Knesset resolves: "It is the right of the State of Israel to defend itself just as it is the right of any nation to do so."
The Knesset held an emergency session on Monday and approved the government’s decision to embark on Operation Cast Lead against Hamas in Gaza. The Knesset session was punctuated by stormy comments made by the Arab Knesset Members, who were repeatedly thrown out of the session. The mixed Arab-Jewish party Hadash boycotted the session entirely.
All Knesset parties except for Meretz and the Arab parties approved the decision to support the action in Gaza. The decision stated: “It is the right of the State of Israel to defend itself just as it is the right of any nation to do so. It is the right of the citizens of Israel to live with security just as it the right of any other citizens to do so.”
The decision continued: “The Israeli Knesset stands united behind the army’s operation in Gaza to uphold these rights. The Knesset supports the IDF and the security forces in their actions and blesses the officers and soldiers who protect their people and country. The Knesset also blesses the citizens of the south who are under terrorist attack and identifies with their suffering.”
Although Prime Minister Ehud Olmert declined to attend the session, claiming its timing was “inappropriate," Minister of Defense Ehud Barak did attend. “We have restrained ourselves for a long time" Barak said, "and I do not apologize for that, but the time has come for action... We do not enjoy war but we are not afraid of it. We will not allow the residents in the south to continue to be susceptible to rocket fire, nor will we allow Hamas to continue to attack our citizens and soldiers.”
Barak explained why it took so long for the government to act. “I never believed that war is a first option,” he said. “I am the Minister of Defense, not the Minister of War. I am not sorry for one minute of quiet that the residents of the south enjoyed,” referring to the six-month ceasefire - although it was broken by frequent Hamas rocket attacks. Barak concluded, “My finger is not quick on the trigger, nor do I enjoy battle.”
Barak also said that the IDF is paying careful attention to the fate of captured soldier Gilad Shalit, saying, “We have not forgotten Gilad for a second.” He appealed to Gilad’s family: “I will be in contact with you and it is better to avoid details on the situation at this sensitive time. I want to emphasize to you that we are committed to bringing Gilad home.” Hamas has announced that Shalit was wounded in one of the Israeli air attacks, but no evidence of such has been forthcoming.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni explained that the government acted only after all diplomatic options had failed. “In order to fight terror we cannot abandon the diplomatic path and the hope,” Livni said. “But no one should be fooled that our commitment to peace prevents us from acting. We are committed to protect the citizens of Israel.”
Opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu praised the government for embarking on the Gaza operation, but claimed it was "too long" in coming. “No nation would wait so long,” he said. He also criticized the government for allowing Israel’s deterrence capability to deteriorate. "As a result of the government’s policy of weakness and mistakes in the war against terror, our enemies have begun to believe that we are weak and unwilling to fight,” Netanyahu said. “We must end our path of weakness and embark on a path of strength.”
Netanyahu aroused stormy debate when he spoke out against Israeli-Arabs who oppose the Gaza operation. “Not every citizen has to support the government’s decisions, but it is intolerable that they should support our enemies,” Netanyahu said. “There is a limit. To Israeli-Arabs I say: get rid of your extremists. And to the Israeli-Arab extremists I say: Be careful, we will act with an iron fist against the Hamas supporters among us.”
In reponse to Netanyahu's comments, MK Muhammed Barakeh yelled out to him, “How many wars do you need?” Likud MK Gideon Saar yelled back, “Go identify with the people of Gaza in Gaza now!” Barakeh replied that “I would go if I could.” He continued to interrupt Netanyahu and was kicked out of the session. On his way out, Barakeh yelled about Netanyahu, “He is threatening us.” MK Uri Ariel yelled back, “Why don’t you throw your shoes at him!”, in reference to the recent incident in which an Iraqi threw a shoe at US President Bush. Barakeh feigned as if he was taking off his shoes.
Netanyahu also called on Olmert to fire Minister Raleb Majadele from the government in response to the latter's decision to protest the war operation by not attending Sunday’s cabinet meeting. Netanyahu explained, “A Minister in the State of Israel serves the State of Israel. He cannot remove himself from the government at will.” MK Taleb as-Saneh yelled out, “Are you declaring war on Israeli-Arabs?” As-Saneh was later removed from the Knesset session when he continued to interrupt the speakers.