MideastWeb Middle East Web Log
"The Gates of Gaza were too heavy for his shoulders, and they overcame him," mourned General Moshe Dayan, then Israel's chief of staff, in the last line of one of our best-known funeral perorations. It was given on April 29 1956, over the grave of an idealistic young man from Kibbutz Nahal Oz, Ro'i Rotberg, abducted, killed, and mutilated by Palestinians penetrating from the Gaza Strip. More than fifty years have passed; the last seven--and, in particular the thirty months since the Disengagement from the Gaza Strip--marked by a steady escalation in rocket attacks on the town of Sderot, the neighboring kibbutzim and moshavim, and now the city of Ashkelon. The Gates of Gaza still lie heavy on our shoulders, and the terrible dilemmas posed by Palestinian realities are still unresolved. When a problem of such persistent proportions and tragic implications remains at a boil, under these conditions--when all around, advice of many sorts is being freely proffered to Israeli decision-makers--it should be obvious that the broader context in which it is mired makes this Israel's most intractable dilemma.
To some extent, this is a self-inflicted wound. First came the basic design flaws of the Oslo process ("the right agreement with the wrong people"--or, simply put, the wrong kind of agreement to strike with Yasir Arafat as a partner); as a result, Palestinian sovereignty remains in limbo, and Israel is held by many to be an "occupying power" on lands it left with no intention of ever reoccupying. Then came the Disengagement, which many in Israel--the "Orange" camp--see as criminal folly, and others as a master stroke of bold leadership; but, in any case, it quite probably should have been followed by a very stern response after the first Qassam fell--but it was not, perhaps because of legal and political question marks. Finally came the decision (driven by the American interest in seeing "purple fingers" of voters in the region) to allow Hamas, an armed terror group, to run in the January 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections as a legitimate party (and to win). But none of these Israeli mistakes absolves the Hamas leadership from their full responsibility for the fighting-- perhaps better called the "Hamas War"--and their complicity in the war crime of knowingly and deliberately targeting civilians.
In effect, three stark realities stand out, and beyond them, almost everything is shrouded by controversy:
Even so, it is more difficult to define the scope of the problem than to design a workable policy that will not collapse at the first challenge--or it would have been done long ago. The options are well-known. None is appealing, but the choice cannot be delayed much longer:
1. Sustain the present mix of limited economic pressure, occasional large- scale raids (those who mistook or overplayed "Operation Warm Winter" into the Big One--as if this brigade-scale infantry operation were an "invasion" and not what it was, a limited incursion--did Israel a disservice in that they allowed Hamas to celebrate a "victory" that never was in a "five-day war") and constant air operations against identified targets. This would be a war of attrition--on both sides--in which the IDF would enjoy clear superiority; but our weak spot would continue to be the unanswered question about security for our civilians. We sustained a similar situation in the Beit Shean Valley in 1969-70, until the Jordanians turned around and eliminated the Palestinian terrorists; but the resilience of citizens then were a different matter, and a city like Ashkelon (and tomorrow, Ashdod, with its 240,000 residents?) was not in range.
2. Greatly tighten the economic siege. Why should any electricity be provided, under the present circumstances, from the Ashkelon power station to people who fire at it? The facile answer from the UN and the humanitarian NGOs is that Israel is still "the occupying power." But this raises the question whether international laws are a sane answer. After all, we not only left Gaza, down to the last inch, but forcibly dragged out each and every living Jew therein, and even the graves of dead ones. Why are we still the occupying power? Because the presence of a terror government forces us to ensure that the avenues of communication into Gaza not be abused for the supply of more means to kill us? The logical loop here is impossible to resolve, since the terror state hides behind the irresponsible claim of statelessness. But another factor is simply the superior ability of Hamas to turn a humanitarian crisis (which could have been an ugly, but bloodless way to put an end to what's happening now) to their political advantage. The manner in which they did so over a minor reduction in electricity supply--with the pitiful, manipulated pictures of a minister deliberating by candlelight (at 9:30 A.M. on a fine day!), swallowed whole by the media--left Israel reluctant to go down this path again.
3. Fire at the sources of fire--a simple, straightforward military procedure in all battles (what else was artillery invented for?), but a putative war crime, according to some lawyers--within Israel, and certainly in the international community--bearing in mind that Hamas and PIJ shelter tightly behind civilian populations. (The IDF now reports that when the Air Force drops leaflets in areas from which rockets are fired, or in which they are manufactured, to tell residents to clear out, Hamas immediately sends children to the rooftops, knowing full well--a true compliment, in itself--that their presence will bar Israeli pilots from carrying out their missions.) Increasingly, what these legal positions amount to, from an Israeli perspective, is this: Leave your citizens in harm's way, or send your soldiers in for bloody house-to-house battles; any other choice would "land you in the dock at the Hague." This might have been acceptable perhaps, had the international community, in the meanwhile, also acted to apprehend Hamas war criminals and bring them to justice. This latter notion, of course, is a joke. But it is not funny if you live in Sderot.
4. Talk to Hamas - an idea now promoted by various voices in Israel (including people on the left who once advocated the Oslo process as a way of breaking the power of Hamas and its likes, but also some on the center-right, who see Hamas as the real face of the Palestinians and suggest that we must deal with this reality). There are channels for doing so--the Egyptian intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, serves already as a go-between on Gilad Shalit--and some short-term benefits for both sides. But three serious questions arise: What would this mean in the general context of the struggle against Islamist radicalism worldwide, and what signal would it send about our own resolve? How would Hamas use a prolonged ceasefire, given the lessons we learned from the bitter years of Hezbollah's build-up in Lebanon (now resumed, in breach of 1701 and under UNIFIL's noses)? And what would this do to the already tattered standing of President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in Palestinian society?
5. Invade in full force, and break Hamas's hold on power: This may yet happen--if their leaders, egged on by Iran, insist on learning nothing from what happened last week, and maintain the disconnect, in their own minds, between their shrill "heroic defiance" and their equally pitiful cries of victimhood, at one and the same time. If the rocket campaign continues, given the Israeli government's reluctance to choose options that would be decried internationally, a large-scale invasion will become inevitable--with its terrible costs in life, limb, and physical destruction. The real deterrent restraining Israel is no longer the fear for the lives of its soldiers--at the end of the day, a decent army protects civilians, not the other way around--but the lack of an exit strategy. More years or decades in the Gazan mire is not what the IDF wants or needs, given the multiplicity of challenges all around; and the fear that a bloody campaign could ignite the West Bank, as well as Israeli Arabs, into violent protests. Once Hamas has been broken, who takes power? Abbas would be discredited, Egypt (and Jordan) reluctant, the international community intimidated. No easy answers here, too.
6. Perhaps the real answer lies elsewhere. The breakthroughs for peace until now-- Egypt's shifting sides in the Cold War in 1977-79, Oslo in 1993 (if that counts), Jordan made free by the collapse of the pro-Soviet camp in 1994--were the result of great external events that changed the basic paradigm in regional and global affairs. The solution in Gaza (if there is one) may also lie with the larger pattern of the war against Islamist totalitarianism, and specifically, the global effort to contain Iran, which made one more baby-step forward with UNSCR 1803, the third sanctions resolution demanding the suspension of Iran's nuclear activities. (It may well be that Hamas timed the escalation to disrupt the Security Council's work.) If Iran's fortunes continue to rise, the Gaza wound will continue to bleed. If the trend is reversed, it may heal.
Meanwhile, we would do well to heed Dayan's chilling words:
Yesterday morning Ro'i was killed. The quiet of spring morning blinded him, and he did not see the murderers lying in wait for him along the furrow. Let us not today fling accusations at the murderers. What cause have we to complain about their fierce hatred for us? For eight years now, they sit in their refugee camps in Gaza, and before their eyes we turn into our homestead the land and villages in which they and their forefathers have lived.
Dr Lerman is Director of the Israel/Middle East Office of the American Jewish Committee. Originally published by the Centre for International Political Studies (CiPS) of the University of Pretoria. Reproduced by permission.
Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000679.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to email@example.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.
Replies: 6 comments
There NEVER was a country called 'Palestine' it was a derogatory term used by the Romans ruling the Jews ... There NEVER was a Capital City of 'Palestine' because it NEVER existed ... There NEVER was a minted coin or money of 'Palestine' because it NEVER existed ... The Philistines were not 'Palestinians' who are of Arab descent from the 22 ARAB COUNTRIES SURROUNDING ISRAEL, and even the 'Palestinian' homeland of Jordan doesn't want them as they can't live in peace with anyone, period.
Posted by Laurie @ 03/13/2008 12:21 AM CST
Dr Lerman errs with the Rabin quote. Arab murderers remain Arab murderers. The Arabs who went to Judea, Samaria and Gaza were under the care of their Arab Muslim brothers. Rabin's compassion was misplaced then and after all these years of blood and hate entirely inappropriate. Further, the more people dither and quake about reinvading Gaza, the longer the Iranian's proxy has to train and arm itself and the more bloody the eventual battle will be. Lerman's attitude is the one that speaks of exit strategies; that is the pseudo-sophisticated prattle of the defeatist. Smash your enemies to pieces and then leave when they learn to behave as you order them to. The campaign to pacify Gaza would be a cake-walk if Israel stopped fuel, electricity and WATER. Trade a pistol for a litre of water, an AK47 for a bucket. Stop whining about Hamas using children to shield targets - use ordnance with delayed action fuses and turn the deaths of civilians back onto the Islamofascists. Have all Israelis gone ga-ga and forgotten the concrete dibbers the IAF used in '67? Finally, stop talking about the democratically elected Hamas. Ami Isseroff a few weeks ago wrote what I've been saying for years: no vote is democratic if the choice is between one gang of armed thugs (or clans) and another. Israel must fight to save itself and the West must fight to save its civilisation from a religion crazed fantical, supremicist, medievalist, would-be conqueror. The battle is world wide, the middle east is only the most active one in a war we must win, but first we must defeat our internal enemies who think that kindness, compassion and the fruits of democracy will have any bearing on jihadists each vying with his neighbor to be more religious, cruel and unbending.
Posted by Paul Winter @ 03/13/2008 04:02 PM CST
zionist terrorists stole the land of the pals, says benny morris, a zionist historian.
live by the sword and die by it.
Posted by soperson @ 03/18/2008 03:34 AM CST
the romans named it palestine after they kicked the jews out.
whatever you want to call the palestinians they were living in palestine when the zionists came and stole their land, often by the use of terrorism.
Posted by soperson @ 03/18/2008 03:35 AM CST
some boneheads say the israelis are actually east europeans. so join the bonehead camp, laurie.
so much hate and bigotry and ignorance coming from zionists and probably jewish people? makes me ashamed to be jewish.
Posted by soperson @ 03/18/2008 03:36 AM CST
hmm dont you think that if someone started firing rockets at you from a different state that you would act any different
Posted by retards @ 04/06/2008 11:01 PM CST
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