February 29, 2008
Number 02/08 #10
As readers will be aware, since yesterday, there has been a huge escalation in rocket attacks on Israel coming out of Gaza, and also a large number of Israeli counter-raids on Hamas offices, rocket launch squads and factories – some details are here and here.
First, Amos Harel of Haaretz explains the calulations on both sides behind the current violence. Israel says it struck five senior Hamas terrorists in a car, knowing Hamas would react violently, because they had been trained in Iran and Syria for some special operations, and returned when the Sinai-Gaza border was blown up last month. Hamas, meanwhile, is trying to deter attacks by reacting with rocket barrages to any Israel strikes on its operatives. For this important background on what is going on, CLICK HERE. Isabel Kershner of the New York Times has more details on the Iranian and Syrian trained operatives killed in her story on the violence.
Next up, Wall Street Journal columnist and former Jerusalem Post editor Bret Stephens analyses Israel’s dilemmas in Gaza and Sderot. In particular, he exposes as ridiculous the arguments of those who say the Israeli response must be “proportionate”, showing all definitions of this are absurd. He points out that neither counsel to negotiate a ceasefire nor technology fixes are a solution, and hints that a major military operation may be inevitable. For this important argument, CLICK HERE.
Finally, Israeli academic Yael Kaynan looks at the sources of the misery of Gazans and lays the blame at the feet of the “steady diet of hatred, disrespect for human life, and violence” that many Palesatinians are teaching their children. She argues that regardless of Israel or the conflict, this can only further damage their society down the track, and points out instances where it has already been turned inward against other Palestinians. For her full plea that this must be changed, CLICK HERE.
Readers may also be interested in:
- A report that Hamas’ Kassam rockets may have a range of 20km by 2009, enabling them to regularly hit the major Israeli port city of Ashkelon.
- Still more on the plight of Gaza Christians.
- International lawyer Avi Bell has more argument on the claim that Israel is obliged to supply fuel and electricity to Gaza.
- Barry Rubin notes that, contrary to their previous denials, the funeral of terrorist mastermind Imad Mugniyeh saw Iran, Syria and Hezbollah admit their connection to him, and calls for the world to react appropriately.
- Jonathan Spyer looks at the dilemmas confronting Hizballah.
- Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas tells a Jordanian paper he does not rule out future conflict with Israel, and boasts of his past terrorist activities.
- Reports that al-Qaeda operatives entered Gaza during the brea ch in the border with Egypt.
- Former Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin urges Israel not to talk while under fire.
- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad hails a recent IAEA report into Iran’s nuclear program as a “great victory”.
By Amos Harel, Haaretz Correspondent
Hamas responded Wednesday to the assassination of five of its operatives in Khan Yunis with an “object lesson” of some of the means at its disposal. Sderot and the Negev communities came under a murderous barrage of more than 40 Qassam rockets, killing one student at the Sapir College and injuring a number of other people. Ashkelon, a target Hamas strikes less frequently, suffered a number of rockets that managed to disrupt some of the city’s electricity.
Ashkelon has been attacked at least five times in the past by long-range Katyushas and Qassams. But until now the rockets have fallen in open areas or the city’s southern suburbs. Wednesday’s rocket, which fell near the city’s Barzilai Medical Center, was a harsh illustration of the fact that tens of thousands more Israelis are now in range of Hamas fire. A major escalation, such as a large-scale Israel Defense Forces ground operation in the Gaza Strip, could bring Hamas strikes on Ashdod, as well.
Those who decided on the targeted killing in Khan Yunis – the prime minister, the defense minister and, it is to be assumed, the foreign minister (standing in for Olmert while he was in Japan) certainly took into account the expected fierce response. Hamas has been trying for some time to create a balance of deterrence with Israel in the Gaza Strip. For every large-scale strike on its people, it has responded in recent months with massive rocket barrages.
The organization especially wants to see targeted assassinations taken out of the equation. Hamas seems to believe that if Israel pays an impossible price for the assassinations, it will avoid them. This is critical issue for Hamas, whose senior political figures are constantly worried about being killed, as were their predecessors, Ahmed Yassin and Abdel Aziz Rantisi. The five Hamas activists who were killed were known to have returned to the Gaza Strip after the wall fell at Rafah, following training in Iran and Syria. The Shin Bet security service hinted that they had undergone intensive training for a special project. Another kidnapping? Long-range rockets? Suicide bombings? Clearly, the theat was serious enough to decide to strike them immediately, even if it meant dozens of rockets on Sderot and Ashkelon.
As in previous rounds of violence, Israel can be expected to deliver a harsh response of its own. However, such action is not immediately expected to include sending large-scale ground forces into the Gaza Strip; preparations for such an operation have not yet been completed. A major ground operation might come in the spring, and even then, Israel will probably prefer dealing with certain areas of the Strip, and to avoid as much as possible a wholesale occupation. In total contrast to Lebanon in 2006, it is impossible to identify at any level – from the cabinet to the Gaza Brigade – a desire to go to war. However every Israeli casualty, especially in Sderot, brings the IDF a little closer to a major operation.
Under the influence of the dramatic media reports, one could forget that only two weeks ago, following the wounding of the Twito brothers in Sderot, we experienced a similar escalation. The tension relaxed, or simply disappeared from the agenda, following the assassination of Hezbollah terror chief Imad Mughniyah in Damascus. This time, too, if no more Israelis are killed, the tension may slowly dissipate. Hamas, at least as it seems for now, does not want to drag Israel into all-out conflict.
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By BRET STEPHENS
Wall Street Journal, February 26, 2008
The Israeli town of Sderot lies less than a mile from the Gaza Strip. Since the beginning of the intifada seven years ago, it has borne the brunt of some 2,500 Kassam rockets fired from Gaza by Palestinian terrorists. Only about a dozen of these Kassams have proved lethal, though earlier this month brothers Osher and Rami Twito were seriously injured by one as they walked down a Sderot street on a Saturday evening. Eight-year-old Osher lost a leg.
It is no stretch to say that life in Sderot has become unendurable. Palestinians and their chorus of supporters — including the 118 countries of the so-called Non-Aligned Movement, much of Europe, and the panoply of international aid organizations from the World Bank to the United Nations — typically reply that life in the Gaza Strip is also unendurable, and that Palestinian casualties greatly exceed Israeli ones. But this argument is fatuous: Conditions in Gaza, in so far as they are shaped by Israel, are a function of conditions in Sderot. No Palestinian Kassams (or other forms of terrorism), no Israeli “siege.”
[The Sderot Calculus]
The more vexing question, both morally and strategically, is what Israel ought to do about Gaza. The standard answer is that Israel’s response to the Kassams ought to be “proportionate.” What does that mean? Does the “proportion” apply to the intention of those firing the Kassams — to wit, indiscriminate terror against civilian populations? In that case, a “proportionate” Israeli response would involve, perhaps, firing 2,500 artillery shells at random against civilian targets in Gaza. Or should proportion apply to the effects of the Kassams — an exquisitely calibrated, eye-for-eye operation involving the killing of a dozen Palestinians and the deliberate maiming or traumatizing of several hundred more?
Surely this isn’t what advocates of proportion have in mind. What they really mean is that Israel ought to respond with moderation. But the criteria for moderation are subjective. Should Israel pick off Hamas leaders who are ordering the rocket attacks? The European Parliament last week passed a resolution denouncing the practice of targeted assassinations. Should Israel adopt purely economic measures to punish Hamas for the Kassams? The same resolution denounced what it called Israel’s “collective punishment” of Palestinians. Should Israel seek to dismantle the Kassams through limited military incursions? This, too, has the unpardonable effect of resulting in too many Palestinian casualties, which are said to be “disproportionate” to the number of Israelis injured by the Kassams.
By these lights, Israel’s presumptive right to self-defense has no practical application as far as Gaza is concerned. Instead, Israel is counseled to allow goods to flow freely into the Strip, and to negotiate a cease-fire with Hamas.
But here another set of considerations intrudes. Hamas was elected democratically and by overwhelming margins in Gaza. It has never once honored a cease-fire with Israel. Following Israel’s withdrawal of its soldiers and settlements from the Strip in 2005 there was a six-fold increase in the number of Kassam strikes on Israel.
Hamas has also made no effort to rewrite its 1988 charter, which calls for Israel’s destruction. The charter is explicitly anti-Semitic: “The time will not come until Muslims will fight the Jews (and kill them); until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: O Muslim! there is a Jew hiding behind me, come on and kill him!” (Article Seven) “In order to face the usurpation of Palestine by the Jews, we have no escape from raising the banner of Jihad.” (Article 15) And so on.
It would seem perverse for Israeli taxpayers, including residents of Sderot, to feed the mouth that bites them. It would seem equally perverse for Israel merely to bide its time for an especially unlucky day — a Kassam hitting a busload of schoolchildren, for instance — before striking hard at Gaza. But unless Israel is willing to accept the military, political and diplomatic burdens of occupying all or parts of Gaza indefinitely, the effects of a major military incursion could be relatively short-lived. Israel suffered many more casualties before it withdrew from the Strip than it has since.
Perhaps the answer is to wait for a technological fix and, in the meantime, hope for the best. Israel is at work on a missile-defense program called “Iron Dome” that may be effective against Kassams, though the system won’t be in place for at least two years. It could also purchase land-based models of the Phalanx Close-In Weapons System, used by the U.S. to defend the Green Zone in Baghdad.
But technology addresses neither the Islamic fanaticism that animates Hamas nor the moral torpor of Western policy makers and commentators who, on balance, find more to blame in Israel’s behavior than in Hamas’s. Nor, too, would an Iron Dome or the Phalanx absolve the Israeli government from the necessity of punishing those who seek its destruction. Prudence is an important consideration of statesmanship, but self-respect is vital. And no self-respecting nation can allow the situation in Sderot to continue much longer, a point it is in every civilized country’s interest to understand.
On March 9, 1916, Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa attacked the border town of Columbus, N.M., killing 18 Americans. President Woodrow Wilson ordered Gen. John J. Pershing and 10,000 soldiers into Mexico for nearly a year to hunt Villa down, in what was explicitly called a “punitive expedition.” Pershing never found Villa, making the effort something of a failure. Then again, Villa’s raid would be the last significant foreign attack on continental U.S. soil for 85 years, six months and two days.
February 24, 2008 1:00 AM
Palestinians in Gaza harm themselves more than they could ever hurt Israel, argues Yael Kaynan. What future is there when children are taught that there is no greater accomplishment than blowing themselves up?
By Yael Kaynan
The situation in Gaza is, indeed, “grim and miserable,” as the UN’s Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, John Holmes, noted the other day. Certainly, the Palestinians living in Gaza are struggling under severe economic conditions. There is no doubt that sanctions levied against Gaza inflict hardship and deprivation on the citizens of Gaza. These sanctions include closed borders with both Israel and Egypt, reductions in electrical power and fuel deliveries, and deliveries of food supplies that keep them short of a humanitarian crisis but, by no means, allow for comfortable existence. Yet, it is not the current deplorable economic conditions, the border blockade, nor the effects of the other sanctions that make the situation in Gaza so grim and miserable. These, after all, are recent and temporary measures, creating a temporary state of hardship. No, what makes the situation in Gaza so grim is far more insidious.
It is something that will remain to plague the citizens of Gaza long after memories have faded of the months spent eating a bland diet of staples, of the inability to purchase flat-screen televisions or to spend vacations in the Sinai. It is the very culture that the Palestinians in Gaza have spent so many years carefully crafting that makes their present — and their long-term future — both grim and miserable.
The people in Gaza need to stop and take a good look at the culture and society that they are creating and begin to think hard about how they might begin to undo the damage to their social fabric that is, with every day that passes, increasing. They should begin their social re-engineering not for the sake of their Israeli enemies across the border, nor to increase their standing on the world stage, but rather for their own sakes because inculcating blind hatred, with a murderous twist, against another group has some unintended side effects for the culture that does the inculcating.
When children are raised on a steady diet of hatred, disrespect for human life, and violence, those children grow up to be violent and with no regard for the life, or well-being, of others. And not just for “those” others but for all others, including those within their own society. Parents in Gaza need to ask themselves, “What kind of person will my child grow up to be if I have taught him to celebrate the murder of a 73 year old woman by passing out candy and flowers?” as the children of Gaza did in large numbers recently when two suicide bombers managed to kill an old woman and put her even more elderly husband into intensive care.
In most countries, parents worry about what effects watching violent television will have on their children. They worry over whether they are effectively instilling values such as kindness, decency, and respect in their children so that they can grow up into productive and decent members of their societies. Most people recognize that the values instilled in childhood have lifelong implications not only for the child in question but also for the society in which he will live. Do the parents in Gaza not worry about the shape their future society will take when today’s children are being taught that the lives of other children have no value and, indeed, that those other children should be killed, as is frequently told to the children of Gaza through their children’s television programming? Do they not worry about the kind of adults they are producing when, as children, their society and the parents themselves have told them that their own lives have no value? What future accomplishments will their society attain when their children have been taught that the greatest thing they can do with their lives is to kill themselves in the process of killing others –that there is no greater accomplishment that they can achieve than to blow themselves up among groups of old women and children? What will be the face of a society in which the children have been raised to admire violence and to consider the use of a deadly weapon as a first resort in a conflict?
Imagine for a moment what Palestinian society is going to look like when the day comes when those “others” their children are taught to so hate are no longer the enemy to be vanquished. Because children in Gaza are not taught to consider peace with their enemy to be an option, consider instead a scenario in which the conflict ends with the stated goals of Hamas: they have managed to kill every Jewish man, woman, and child living in the Zionist country and returned the land to Muslim and Arab rule. Indeed, this is not only the goal of Hamas but also the desire of many average citizens in Gaza, as was made clear by the comments of a simple taxi driver in the wake of the most recent suicide bombing in Dimona, “In the name of Allah, may all of the attacks be like this. That we will exterminate the Israelis. It will be easier for us. We will reach the South, Tel-Aviv and the heart of Israel.”
Thus, envisage, if you will, that there are no more Jews and no more Jewish State. The people of Gaza have thrown the mother of all parties in celebration, they’ve danced in the streets, fired their weapons in jubilation, consumed large amounts of sweets, children have passed out flowers on every street corner — and then what? Do the citizens of Gaza think that the violence, hatred and disregard for human life, for their own lives, that they’ve worked so hard to instill in their children is simply going to disappear along with the Israelis they’ve managed to exterminate? Do they think that these children, now grown, are going to suddenly unlearn violence?
Research in sociology and social psychology has long shown that once there is no longer an external enemy to focus on, those same violent tendencies and expressions used against the enemy will bloom within a society. Violence will erupt and it will be neighbor against neighbor, family member against family member, clan against clan. The people of Gaza will be shocked, “How could this young man do such a thing to a member of his own people?” He can, and he will, because he has been taught that human life has no value, that his own life has no value, and that killing someone is a first resort. The new enemy will be other Palestinians.
If you think I am wrong, remember how Gazan treated Gazan during the Hamas coup. Remember how attacks against members of Fatah resulted in headlining stories such as “Among yesterday’s dead was a 14-year-old boy and three women, all killed in a Hamas attack on a Fatah security officer’s home.” Remember the words of a Gaza citizen, minutes before he was dragged out into the street and killed,
“They’re firing at us, firing RPGs, firing mortars. We’re not Jews,” the brother of Jamal Abu Jediyan, a Fatah commander, pleaded during a live telephone conversation with a Palestinian radio station.
Far from being “collateral damage” — that is, women and children killed by accident in the attempt to kill an armed fighter — women and children within Palestinian society can and will become the targets to be murdered by other members of their society. Recall the three little children — Palestinian children, not those “worthy of death” Jewish children –who were gunned down on their way to school as a message to their father:
Balousheh’s three children — 3-year-old Salam, 6-year-old Ahmed and 9-year-old Osama — were in the family car on their way to school when gunmen opened fire from two vehicles. The three were killed along with their driver. Doctors said one of the boys was hit by 10 bullets to the head.
It has already happened and the “real” enemy was still just across the border. It happened despite the fact that whenever a group has an external enemy to focus on they experience far greater social cohesion within their own group, far less violence and crime within their own society. When that external enemy is removed, crime and violence blossom within — this occurs in normal societies where children are not raised on a daily doctrine of violence against others. It occurs when the society does not worship death and destruction and in cultures where they do not pass out candy and flowers in celebration of the murder of a helpless old woman — so imagine for a moment what Palestinian society will look like should they get their wish.
Indeed, whether Israeli society is destroyed or a peace agreement is reached, the perhaps distant day will come when the conflict is at an end and the violence currently directed outward will come home to the people of Gaza. Yes, the situation in Gaza is grim and miserable, indeed, but the future they are creating for themselves is even more so.
Dr. Yael Kaynan is a Senior Lecturer in the Departments of Communication and Psychology at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya and the Communications Department at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. She blogs at Step By Step: Making a Life in Israel and founded Good Neighbors a group blog with contributors from around the Middle East