NOW WHAT? AFTER 4,340 ROCKETS, ISRAEL AND HAMAS AGREE TO CEASEFIRE – BUT WHO WON, WHO LOST, AND WHAT’S NEXT?
As the smoke clears, reporters and readers are asking me many questions. Here are my initial answers.
JERUSALEM – The 11-day war appears to be over.
After Hamas and Islamic Jihad fired 4,340 rockets at Israel, both terrorist organizations have agreed to an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire.
I consider this a huge answer to prayer, including the prayers of tens of millions of Evangelical Christians who were pleading with the Lord to stop the fighting and bring calm and quiet back to both sides of the borders.
But as the smoke clears, there are many questions that need answers.
Reporters and readers of ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS have been calling, emailing, and texting me all day, looking for answers.
Here are some of those questions, and my initial answers.
But let me just say up front: I ask Christians around the world to keep praying for us, and to pray without ceasing. The rockets may not be flying. But the effects of this war are not over.
Israelis and Palestinians are traumatized – emotionally, physically and spiritually.
There is much damage to infrastructure on both sides.
There are deep political, religious and social divisions.
And everyone fears the ceasefire will be broken, or that another war – with Iran, with Hezbollah in Lebanon, with Hamas again in Gaza, with the Syrians, with extremists on the border with Jordan – could break out soon.
My Israeli, Palestinian, Lebanese and American colleagues at ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS will keep working hard to answer your questions in the days and weeks ahead.
But let’s start here.
QUESTION: Joel, do you think anybody won this war, or did just everybody lose? How do you see it?
ROSENBERG: It will take time to analyze carefully. But in the early hours after the ceasefire, I would say there were really two different kinds of victories, and they may offset each other.
For starters, there is no question that Hamas won a huge political victory internationally and domestically. They are about to get $500 million from Egypt. They're about to get $360 million from Qatar. President Biden is offering them at least $338 million. And more may be coming.
Think about that. Hamas could walk away from all this terrorism with over $1 billion in new money. I just wrote about this for ALL ARAB NEWS. Now, the world absolutely needs to show compassion to the Palestinians in Gaza, including help them heal and recover and rebuild. But if those funds are invested wrongly, they are going to embolden Hamas, not weaken them. They’re going to think, “Hey, we start a war, and people will pay us to stop.” That is not good. The world – starting with the Biden administration, the Egyptians, the Qataris, and others – need to think long and hard about how to truly help suffering Gazans without strengthening the terrorists in Gaza. I’m concerned about that.
Also, it’s early and we'll need to wait for public opinion polls, but I think Hamas is now super popular on the West Bank. That is a huge problem. They control Gaza, but they don't control the West Bank. There were supposed to be Palestinian elections this month, but Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas canceled those elections. Why? Because he was afraid Hamas would win control of the West Bank.
Hamas was angry that the elections were canceled because they desperately want to win control of the West Bank. So, they sort of ran a political campaign over the past 11 days. By launching the war, they’re telling everybody in the West Bank who hates Israel, “Hey, you don't want the Palestinian Authority, you want us. We are stronger. We are braver. We can help you get revenge on Israel. We can be your saviors, your liberators, not Mahmoud Abbas.” I think we’re going to see that message resonate big time throughout the West Bank. I hope not. I really pray that Palestinians are increasingly disgusted by Hamas and the damage they do to Palestinian lives and property and futures. But if Hamas becomes more popular, that's a huge problem.
QUESTION: And on the Israeli side, did they win militarily?
ROSENBERG: On the Israeli side, this was this was the most impressive, decisive campaign we've ever waged against Hamas.
Hamas fired as many rockets at us this week as they did in 2014, the last big conflict. But Israel was so precise with our airstrikes. Here are numbers you should know. I got these from the Jerusalem Post, which has done a very good job covering this war.
The IDF destroy 100 kilometers of underground terror tunnels in Gaza where Hamas terrorists hid and where they kept most of their rockets and other weapons.
25 senior terrorists were killed.
200 other terrorists were killed.
340 rocket launching pads were destroyed.
70 rocket launchers were destroyed.
35 mortars were destroyed.
What’s more, there were 90% fewer Palestinian deaths than 2014.
That’s a big deal.
The IDF strikes were more precise. Our intelligence was better. Our airstrikes were better. We were more careful. And most of the people that died were terrorists. Tragically, there were some innocent civilians who got caught in the crossfire. But this is Hamas's fault. They started this war. They positioned their rockets launched in and around schools and mosques and hospitals.
Still, there were 90% fewer casualties in Gaza after all those airstrikes that Israel conducted, compared with seven years ago. I think that's a huge victory for us. Hamas and Islamic Jihad are severely wounded militarily.
But how do we handle the international PR punch in the face that we've received? So much of the mainstream media in the U.S. and around the world hates us. They are so biased against us. They accuse us of being responsible for the war. They accuse us of targeting Palestinian civilians. They act as though it's our fault. And they say it over and over and over again. They are stirring up anti-Semitism all over the world, including in the U.S. This is a serious problem. And this is something we're really going to have to work on over time. We need to do a better job reporting what’s really happening. We need to educate and equip our friends and allies with the truth.
That’s a big reason why I launched ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS last year – to tell the truth when so much of the media, and Hollywood, and the political class, will not.
QUESTION: How has the past week been for Israelis and Palestinians personally? How does a war like this effect the average person and family?
ROSENBERG: It's been brutal – hellish, really – for both Israelis and Palestinians in Gaza. I mean, on the Israeli side, we've had more than 4,300 rockets fired at us in an 11-day period. I mean, just think about that. Try to imagine your city under attack by 4,300 rockets. It’s a staggering number. We had half our country – 4 or 5 million people – living in bomb shelters for most of the last 11 days. Why? Because if you left your bomb shelter, and if you're within range of Gaza, you only had 15, 30, maybe 45 seconds to run back when the air raid sirens went off, and they were going off every few minutes. So, it's been brutal.
Of course, for the Palestinians who live under the tyranny of – the reign of terror of – Hamas in the Gaza Strip, it's been absolutely devastating. I spoke to a Gazan, a Palestinian friend of mine who was born and raised in Gaza. He's not there at the moment, but his family is. And he said just the emotional wreckage, the toll of it all, has been terrible. This family are not a bunch of jihadists. They're not terrorists. They're Christians. But they've lived under all these IDF bombings, all these airstrikes against the terrorists, all around them. And it's been brutal.
To make it all worse, you've got all these left-wing politicians in Washington from Bernie Sanders to Elizabeth Warren to AOC to Rashid Tlaib to Ilan Omar, essentially acting as human shields – politically – for Hamas, trying to defend Hamas terrorists, rather than defend Israel, America's most important ally, democratic ally in the Middle East.
QUESTION: When was the last time that a rocket came roughly in your direction, at Jerusalem? How about Tel Aviv?
ROSENBERG: We only heard the air raid sirens here in Jerusalem on the first night, which was Monday night. Did we have rockets fired coming towards Jerusalem? Yes. There were seven of them. They were shot down by our Iron Dome anti-rocket system, which was designed by Israeli rocket scientists, but funded by the United States. And we're very, very grateful. The Iron Dome system has saved countless lives, my family and myself included. So, we’re super grateful. Since Monday, we haven't had more rockets fired at us here. We've had riots in Jerusalem and real violence here, in and around the Old City, but not rockets.
It's really Israelis living in the south and in Tel Aviv who have been targeted most. Tel Aviv is our second largest city, our commercial financial and media capital, located on the coast of the Mediterranean. And they were severely hit.
In the past, Tel Aviv has been targeted or hit by a few by rockets from Gaza. But not by many. But this time the number of rocket attacks on Tel Aviv dramatically increased. I have talked to friends and colleagues that live in and around Tel Aviv. They said their kids are little. They said that anybody under 12 years old, perhaps, has never experienced an air raid siren there, or they were too young to remember them in the last big war in 2014. But now they've been living in bomb shelters for the last 11 days. Can't go out. Can't play outside. Can't go to school. Can't go anywhere. It's just terrifying.
There are those who are criticizing Israel because they say our death toll is too low. First of all, that's anti-Semitic. I mean, really, just because we're defending ourselves effectively from 4,300 rockets – just because we don’t have a high death toll of our own civilians – means that somehow we’re at fault, or don’t merit sympathy? No, we don't buy that.
But the emotional toll is just crippling. It's going to take time for people to heal and recover. Some of these kids will have PTSD for the rest of their lives.
QUESTION: And when was the last time rockets were fired at Israel?
ROSENBERG: The ceasefire went into force at 2:00 a.m. local time here, but there were still rockets flying well after one o'clock in the morning. Israel held back in that final hour or so, as far as I'm aware, from retaliating. In previous conflicts, there is usually a last salvo as Hamas tries to claim that they took the last shot at Israel. But the IDF showed restraint. They were ready to hit back hard if Israelis had been killed or something big had been hit. They were certainly ready to go back into the hunt if they had to. Fortunately, it was not necessary.
QUESTION: One of the things that was really concerning was the Israeli versus Israeli stuff that started piling up – Israeli Arabs versus Israeli Jews. What kind of long-lasting damage do you think this might have done to a society that has been so pluralistic?
ROSENBERG: I don't know if I can answer that question yet. I think it’s going to take some time to see. But we have not seen this sort of internecine warfare or serious riots and violence for more than 20 years, probably going back to 2000.
Look, these were thugs. These were extremists. These were Hamas sympathizers within the Israeli Arab society. And they were Jewish criminal vigilantes on the other side. This does not speak to the broader society, either the Arab side or the Jewish side. Most people here are peaceful and pluralistic and looking out for each other. But these criminals went crazy on the streets of some Israeli cities, and it was so much violence on our live television screens that it rattled this country.
It’s one thing to unify against a foreign enemy. Israel's a very divided society, religiously and politically, right? We've had four elections in two years. So we are very divided politically. But it was remarkable to watch the political unity that came in fighting the foreign terrorists like Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Right. Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz hate each other. They have been totally opposed to each other for years. But they came together to fight this enemy and Israelis unified, too.
But the violence between Arabs and Jews inside our cities was different. We were fighting an external enemy, but then we were watching Israelis turn on each other. And that was deeply unsettling. And many people I spoke to and interviewed for ALL ISRAEL NEWS said this bothered them even more than the war in Gaza itself. We’re almost used to rocket wars. But internal riots were very disturbing.
The President of Israel – Reuven “Ruvi” Rivlin – said at one point, “We're on the verge of civil war.” Now, I think that phrase was not really accurate. It wasn't like the whole country was going to erupt like 1865 in the United States. But Rivlin’s point was right. It felt like this thing could get out of control. That’s the way it looked in the early stages.
That said, Israeli police did a good job. And I credit Netanyahu and the rest of the Security Cabinet for deploying extra forces into our cities known as our border guards. They are usually there on the borders. They're highly trained commandos used to dealing with riots on the Temple Mount and in other very sensitive areas on the edges of our country. But they were sent into Israeli cities to help restore order, and they did a good job.
But wow – if you add COVID and all of its challenges last year with a war with 4,300 rockets, and then internal violence and strife, and deep political divisions, Israel just keeps getting hit by one punch after another.
That’s why we really need Christians around the world to keep praying for us, without ceasing. The rockets may not be flying. But the effects of this war are not over.
Joel C. Rosenberg is the editor-in-chief of ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and the President and CEO of Near East Media. A New York Times best-selling author, Middle East analyst, and Evangelical leader, he lives in Jerusalem with his wife and sons.