One of the saddest elements of Operation Protective Edge (as well as prior Israeli responses to missile attacks from Gaza), and the part that may contribute most directly to twisted anti-Israel sentiment, is Hamas’s willingness to use civilians as human shields, building command centers in residences and positioning weaponry near schools, hospitals, and other communal institutions.
Throughout each military excursion, Israel has demonstrated incredible restraint, avoiding civilians wherever possible (including not attacking strategic targets as a precaution) and even notifying innocent bystanders of impending attacks (at the risk of compromising the war effort).
It’s as if Hamas has pulled a page out of Pharaoh’s handbook. We are well aware that Pharaoh had no desire to let the Jews walk free from Egypt, despite numerous pleas from their leadership. He even went so far as to challenge Hashem’s supreme power and His right to demand His nation’s release: “And Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord that I should heed His voice to let Israel out? I do not know the Lord, nor will I let Israel out” (Shemos 5:2).
Of course, Hashem could easily have compelled the Egyptian monarch to let the Jews out. But that would not have achieved His true purpose of teaching Pharaoh and his people how to see the folly in their ways and seek atonement. In the words of Seforno (Ibid, 7:3):
“Hashem desires the repentance of all men, not their destruction…. [His goal was] to bring the Egyptians to teshuvah through showing them His great power…. If Hashem had not hardened his heart, Pharaoh would have released the Jews, but not out of any desire to turn to Hashem…rather out of an inability to stand up to the pressure; and that would not have been teshuvah at all…. This was a lesson to Klal Yisrael…to teach that Hashem does go a distance with a human being in order to bring him back to true repentance…”
Only after the seventh plague, that of barad (hail), did Pharaoh finally acknowledge his error. “So Pharaoh sent and summoned Moshe and Aharon and said to them, ‘I have sinned this time. The Lord is the righteous One, and I and my people are the evil ones’ ” (Ibid, 9:27).
“Never before did Pharaoh say that Hashem is just. This was achieved only here at barad” (Tanchuma, Va’eira 20).
What was so special about barad as to cause this seismic change in attitude? And why were we now dealing with a conversation of righteous versus evil rather than a straightforward clash of wills?
A close look at the warning that preceded the plague actually indicates that something special was on the way, something that would force a paradigm shift in the way Pharaoh approached God and His people. “This time, I am sending all My plagues into your heart and into your servants and into your people, in order that you know that there is none like Me in the entire earth” (Shemos 9:14).
In fact, Hashem was setting Pharaoh up for an expose, in which his true rebellious intentions would be revealed:
“If you still tread upon My people, not letting them out,behold, I am going to rain down at this time tomorrow a very heavy hail, the likes of which has never been in Egypt from the day of its being founded until now.And now, send, gather in your livestock and all that you have in the field, any man or beast that is found in the field and not brought into the house the hail shall fall on them, and they will die” (Ibid, 17-19).
With a clearly articulated option to avoid damage, one would have thought that Pharaoh and the Egyptian people would have sheltered their animals. But they did not.