What would you do?

on | Filed under External Affairs

Lorne Gunter, National Post

Published: Monday, December 29, 2008

Suppose you lived in the Toronto suburb of Don Mills and people from the suburb of Scarborough — about 10 kilometres away — were firing as many as 100 rockets a day into your yard, your kids’ school, the strip mall down the street and your dentist’s office.

A trip to the cleaners to pick up your shirts would be a life-risking act. Going to the grocery store would involve thinking through in your mind the location of all the shelter sites along the way, in case rockets started raining down on the road as you drove by.

Or perhaps you lived in Montreal’s Outremont neighbourhood and your children had weekly emergency drills because people who hated you — absolutely, blindly hated you and everyone from your community — were launching missiles by the score into your cul-de-sac and the nearby playground, and they had been doing it for seven years.

Or maybe you had a home in south Vancouver and militants living in Richmond were lobbing rockets every day across the Fraser River. Already they’d destroyed the homes of a couple of your neighbours, taken out the food court at the Oakridge Centre, levelled a nearby elementary school, damaged hundreds of tombstones at the Mountain View Cemetery and flattened the VanDusen Botanical Garden.

School children were no longer allowed to go outside at recess. Soccer, baseball and football leagues had all suspended play because the risk of death or injury to a young player or fan was too high, should a missile attack come during a game. Every major street corner had a concrete blast wall and you and your family knew that when the siren sounded you had about 15 seconds to find one and duck behind it or face death or dismemberment.

Since 2001, the small Israeli city of Sderot — one kilometre from the northern boundary of the Gaza Strip — has been the target of nearly 7,000 rocket and mortar attacks. That’s an average of about three a day. In the past week, the rate has been closer to 60 a day.

It’s the equivalent of extremists living in St. Boniface constantly attacking Winnipeg, or Hullois terrorizing Ottawa daily or Dartmouthians menacing Halifax year after year.

Frankly, I can’t imagine my neighbours in Edmonton bearing up so patiently with seven years of bombardments coming from the Enoch reserve on the west edge of the city or Calgarians enduring fusillades from Springbank.

It’s all well and good that we sit here in our safe and comfortable Canadian homes tut-tuting about Israel’s weekend attacks on Hamas and other Palestinian militants in Gaza. But if we were in the same position as Israelis in the southern part of that nation, who have endured daily threats for years now, I would imagine we would understand fully the sentiments of Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni: “Enough is enough. When there’s shooting, there’s a response. Any state would react that way.”

This is not some squabble in which both sides are equally to blame: Had there been no Palestinian attacks on Israel, there would have been no Israeli retaliation, period.

From 2001 to 2005, Hamas and the rest of the Gazan rocket firers insisted their attacks were provoked by the presence of 7,000 Israeli settlers within the borders of Gaza. Remove them and the attacks would stop, the Palestinians promised.

But the Israeli army removed the settlers and the rocket attacks escalated. Nearly two-thirds of the attacks on Sderot have occurred since. Without Israelis inside Gaza to fire on, the terrorists have turned their firepower on the next nearest Jews.

From June through early December, there was a sort of ceasefire in place between Hamas and Israel. Somewhat sardonically, the Israelis keep referring to this as “the lull,” because the fire never fully ceased and the Israelis had enough experience with Hamas promises to know it never would.

I am saddened by the deaths of Palestinian civilians in this past weekend’s air raids. Still, it is Hamas and the other extremists who have chosen to site their bases and missile launchers in civilian neighbourhoods, and Hamas who has provoked Israel again and again until it had no choice.

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