Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The real story in Gaza (Ami Isseroff)

The Israeli Army has just re-invaded part of Gaza to rescue an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, who was kidnapped in a cross-border raid against an IDF outpost inside Israel. (Further discussion here.) We don't know yet how this operation will develop, and it may lead to unpleasant consequences inside Gaza and heavy political fallout elsewhere. So before the emotional intensity of reactions on the ground and around the world get out of hand, it is important to be clear about the background that led to this incursion. These matters are always complex, of course, but in this case the basic problem is that ever since the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza last year, Gaza has been used by various Palestinian groups as a base for terrorist attacks against Israel--mostly by firing hundreds of rockets agains Israeli civilians in nearby communities inside Israel. The attack in which Gilad Shalit was taken hostage was just the last straw.

As Ami Isseroff noted on Monday ("The real story in Gaza and Sderot"):
Since 2001, the Popular Resistance committees and Hamas have lobbed about a thousand rockets of various types and increasing size into Israel. The most "popular" are the Qassam rockets of the Hamas, but there are other brands as well. It is unimaginable that any other country would have permitted such a sustained attack on its citizens without taking effective action, either military or diplomatic. [....]
The rockets and other terror are aimed at disrupting and impeding any moves toward peace, further Israeli withdrawals or normalization. The current rockets and attacks were aimed at ensuring that there would be no agreement on the Palestinian Prisoners' document, and they probably have hit their mark.
The practice of firing rockets at nearby Israeli towns like Sderot, inhabited mostly by low-income Middle Eastern Jews, did not end with the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, but instead has intensified. The Qassam rockets are quite inaccurate, and so far they have not managed to kill a large number of people. But it's only a matter of time before a lucky hit blows up a school or an apartment building. And, in the meantime, the cumulative psychological impact has been significant. A recent report ("Rockets Raining Down on Sderot") described the effects of this sustained bombardment on the population being targeted:
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Years of Kassam rocket fire at Sderot have shattered the sense of normalcy in this desert town.
The fire has become so intense in recent weeks — often three or four rockets a day — that daily life here has come to a virtual standstill. Real estate values in town have plummeted, businesses have closed, people are moving away and nearly everyone says they live in constant fear of sudden death from above.
Sderot’s schools have been particularly hard-hit, and not just by the Kassams that have fallen on kindergartens, classrooms and schoolyards. [....]
The children have learned to huddle under their desks and put their hands over their heads, in a scene reminiscent of the 1950s United States. The difference is that the feared Soviet nuclear attack against the Americans never came, while in Sderot, the rockets are raining down.
“It’s like Russian roulette,” Hori says. “You don’t know when and you don’t know where.” [....]
Just two weeks ago, a rocket hit AMIT’s yeshiva high school in town. Nobody was injured.
But the damage in Sderot has been far more than physical: The rockets have terrorized an entire city and, in the process, transformed life here. [....]
Some parents have sent their children to live with relatives in safer cities. Others have pulled their kids out of school and insisted on keeping them home. A few have moved away — even though there are practically no home-buyers to replace them in a city that has become a target for Palestinian terrorists.
“Life here has been completely overturned,” says Arie Maimon, representative of the AMIT network of schools in Sderot. “It’s like Chinese torture, waking up three times a night to be rushed into a protected room. The situation is only getting worse.”
On Sunday, Maimon met with a representative from the Prime Minister’s Office to explain that Sderot schools need additional funding for reinforcing roofs and walls against rockets, additional psychological counseling for students and teachers and more field trips out of town.
But no amount of funding will stop the rocket attacks, he says.
“Money doesn’t solve everything,” Maimon says. “You sit here like a duck in a shooting gallery and wait for a miracle. That’s all.”
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The Palestinian Authority has been unable or unwilling to stop these attacks. Until recently, it was probably a bit of both, but Hamas, which now controls the PA government, actually regards these attacks as quite legitimate. In a later post ("The mistake about disengagement"), Ami Isseroff spells out some of the implications:
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The terror in Gaza was ostensibly aimed at ending the occupation. [....] The international community found it hard to condemn Palestinian terror in these circumstances.
Disengagement was supposed to have changed the rules.
There are no more settlements. [....] The victims of terror are no longer "settlers" in "illegal settlements" in "occupied territory." They are poor Israelis living a quite difficult and legal life in towns and kibbutzim and moshavim ringing the Gaza strip.
However, all sides still play by the old rules [....] The Palestinians continued a reign of terror and anarchy. Israel could not possibly allow the free flow of goods in and out of Gaza, because that would result in smuggling of heavy armaments and create a monumental security problem. The international community should be bending every sinew to ensure the success of disengagement and keep the peace. After all, the US and the rest of the quartet insist on a peaceful two state solution. Every Qassam rocket that lands in Sderot or Ashkelon pushes that possibility farther away. [....]
Disengagement was the right thing to do. We should never be sorry to have done what is morally correct, but now we have to show that we know we are right. [....] Nobody should die, and nobody should be killed, if at all possible, but the terror must be stopped. [....]

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=> In my opinion, once Sharon had decided to pull out of Gaza, it would have been better to negotiate a handover with Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority rather than withdrawing unilaterally. A negotiated handover might possibly have strengthened Abbas's position and helped to improve the political situation in Gaza after the Israeli withdrawal. And, of course, it was a terrible mistake ever to build Israeli settlements in Gaza in the first place. But at the moment, all that is neither here nor there. There is no justification for these attacks, and as long as Gaza continued to be used as a launching pad for terrorist attacks against Israel, the situation was eventually bound to become unsustainable.

And indeed, this was certainly a deliberate goal of the people launching these attacks. One purpose of this terrorist campaign has been to provoke Israeli retaliations, and it has done so, with the Israelis shelling areas from which rockets were being launched and sometimes causing civilian casualties in the process. The organized attack on the IDF outpost, in which several Israeli soldiers were killed and one was captured, clearly represented one more escalation. It has succeeded in provoking a full-scale crisis.

With luck, the IDF will be able to rescue the kidnapped soldier and withdraw quickly. But that's a best-case scenario. And, at all events, the underlying problems will remain--layers and layers of them. Meanwhile, the present crisis looks like a success for the terrorists and rejectionists on the Palestinian side, at least for the moment.

--Jeff Weintraub
===============
Ami Isseroff
(ZioNation - Progressive Zionism & Israel Web Log)
June 26, 2006

The real story in Gaza and Sderot: Who are the victims?

The media buzz over who was responsible for the deaths of the Ghalia family on Gaza beach obscured the real stakes in Gaza. Since 2001, the Popular Resistance committees and Hamas have lobbed about a thousand rockets of various types and increasing size into Israel. The most "popular" are the Qassam rockets of the Hamas, but there are other brands as well. It is unimaginable that any other country would have permitted such a sustained attack on its citizens without taking effective action, either military or diplomatic. The range and size of the Qassam rockets have been growing steadily. The Qassam 3 has a range of 10 KM and a payload of 10 KG. It is only a matter of time before communities in southern Israel will be suffering the equivalent of the London Blitz in miniature. In addition, the Al Aqsa Brigades have announced that with the help of Allah, they have developed chemical and biological weapons and will "surprise" Israel.

Almost everyone in the world knows who Muhamed Dura and Huda Ghalia are, but almost nobody knows the names of the eight to eleven non-Palestinian victims of Qassam rockets to date. Among them are Dorit (Masarat) Benisian, 3, Afik Zahavi, 4, Mordechai Yosepov, 49, Yuval Ababeh, 5 , and Ayala-Haya (Ella) Abukasis, 17 of Sderot, and Dana Galkowicz of Kibbutz Netiv Ha'asarah. They were totally innocent victims. They were not settlers or soldiers or any of the other categories that provide Palestinians excuses for the murders that are euphemistically termed "resistance."

The rockets also killed a Bedouin shepherd and his son near Nahal Oz (no names available) and three workers in Ganei Tal, a Gaza strip settlement. They were Bi Shudeh, Salah Ayash Imran and Muhammed Mahmoud Jaroun.

The rockets are terror weapons, and the people who operate them are criminals, every bit as evil as the Nazis who launched V-I and V-II rockets on London. That is the truth that is not told in any media account of the Gaza Beach bombings. Nor does it matter if more Palestinian Arabs were killed. In the end, allied bombings of Germany killed many more Germans than the number of British killed by the Luftwaffe. Nobody insisted that Dwight Eisenhower and Winston Churchill were "war criminals."

Yossi Alpher writes:

I believe that the Israeli moral equivalency argument is a powerful one: terrorists deliberately target civilians; we don't, and when we hit civilians in the course of protecting ourselves, we agonize over it. There is an element of the "clash of civilizations" in this equation that we may have to call on in explaining to the world why the IDF has launched a massive retaliation against Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza.
Why do we need to complicate matters with clashes of civilizations? Did anyone question the right of the British and Americans to bomb German cities and invade Germany after the Germans attacked Britain? The United States and Russia were clearly stronger than Germany. Did anyone say it was "unfair" that these "Goliaths" ganged up against the poor Germans? Did anyone count the German victims?

The rocket attacks are not "resistance" to "occupation," because Gaza is not occupied. After Israel withdrew from Gaza in the summer of 2005, it was hoped that that Qassam rocket attacks would stop, but instead they increased. The international community did nothing but talk. Mahmoud Abbas did nothing but talk. The rockets kept falling - more and harder and more frequently.

In addition to the rocket attacks, there were numerous planned terror attacks, most of which were foiled by Israeli security forces. Most, but not all. It pleased Mahmoud Abbas and many others to refer to this reign of terror as a truce. Now that the scales have been tipped by the attack that killed two Israeli soldiers, Lt. Hanan Barak, St.-Sgt. Pavel Slotsker, and by the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit, Mahmoud Abbas announces that he wants to "save the truce." What truce? Here is part of the announcement from WAFA, the PLO News Agency:

Abu Rdaina pointed out that the Israeli government has launched a series of threats. It would inflame the situation through waging a series of air raids or assassinations, stressing that the Palestinian Leadership completely refuses such escalation that would lead to a military catastrophe.
The Spokesperson said that the President urged the international Quartet, specially the US Administration to exert all possible efforts in an attempt to contain the situation and to prevent the escalation and the deterioration in the situation.
He asserted that the execution of the Israeli threats would have negative repercussions and would destroy the efforts to preserve the truce or to secure the life of the kidnapped Israeli soldier.
Even Joseph Goebbels did not have the nerve to plead with the British not to respond to buzz bombs, in order not to "inflame the situation."

The rockets and other terror are aimed at disrupting and impeding any moves toward peace, further Israeli withdrawals or normalization. The current rockets and attacks were aimed at ensuring that there would be no agreement on the Palestinian Prisoners' document, and they probably have hit their mark.

Israel has announced it will not deal with the Hamas, Popular Resistance Committees and Army of Islam, who are demanding release of prisoners. Israel insists on the return of Gilad Shalit alive. Chances that this will happen are slim.

Not dealing with the terrorists was a tough decision. It was the only possible decision, because giving in to such demands will only encourage further kidnappings and risk more lives.

Even those who want peace most desperately must understand by now that we cannot have peace in these circumstances.

When you next read or hear of Huda Ghalia, remember also Dorit (Masarat) Benisian, Mordechai Yosepov, Afik Zahavi, Yuval Ababeh, Ayala Abukasis, Dana Galkowitz and the other victims of the supposedly harmless Qassam rockets. Remember that in Gaza there is no longer an Israeli occupation, only a Palestinian aggressor. Palestinian rights do not include murder of children.

Ami Isseroff

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