Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, speaking Sunday at a memorial ceremony for those killed in the 2014 war in the Gaza Strip, sent a message to the Hamas terror group, warning that Israel’s “patience has run out.”
In his first public state ceremony since taking over as prime minister, Bennett stressed that the new government would take a more aggressive approach in responding to violence from Gaza.
In the week since the new government was installed, Israel has already bombed Gaza twice, in response to incendiary-carrying balloons launched from the Palestinian enclave, which caused large bush fires in border areas.
The simmering violence comes after last month Israel and Gaza clashed for 11 days of fighting, during which Hamas launched thousands of rockets at Israeli cities. Israel responded with hundreds of airstrikes on Hamas targets.
“Our enemies will get to know the rules: We will not tolerate violence and a slow drip [of rockets],” Bennett said. “Our patience has run out.”
“The residents of the Gaza periphery are not second-class citizens,” he said, and listed some of the towns and cities that have borne the brunt of rocket fire from the Strip. “Those who live in Sderot, Ashkelon, and Kfar Aza deserve to live in peace and security.”
In the Gaza Strip, Palestinians will need to get used to a different Israeli perception of “initiative, aggressiveness, and innovation,” he said.
“There is no intention to harm those who do not rise up to kill us, and we do not hate those who are held hostage by a cruel and violent terrorist organization,” Bennett said, referring to Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip.
Outside the event, held at the Mount Herzl military ceremony in Jerusalem, there was a demonstration demanding the government act to return the remains of Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, IDF soldiers who were killed during the 50-day Operation Protective Edge and whose bodies are held by Hamas. Hamas is also holding two Israeli civilians who entered Gaza of their own accord.
Regarding the Israeli captives and the remains of the soldiers, Bennett said, “We will do everything we can to return them home.”
“I know you have heard many promises and disappointments over the years,” he said in a reference to the governments of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was in power during the 2014 campaign, dubbed Operation Protective Edge, and in the years that followed. “But now it is our watch, and we will act with determination.”
Bennett also hinted at the makeup of his government, a coalition of left-wing, right-wing, and centrist parties, as well as the Ra’am, an Islamist Arab party.
“Today, more than ever, we are required to strengthen the threads of the fabric that binds us together into one nation,” he said. “It is possible to act together without being deterred by those who are different.”
As Bennett walked up to the podium to speak, one fallen soldier’s father verbally assailed him for his support of the ground operation that was part of the 2014 campaign, and that led to numerous soldiers’ deaths.
Bennett was a member of the security cabinet at the time.
Noting that last month’s operation, known as Guardian of the Walls, was conducted without a ground incursion, the man cried out: “So we learned it at the expense of Protective Edge? You were one of those who called on the prime minister [Netanyahu] to pressure him to enter Gaza. What happened?! What happened?!”
Bennett, in his speech, said the soldiers who fell in 2014 saved “many lives” and that, at the time, Israel did not have the subterranean barrier it subsequently build around Gaza to block Hamas cross-border tunnels.
The memorial event was also attended by Defense Minister Benny Gantz and President Reuven Rivlin.
Gantz, who was the IDF chief of staff during the 2014 war, said that it had brought years of quiet to border communities.
In the wake of the more recent campaign, “we must leverage the military achievements into a diplomatic process and be diligent that what was in the past will not be in the future,” he said, using the new government’s slogan for its declared change from the previous government’s approach to dealing with violence from Gaza.
“We are working to bring long-term peace, strengthen the moderate elements, led by the Palestinian Authority, bring the boys home, and create a better reality for our neighbors in Gaza,” he said.
“Operation Protective Edge was a battle for the home, a worthy and just campaign of a sovereign state that must protect its citizens and restore their routine,” said Rivlin, and noted that during the recent fighting with Gaza, Israeli civilians were again targeted in rocket attacks.
“Our enemy is an extremist and brutal, murderous, terrorist organization that does not pay much attention to the well-being of Gaza residents and continues to hold them hostage,” Rivlin said.
During the 2014 conflict, 67 soldiers and six civilians, including one foreign national, were killed. According to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry, over 2,300 Palestinians were killed. Israel says many of those killed in Gaza were combatants.