Israel's ongoing bombing of Gaza is not "collective punishment" of Palestinians, the Israeli ambassador to the United States told The Huffington Post, arguing that it is specifically an assault on Hamas, which he said is responsible for the recent kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens.
Palestinian officials have said that the abductions were not authorized by Hamas and that those responsible acted independently. But Ron Dermer, the American-born Israeli ambassador to the U.S., said that whether a direct order was given misses the point.
"We know that a Hamas terror cell from Hebron perpetrated the murders," said Dermer in a recent interview with HuffPost. "It is important for people to understand that Hamas has a clear directive to kidnap Israelis. There are actually quotes from Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal three or four weeks before the murders calling for kidnappings. In the wake of the Shalit deal [a prisoner swap in which over 1,000 prisoners were exchanged for one captured Israeli soldier], we know this is part of their strategy. The Israeli army foils many kidnapping attempts. For Hamas to say they are not responsible for this attack, when they call for kidnappings before, celebrate during and call for more kidnappings after, is absurd."
Dermer said that the reaction of Israeli leaders to the revenge kidnapping and murder of a Palestinian teen by Jewish extremists "actually shows the difference between our societies -- between our response and their response."
"The entire Israeli political leadership, across the spectrum, condemned this heinous murder in the most vociferous manner. The country completely rejected and spat out the murderers," he said. "The problem on the other side is not only that half of the Palestinians are governed by Hamas; it is that the leaders of the other half also name public squares after mass murderers and hail terrorists as heroes. This is a big problem. The world does not focus on it. The world doesn't send a strong enough message that it is not acceptable."
Dermer said he was disgusted by the killing of the Palestinian teen, Muhammad Abu Khdier, who was burned alive. "The last time I felt that way was when Baruch Goldstein went into that mosque 20 years ago" and killed 29 Muslim worshippers, he said, referring to a 1994 mass murder in Hebron.
World opinion of Israel's current military assault on Gaza was not taking into account the "genocidal" goals of Hamas and was too accommodating of terrorism and reflexively critical of Israel, Dermer said. Too often, he said, critics of Israel use mistakes -- such as the bombing and killing of innocent civilians or the videotaped beating of Muhammad Abu Khdier's American cousin, Tariq Abu Khdier -- as evidence of deeper problems with Israel's treatment of its Palestinian population.
The Israeli Justice Ministry, Dermer said, is investigating Tariq Khdeir's beating and held a hearing on an officer involved last week.
"The kid seems to be pinned down in the video. You don't know exactly what happened before, but it doesn't justify excessive use of force. You can't ever employ excessive use of force, but the standard for that is obviously highest if someone is arrested and handcuffed. One police officer has been suspended," he said. "The Justice Ministry opened up an investigation with the first hearing on Thursday to determine if criminal charges will be filed. Hopefully, the boy did not suffer any permanent damage."
Nonetheless, the Israeli ambassador cautioned that the story behind the video is more complicated than it would initially appear. Police reports show that Khdeir, who lives in Tampa, Florida, and is visiting the Palestinian side of his family for the summer, was one of six arrested. The group had thrown petrol bombs, three of the six had knives on them when they were arrested, and a slingshot was found on the American teen, Dermer said. He praised the overall behavior of the Israel police in the current crisis, noting there had been no fatalities related to the thousands rioting in many parts of the country.
There have been more than 150 fatalities, however, as part of the ongoing military offensive, three-quarters of whom have been civilians, the United Nations has said. The attacks have left more than 1,000 wounded and taken a toll on pregnant women -- despite what Dermer said are efforts to limit civilian deaths.
World outrage, Dermer said, should instead be focused on Palestinian leaders who continue to call for the destruction of Israel and the killing of Israelis. “You are never going to see an internal change in Palestinian society if the world acquiesces to these types of things," he said.
Thanks to Israel's "Iron Dome," a missile defense project, the overall civilian casualty total is not higher, Dermer said, despite an onslaught of more than 1,000 Hamas-fired rockets and counting.
"It also protects civilians on the other side as well, because by having Iron Dome and by minimizing casualties on our side, it gives the prime minister the time and space he needs to effectively prosecute the war against Hamas in a more calibrated and restrained way," the ambassador said. "Because if you had all those rockets landing and causing many casualties on our side, then there would be a need to take much tougher military action and the effect could be more civilian casualties on the Palestinian side, so it actually helps minimize the impact of the confrontation."