-by David I. Fallk, Chairman, Community Relations Committee
On Wednesday, September 3rd, Israeli Consul General for the Mid-Atlantic Region, Yaron Sideman, addressed Jewish leaders at the Scranton JCC on the issues facing Israel on its southern, northern and eastern borders with special emphasis on the efforts Israel made in its recent war with Gaza to avoid civilian casualties to the fullest extent possible.
He explained that Israel’s humanitarian efforts in that regard were obstructed by Hamas – a terrorist organization that has no qualms about using civilians as human shields, and stored and fired thousands of rockets against Israeli civilian population centers from, in, or near residential homes, hospitals, schools, cemeteries, mosques and even UN facilities as part of its propaganda war to demonize the Jewish state in the eyes of the world. “It would appear”, he noted sarcastically, “that Hamas cares as much about protecting its civilian population as it does about abiding by the Geneva Conventions – the provisions of which are meaningless to this Islamist terrorist organization.”
He explained that if Israel failed to retaliate against Hamas’s actions, terrorist organizations would be emboldened to use this tactic in Europe, America and throughout the world in furtherance of their goal to establish a global Islamic caliphate.
Sideman likened Hamas to al-Qaeda and ISIS – the radical Islamist organization that has captured large swaths of Iraq and Syria and executed many in the process, including American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff – the Moslem Brotherhood (of which Hamas is the Palestinian branch), Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Boko Haram, the Islamist terrorist organization that is currently massacring thousands of innocent civilians in Nigeria. He cautioned that like ISIS, Hamas’ jihadism seeks to violently and brutally impose its ideology, manner of thinking and way of living not only on the entire region, but on “the entire world”.
He stated that if Gazans are suffering, the fault lies not with Israel, but with the Hamas government that currently rules Gaza. He pointed out that cement and steel allowed into Gaza for building homes, hospitals and schools was spent on weaponry and building terrorist tunnels into Israel to slaughter and/or kidnap Israeli civilians as part of their genocidal war tactics.
He also noted that, during the conflict, Hamas actually prevented Palestinians from vacating civilian residences that the terrorist organization used as weapons depots even as Israel warned such civilians in advance of an attack by dropping leaflets and contacting the residents by cell phone calls and text messages indicating that, for their own safety, they had twenty minutes to vacate the property before it would be attacked by the Israeli air force.
“Hamas is fully responsible for civilian casualties and civilian suffering in Gaza,” he said. “Israel does not deliberately target civilians…Hamas does. Criticism of Israel for the deaths of Palestinians in Gaza should be directed at the organization that uses its civilian population as shields and as a propaganda tool against Israel.”
He concluded by noting that the “major roadblock to ending the ongoing strife remains the refusal of Palestinians to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist.”
During the question and answer session, Sideman noted that Iran still posed an existential threat to Israel and that merely monitoring Iran’s ability to make nuclear weapons would be an insufficient outcome of negotiations that have been ongoing. He stated that the only secure result of negotiations would be to adopt the same regimen that had been applied to Syria’s chemical weaponry, namely to dismantle the facilities which give Iran the ability to construct weapons.
Sideman also noted that the United States remained Israel’s strongest ally, despite differences that may have arisen, and noted that Iron Dome and other military projects have repeatedly been funded by Congress and supported by the Obama administration.
The Consul General’s visit was motivated by an increased Israeli effort to build relationships on a more grass roots basis with Jewish communities throughout America and also with public officials and business leaders on the local level.
Sideman had an extensive meeting with Congressman Matthew Cartwright of the 17th Congressional District and engaged in a far-reaching conversation about Israel’s security and mutual concerns of Israel and the United States. Cartwright first expressed his full support for Israel and sympathy for the rocket attacks and threats that its people have had to endure. He stated that he expects to visit Israel during the next year to see for himself the security problems facing Israel, and also the great strides Israel has made in building itself into an economic powerhouse.
In furtherance of building mutually beneficial economic, scientific, and business relationships,
the Consul-General met with Scranton Mayor Bill Courtright, and discussed the new 4-year contract the city had signed with the Israeli company Pango to do high-tech monitoring of parking meters.
Another conference was held with Lackawanna College President Mark Volk at which drilling and water technology were extensively explored. Lackawanna College has been training drilling technicians in its satellite campus in Susquehanna County to deal with the Marcellus Shale boom. Israel has an interest in developing its recently found natural gas deposits.
Also on the itinerary was a meeting with State Senator John Blake, who engaged in a wide ranging explanation of economic development opportunities within the state and the different agencies and departments that could be looking to contract or partner with businesses and projects that involve Israeli companies. Particular emphasis was placed on clean water technology that Israel could offer.
Sideman also had interviews with WNEP and WBRE-TV news reporters in the Federation office, and was given an extensive interview with the editorial board from the Scranton Times-Tribune.