Hamas Rockets Fired From Civilian Areas Towards Israeli Communities

In 2003, then Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon proposed that the Israeli settlement in Gaza be dismantled. IN 2004 it was approved by the Knesset and in 2005, it was implemented. This time period was fought with violence as the second intifada was in full force. The international community led by the United Nations considered Gaza to be occupied territory and while Israel and Ariel Sharon specifically had disputed this, the fact that there was a settlement in Gaza protected by Israeli forces was hard to dispute. 

Sharon had warned that unilateral disengagement would not stop the constant mortar and rocket fire that was coming from Gaza on a weekly basis, threatening the agricultural communities surrounding the strip. He had argued that the presence of the Israel Defense Forces was necessary to prevent Hamas, a globally recognized terror organization from taking over the strip. Nonetheless, Sharon had made the highly unpopular decision within Israel and his majority coalition government approved it.  Israeli residents of the Gush Katif community were not happy and refused to leave, and were forcibly removed by Israeli soldiers in one of the biggest tragedies in the modern state of Israel's short history. Needless to say, the rocket fire and cross-border attacks from Gaza did not end, in fact, it escalated to where more deadly projectiles were being fired with longer ranges and larger explosive payloads targeting Israeli civilians.

Three years after the forced evacuation of Gush Katif, on Saturday, December 27, 2008, in an effort to dismantle the missile infrastructure that Hamas and other militant organizations had built up, Israel launched an offensive within the Gaza Strip.  This military operation was known as Operation Cast Lead and it lasted three weeks up until January 17, 2009, when Israel announced that it would cease the operation.

During this operation, Israel’s military targeted Hamas’s terrorist infrastructure including their operational centers, storage depots, production facilities, smuggling tunnels, rocket launching sites, and shooters. This was a complex operation as Hamas had built much of its military infrstructure near and even some within civilian areas such as kindergartens and hospitals. This made Israel's task difficult in avoiding international condemnation as images of damaged schools, nursing homes, and apartment complexes were blaketed across television news, magazines and newspaers. Using Arab civilians as human shields, Hamas continued launching hundreds of rockets at Israel that reached further into the country every time. On January 6, 2009, the rockets reached the city of Gadera located in central Israel, putting 900,000 Israeli civilians at risk. There was no military target in Gadera, proving that Hamas was simply firing indiscriminately at civilians.

CNN had reporters in Gaza and it was later revealed by the network, that the headquarters of the Hamas leadership was located in a bunker beneath a major Gaza hospital and the Palestinian rocket launchers were located among civilian areas such as apartment buildings, schools, mosques, and hospitals. Israel had been telling the press daily that this was the case, however even when CNN admitted this to be true, Israel still was being blamed for terrorizing the Gazan population.

The Associated Press had proof that Hamas was storing weapons in houses, schoolyards, and mosques but given that the AP staff in Gaza were aligned with Hamas, this information was never reported until well after the conflict. The IDF restricted their soldiers from indiscriminately returning fire so as to avoid unintended civilian casualties. In fact, several Israeli Army units were dispatched specifically to protect Gazan civilians in areas where Hamas was using Gaza’s civilians as human shields and forcing the IDF to fight from within the civilian population.

During the entire operation, Israel ensured the flow of humanitarian aid (such as food, medicine, and medical help) into Gaza meeting with United Nations representatives and humanitarian organizations regularly. In one case, the IDF even authorized the transfer of two wounded Palestinian children and twenty sick patients from the Gaza hospital to Israeli hospitals. In the wake of the conflict, the United Nations ordered a fact-finding mission to determine what happened and uncover any possible war crimes. Many outlets had accused Israel of crimes and the United Nations thought that a comprehensive investigation would confirm this. They chose a South African Jurist named Richard Goldstone, to lead the investigation. In the report, later to be known as 'The Goldstone Report',  and released on April 1, 2009, the investigators confirmed that Hamas was using civilian areas to launch attacks and even United Nations property to store weapons and fire rockets at civilian areas from. While they also found Israel had made mistakes, the bulk of the blame was placed on Hamas in the report, summing it up in one line, "Israel, like any other sovereign nation, has the right and obligation to defend itself and its citizens against attacks from abroad and within." 

On the first day of the operation, the Israeli Air Force began to attack the Hamas terror infrastructures in Gaza and after two days of airstrikes, the IDF began naval strikes targeting dozens of warehouses, military posts, and rocket launching sites, tunnels, and production and storage sites. The IDF also attacked the homes of senior Hamas officials and Hamas government headquarters where plans were carried out for terrorist activities. One week after the start of the operation, the IDF’s ground forces including tens of thousands of reserve soldiers were given the green light to enter the Gaza Strip with a mission to neutralize dozens of booby-trapped buildings, find and confiscate weapons, and arrest dozens of terrorists who were to be brought back to Israel for interrogation.

In the operation, hundreds of terrorists were wounded, and several key Hamas leaders were killed. The conflict also revealed a vast network of underground tunnels created by Hamas with international funds meant to help feed, educate and build infrastructure for the people of Gaza. Hundreds of these tunnels were bombed by airforce strikes, in fact, on one day alone the Israel Air Force destroyed one hundred tunnels.

On January 17, 2009, twenty two days after the operation began, the Israeli Security Cabinet called for a cease fire to end the hostilities in the Gaza Strip. The objectives set at the begining of the operation were achieved; the infrastructure of Hamas operations took hard blow, significantly changing the security situation in the south of Israel. Hamas would continue to divert funds towards expanding the tunnel network and expanding their missile program, however, for several years there was quiet in the communities around Gaza.

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