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Gaza dispute focus of Hillel talk

Austen Hufford/Daily
Elliot Chodoff talks about the Israeli-Palestinian crisis at Hillel Wednesday in light of the recent killing of Ahmed al-Ja'abari, the military head of Hamas. Buy this photo

By Danielle Stoppelmann, Daily Staff Reporter
Published November 14, 2012

A barrage of rocket fire between Israel and Hamas, the militant group that rules the Gaza Strip, brought students en masse to a lecture at the University’s Hillel on Wednesday night.

Elliot Chodoff, a reserve officer in the Israeli Defense Forces and a private analyst on terrorism and the Middle East conflict, had originally been scheduled to talk at Hillel about terrorist threats in the region. However, after Israel began an operation in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, Chodoff added his views on the Israeli airstrikes to his lecture.

Israeli airstrikes killed Ahmed Jabari, the military chief of Hamas. Jabari had been at the top of Israel’s most-wanted list for his involvement in the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier in 2005 and for his leadership of the group’s takeover of the Gaza Strip in 2007.

At least 10 Palestinians died in Israeli airstrikes.

The event that brought Chodoff to Hillel was co-hosted by Hasbara Fellows — a group that teaches American students to promote Israel on their campuses — i-LEAD and American Movement for Israel.

Business sophomore Isaac Katz, the vice president of i-Lead, said while the clubs invited Chodoff to speak on another viewpoint on the conflict in the Middle East to students, he thought many students attended to hear about the escalation of fighting.

“As sad as it is, it’s probably a reason that this turnout is so big, is because people have been hearing about it lot today news, Facebook, emotions are high and we’ll see how it’s dealt with,” Katz said. “It’s a scary intense situation, unrelated to this but this will spark more interest about Israel and what’s going on.”

In an interview before the event, Chodoff said his goal was to better contextualize what students read in the papers and see on television about the issue.

The attack that killed Jabari on Wednesday was part of Operation Pillar of Defense, an operation in response to Hamas rocket fire into Israel. The attack continued Wednesday night and prompted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to declare a state of emergency in southern Israel.

The rocket fire has disrupted the lives of more than 1 million people in Israel, Netanyahu said.

Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh vowed in a statement Wednesday to avenge Jabari’s assassination and fight back against Israel.

“We mourn our late leader who walked the path of jihad while he knew the end, either victory or martyrdom,” Haniyeh said. “There is no fear among our people and our resistance, and we will face this vicious attack.”

In the interview, Chodoff defended Israel’s military action, and said Israel did not want to intensify its attacks but the country could no longer withstand rocket fire.

“We have no particular interest in escalating,” Chodoff said. “In fact, hundreds of rockets have been fired and we respond to them, but there hasn’t been a ground operation since January 2009. There is a point at which schools are closed, people are not going to work, and that’s aside from the grand phenomenon of living under that kind of stress.”

In Gaza and southern Israel, civilians have been preparing for a prolonged battle. Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, which Hamas has controlled since 2006, are stocking up on food and fuel as Israel expressed willingness to send ground troops into the territory if necessary.

The result of the military action Wednesday could be a short-term exchange, Chodoff said.

The attacks on Wednesday broke an informal four-year peace agreement between Israel and Hamas.

Chodoff called the airstrike that killed Jabari Wednesday a calculated act of war. He said it was not random but the result of aligning circumstances and the continuation of Israel’s attempt to assassinate Hamas’s top leadership.

“It’s not random, but coincidence of the right observers and the right intelligence and he being in a place where he could be gotten,” Chodoff said of Jabari. “Those are all the things that you don’t know in advance and today was the day.”

Chodoff said it is unclear how long fighting could last, and when it ends Egypt could be a serviceable intermediary for negotiations between Israel and Hamas.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Correction appended: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified Isaac Katz as the president of i-LEAD. He’s the group’s vice president.