas terrorists we are confronting.
There is no equivalence between a State which equips civilian homes with bomb shelters and a terrorist regime that fills them with missiles.
There is no equivalence between military commanders who struggle daily to ensure that their operations are conducted in accordance with the requirements of international humanitarian law, and the terrorists who flout this law by keeping Corporal Gilad Shalit captive, without even allowing the International Red Cross access to see him for 930 days.
There is no equivalence between a State using force in exercise of its right of self-defense and a terrorist organization for which the very resort to violence is unlawful.
No doubt there will be much discussion today about the credibility of the Council and the need for a resolution. But the credibility of this Council is measured not by the pieces of paper it issues but by the values it upholds. Is the Council’s credibility strengthened when it calls for a cease-fire that effectively equates a terrorist group with a State defending itself against it? Does anyone here truly believe that Hamas will heed the words of this Council?
This is not about a “cease-fire” with terrorism or a mutual cessation of hostilities. It is about ensuring the end of terrorism from Gaza, and the end of smuggling weapons into Gaza; so that there is no longer a need for Israeli defensive operations.
This conflict will end not when terrorism is appeased or accommodated but when the international community stands determined and united against it. Anything less than this will only embolden Hamas, lengthening this round of the conflict, and accelerating the next. Anything less will reward Iran – the coward’s coward – which hides behind terrorists as they hide behind civilians, and encourage its world-wide efforts to use Hamas and other terrorist groups to fight its wars on the cheap. And anything less will be a major setback for hopes for peace and prosperity for the Palestinians.
As long as Hamas rules Gaza, rejecting the Quartet Principles and seeking Israel’s destruction, Gaza can never be part of a Palestinian state.
There are many in this Council who speak in favor of peace. But it is not enough to support peace; we have to confront those who work to destroy it. For this reason, the current military operation is not an obstacle to peace; it is a prerequisite for peace.
We, the people of Israel, listened to the international community when you told us to withdraw from Gaza and promised that this would give us the credibility to respond forcefully should Gaza turn into a launching pad for terrorism. We listened when you promised us that acting with restraint during the period of calm would give us the credibility to fight back should the rocket attacks resume. Now is your time to make good on those promises.
In the clash between life and death, between building societies and destroying them, Hamas has taken its side. Now there is no choice but for the international community to take a side itself.
Thank you, Mr. President.
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