As thousands of Palestinian rioters take part in demonstrations against Israel on the border with Gaza, media attention is rarely focused on the Jewish victims of violence living nearby.
The so-called March of Return, during which protestors have hurled rocks and Molotov cocktails at Israeli soldiers trying to safeguard their citizens, is about claiming the right of return for refugees (and their descendants) supposedly driven out of Israel at the birth of the modern state exactly 70 years ago.
Quite apart from the fallaciousness of their claim, which I shall explain, the whole scenario of Hamas-led Gaza erupting in turmoil is a terrible betrayal by Arabs and all those who have supported their aspirations.
The nations who encouraged former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to withdraw from the enclave in 2005 in a “land for peace” exchange have blood on their hands.
For there is no peace for those Jewish residents who live within easy rocket-fire of Gaza, as a North Wales photographic exhibition called The Hope (Hatikva) graphically illustrates.
Having witnessed mortar and rocket attacks while visiting the area as a child, student photographer Grace Fryer returned in 2016 to the Jewish communities of Sderot and Kfar Aza, located just over a mile from Gaza, to record the suffering of children whose daily lives are shattered by the sound of sirens giving them just seconds to find shelter. A number have been killed while others have been traumatised and unable to live normal lives.
Grace tells the story of 17-year-old Ella Abukasis, who died while protecting her younger brother from shrapnel, and her exhibition includes photographs from the children’s centre her father Yonatan founded in her memory as well as shrapnel from a Kassam rocket recovered after a similar attack.
“The Israeli communities around Gaza are not only subject to the constant fear of rocket attacks, but also face the reality that terrorists are tunnelling under their homes with the sole intention of taking hostages and killing civilians,” Grace points out.
“There are also times when the rocket fire becomes so extreme that Israel has to enter Gaza to protect her citizens.”
Just imagine if you were living in Kent and were subject to a never-ending barrage of missiles being launched from across the channel. You would no doubt expect your government to do something about it. Yet Israel is almost always cast as the aggressor when they strike back at the Hamas terrorists causing all this mayhem.
When Israel took back control of Gaza from Egypt in 1967, the communities around Sderot built good relationships with the Arabs in Gaza. Jews would sell their fruit and vegetables on the beaches of Gaza while Arab mechanics would repair Jewish cars.
But Yasser Arafat put an end to that when he initiated an intifada (uprising) in 2000. Under his direction, terrorists began attacking Jewish communities in Gush Katif, in the Gaza strip, which is what ultimately led to Ariel Sharon’s withdrawal five years later. With a population of just 8,000, this community produced over 12% of Israel’s dairy and horticultural products.
“The agreement was that if this community gave all their property and business to the Arabs of Gaza, their leaders would stop the terror attacks on Israeli communities,” Grace explained.
“Many in Gush Katif, who were themselves children of refugees from 1948, were forced to leave their homes to live in temporary accommodation in Israel; and they did so in ‘The Hope’ that there would be peace – but it never came!
“Breaking their promise, Gaza-based Arab terrorists began using the very land which had been left vacant for them to fire rockets and mortars into Sderot and the surrounding areas.”
It’s a terrible and frightening scenario, as you can well imagine, for children playing in school playgrounds, or visiting outdoor markets, stores and synagogues. Nowhere seemed safe, and pain is etched on the faces of those who have never known peace.
Not surprisingly, living with this constant danger takes a huge toll on these communities, leading to family break-up and illness caused by stress and anxiety. And yet none of these difficulties is recognised by the UN, individual governments or human rights organisations.
As for the fallacy of the ‘March of Return’, to which I also referred last week, the refugee situation affecting the Palestinian people is a crisis of their own making. It was self-inflicted. Some 800,000 of them heeded the warning of the surrounding states bent on Israel’s destruction in 1948 to flee their homes, promising their swift return alongside the victorious Arab armies. Israeli leaders, meanwhile, had tried their best to persuade them to stay, but to no avail – hence creating a totally unnecessary humanitarian crisis conveniently used as an excuse to blame Israel for almost everything wrong with the world.
What’s more, there were at least as many genuine Jewish refugees expelled from Arab countries at the same time. And Israel successfully integrated every one of them. The surrounding states, however, still refuse to take responsibility for the welfare of those they persuaded to leave Israel.
As Walter Scott put it, “Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive!”
Charles Gardner is author of Israel the Chosen, available from Amazon, and Peace in Jerusalem, available from olivepresspublisher.com