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Ambassador of Israel to the United States, Ron Dermer, Addresses the National Leaders Assembly, Washington,D.C.
I want to thank all of you for coming to Washington today to express your solidarity with Israel at this critical time. From the beginning of Operation Protective Edge, Israel has made clear that its goal is sustained quiet for the people of Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s attempts to deescalate the situation before the operation began by saying “quiet would be met with quiet” were unfortunately met with over one hundred rockets fired by Hamas. Israel, like any nation, could not accept the firing of rockets at our cities and the cabinet responded to these unrelenting attacks by launching Operation Protective Edge. Through offensive actions, the IDF has degraded Hamas capabilities by targeting missile batteries, command centers, and weapons depots. The IDF has also thwarted efforts by Hamas to attack Israel by land, sea and air. And while the IDF conducted its operations, civilian casualties in Israel were kept low because a disciplined Israeli population heeded the instructions of the home front command and sought shelter time after time; and of course because of the remarkable technology of Iron Dome.
I want to once again take the opportunity to express my Prime Minister’s and my country’s appreciation to President Obama and the American Congress for the strong bipartisan support for Iron Dome. Israel has recently requested additional Iron Dome assistance and we appreciate the administration’s willingness to support that request. And as we speak, there are efforts in Congress to move that forward.
In funding Iron Dome, America’s leaders have helped save many Israeli lives. But they have also saved many Palestinian lives by giving the Israeli Prime Minister and the Israeli cabinet the time and space necessary to make prudent and judicious decisions.
If hundreds of rockets were landing on Israel’s cities and causing many casualties, Israel would have to respond in a much more forceful and less restrained way than it is doing now.
Two weeks ago, the Egyptians put forward a ceasefire proposal, which would have ended hostilities and led to immediate discussions on how to ensure that the ceasefire would lead to sustained quiet. Israel accepted that ceasefire proposal; Hamas rejected it.
Hamas’s rejection was followed by an attempt by Hamas terrorist commandos to infiltrate through tunnels under our border and perpetrate mass terror attacks in which hundreds of Israelis could have been murdered and dozens kidnapped.
Israel responded to this aggression with a ground offensive that has uncovered dozens of similar tunnels, which serve only one purpose: Carrying out terror attacks against Israel. There have been a number of attempts to perpetrate such terror tunnel attacks, including another attempt just a few hours ago.
Israel will continue to destroy the tunnels we have found, regardless of whether there is a ceasefire or not, and I know the Obama administration understands and supports that.
Everyone should understand that to expect Israel to leave these terror tunnels intact is like expecting Israel to seize 10,000 Hamas rockets in Gaza and simply hand them back to Hamas. That’s not going to happen. Israel will destroy the tunnels we have found and will not stop until that job is done.
Israel believes that a sustainable solution is one in which those terror tunnels are destroyed, the rocket fire ends and effective mechanisms are established to ensure the demilitarization of Gaza so that Hamas does not simply rearm and force Israel into a confrontation again in another year or two.
The Prime Minister discussed these principles with both Secretary Kerry on Friday and President Obama yesterday.
Israel appreciates that President Obama, Secretary Kerry, and National Security Advisor Susan Rice, who is here today, have strongly supported Israel’s right to defend itself. We also appreciate their efforts to help achieve a sustainable ceasefire.
I speak directly for my Prime Minister here. The criticism of Secretary Kerry for his good faith efforts to advance a sustainable ceasefire is unwarranted.
There is broad understanding between Israel and the United States about the principles for a sustainable cease fire, and we look forward to continuing to work closely with the United States to advance that goal and a durable solution to the problems in Gaza.
The demilitarization of Gaza is critical if any ceasefire is to prove durable. Hamas must not be allowed to rebuild its war machine. Effective mechanisms must be put in place to ensure that cement is not used to build terror tunnels, iron is not used to manufacture rockets, and chemicals are not used to fuel explosives.
When Israel raised these issues in the past, they were largely dismissed by the international community. Worse, Israel was libeled and accused of trying to impose a collective punishment on the people of Gaza by insisting that goods coming into Gaza be effectively inspected and monitored.
Those who dismissed our concerns and libeled us should go look at those terror tunnels that Hamas has built. Rather than use concrete and iron to build housing, schools, hospitals and a better future for the people of Gaza, Hamas used them to build a subterranean terror fortress underneath Gaza and to manufacture thousands of rockets to fire into the skies above Israel.
Israel is not fighting the people of Gaza. We are fighting Hamas, a brutal terror organization committed to Israel’s destruction which both fires on our civilians and hides behind their own civilians.
Hamas has fired over 2500 rockets at Israel. They have forced more than two-thirds of our population – the equivalent of over 200 million Americans – into bomb shelters.
Over 500 of those rockets fired at Israel have landed in Gaza. Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas have fired rockets that have landed in Gaza. Today, two rockets aimed at Israel landed in Gaza’s Shifa hospital and in a refugee camp. That may not be what they report in the media today, but that is the truth.
Hamas has turned countless civilian sites in Gaza into military sites. They are systematically using Palestinians in Gaza as human shields. Hamas has fired from inside hospitals, used ambulances to ferry terrorists, stored rockets in UN schools and turned Mosques into weapons depots.
They have violated all the rules of war and all standards of human decency.
As Israel tries to get Palestinian civilians out of harm’s way, Hamas tries to keep them in harm’s way. Hamas tells Palestinians to ignore IDF warnings and tries to force them to sacrifice themselves in their war against Israel.
Israel does not target civilians and regrets the tragic loss of every civilian life in Gaza. But Hamas and only Hamas is to blame for these casualties.
Hamas hopes that mounting Palestinian casualties will trigger both condemnation and pressure on Israel. Hamas must not be allowed to manipulate the world once again with this despicable tactic of using human shields.
The world must hold Hamas accountable and finally address this horrific practice of using human shields.
Unfortunately, instead of holding the real war criminals Hamas accountable, organizations like the UN Human Rights Commission accuse Israel of war crimes.
What a disgrace! What a travesty of justice!
Israel will continue to confront these lies and we will take the measures necessary to defend the people of Israel. We know that in doing so, we have the support of America’s leaders and of the American people. And we know we have the support of all of you. Thank you, on behalf of the State of Israel, for your solidarity with Israel. Thank you for standing shoulder to shoulder with us during these difficult days.
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