M.J. Rosenberg
Israel Policy Forum (Opinion)
November 2, 2007 - 4:46pm

The terrorist shelling of Sderot and other towns and villages neighboring Gaza has to stop, but the policies Israel has adopted to achieve that goal will not do the job. 

The most significant thing to know about the shelling is that Sderot is in Israel itself—not in the occupied territories. Accordingly, it is ridiculous to refer to the attacks as representing “resistance” unless, of course, the resistance is to the existence of Israel and not the occupation. In the case of Sderot, and neighboring towns, it clearly is.

The fact that Sderot is in Israel proper is critical. In the case of Israeli settlers living in some far-flung settlement or in the midst of Hebron, one can simply ask why they are there in the first place. After all, they knew they were moving into an area where they would be surrounded by unwelcoming Palestinians. They can always return to Israel if they want the security of living in a Jewish state.

The people of Sderot do not have that option. They are in Israel. They are not settlers. They are Israelis, trying to live at home in Israel.

And yet they are under constant assault by terrorists. In fact, the word terrorism cannot be more apt than it is in this situation because it is raw terror, more than death or injury that the endless Kassam firings produce.

Yedioth Achronoth this week reported on the Shakked family who was watching television “when they suddenly heard a sound with which they were already familiar—a mortar being fired in their direction.” The family—including children and infant grandchildren—took shelter in a “reinforced concrete basement, as they had practiced scores of times in the past.” One second later, the house above them was leveled.

Israel not only has the right to end these horrors, it is obligated to do so. Above all else, the prime responsibility of any legitimate government is to protect its own people from external attack.

That being said, it is hard to see that the actions Israel has taken since Hamas took power will ever accomplish that goal. Almost without exception, Israel responds to the shelling of ordinary Israelis by punishing ordinary Palestinians. Some might see justice in that or, at least, parallelism. But it is impossible to believe that the terrorists shelling Israel are going to be dissuaded because of the pain Israel inflicts on the civilians of Gaza. Is some thug aiming a rocket at a school in Israel going to cease and desist out of concern for innocent Palestinians who will pay the price for the attack later? Isn’t that giving terrorists too much credit?

As columnist Calev Ben-David wrote in the Jerusalem Post, the groups firing the Kassams don’t care “if the average Gazan suffers as a result of their activities, something they’ve proven time and again. . . . If anything the Hamas leadership will simply see this as a good opportunity to justify their continuing cross-border attacks.”

The rationale behind making the civilian population of Gaza pay for the crimes of the terrorists is the hope that a suffering population will rise up and overthrow the Hamas government. That is unlikely, especially when Hamas is heavily armed and getting more arms all the time. 

Ever since Hamas won the Palestinian election, Israel’s policy toward Gaza has been closure, isolation and intermittent attacks. It is possible that these policies have hurt the terrorists although they have not deterred them.  It is certain that they have hurt everyone else.

Take, for example, the case of the eight Palestinian Fulbright scholars. Taghreed El-Khodary, a Gaza-based New York Times journalist, described their situation in the Middle East Bulletin. They won prestigious Fulbright scholarships, allowing them to pursue graduate study in the United States this year. But Israel’s closure policy keeps them locked in Gaza.

El-Khodary writes, “These are the brightest students, with strong undergraduate records; they are generally among the most open-minded too. They want to pursue graduate studies in the United States to continue their education, and come back to work and change society here. They are the ones with the potential to make changes; and they want to better understand the United States . . .” But they can’t get here.

Then there are “the businesspeople who have now really been hurt. . . . Traditionally they have been apart from politics—not Hamas, not Fatah. Through their factories, shops, industries, they give young people jobs and opportunity. With no ability to get goods in or out, they cannot employ people. The young people who worked for them are out on the streets, frustrated, and depressed.”

And now Israel is closing one of the two remaining crossings used to transfer food into Gaza, allowing no more than 55 truckloads of goods to cross daily instead of 120-150. (The United Nations estimates that 175 truckloads daily are necessary to meet minimum needs).  Natural gas supplies have been sharply cut and Defense Minister Barak intends to start turning off the electricity once the Minister of Justice says it’s legal to do so.

As an editorial in Ha’aretz put it on Wednesday, “Cutting off the supply of electricity, fuel and baby food is a blatant blow against civilians—and only against them.”

And it won’t stop the shelling of Sderot.

Surely there are better ways for Israel to handle this situation—both military and diplomatic. The IDF is more than capable of going after the perpetrators of rocket attacks and of seizing the areas from which the attacks are launched. If they have to hold on to the territory to keep the terrorists out, so be it. Part of the rationale for removing the settlers from Gaza was to enable the army to act, when necessary, without being encumbered by Israeli civilians who only got in the way.

As for diplomacy, the Annapolis conference is still on the schedule. An agreement between Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas which paves the way toward a Palestinian state will greatly strengthen Abbas and weaken Hamas. A failed conference, or a cancelled one, will bolster Hamas and those firing the rockets at Sderot.

Furthermore, Israel needs to consider ways to open lines of communication with the Gaza authorities. Although the Fatah leadership strongly opposes any contact with Hamas (no matter how indirect), Israel may have no choice but to deal with Hamas in Gaza in order to protect the people of Sderot and nearby towns. (If Israel and Hamas communicate indirectly over the fate of prisoners, why can’t they do the same on other matters?)

The election of Hamas in January 2006 has been a total disaster for the Palestinian people, but the policies of Israel, the United States, and the European Union put in place in response to it have also utterly failed. It’s time for new ones.


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