Haaretz (Editorial)
April 18, 2008 - 6:27pm

Hamas can be blamed for the latest conflagration in the Gaza Strip. First came the attack on the Nahal Oz fuel depot; then came Wednesday's ambush, in which three Israel Defense Forces soldiers were killed; and then yesterday, an attempt to infiltrate Kibbutz Keren Shalom was foiled. Meanwhile, the Qassam and mortar attacks have resumed fully. Hamas clearly wants to drag Israel into an increasingly violent retaliation in Gaza, and Israel must not fall into this trap.

The IDF operation after Wednesday's fatal ambush left the impression that once again, Israel acts only out of revenge. One ground commander ordered the company that lost three soldiers to raze the entire area and kill as many terrorists as possible. Such an act is not becoming of a state and its professional army, in response to the acts of a terror group.

The inevitable outcome of such an ostentatious display of force was that more than 20 Palestinians were killed in one day, including a journalist and several minors. When Israel resorts to such indiscriminate shooting, it is playing by Hamas' rules - launching an attack that leads to a retaliation with numerous casualties, which leads to another attack, and so on and so forth, as if it were an endless gang war.

"Israel must not act on a whim, from the gut, but rather with discretion," Defense Minister Ehud Barak said yesterday. This is an astute and timely remark, but it hardly describes how the IDF retaliated to the ambush. Revenge attacks, no matter how many people they kill, will not stop Hamas' ambushes. Quite the opposite. A state must respond differently, while recognizing the limits of the use of force, with the required measure of what is permissible and forbidden. Indiscriminate killing that targets civilians is not in line with the "discretion" that Barak mentioned.

The terrorists are acting from a densely populated, bustling region. The buffer zone separating Israel and the Gaza Strip cannot be completely cleared without harming the residents and disrupting their daily life. That would not only be immoral, it would also be pointless.

It's time to repeat that the only way to ensure the safety of the people living near the Gaza border is through a political effort to reach a cease-fire agreement. Only a complete cessation of hostilities on both sides of the border that imprisons Gaza will change the lives of residents - both ours and theirs. Such an agreement, which would end the siege on Gaza and enable its border with Egypt to be opened in a controlled manner, may create a different atmosphere in which Hamas, too, would have something to lose. Israel has not done everything it can to reach such an agreement.

The IDF must make every effort to thwart every attempt to harm the residents of the south - but only through targeted operations. At the same time, the statesmen must make every attempt to reach a political agreement - even if it is only temporary - to calm the area down. No military action - whether a revenge attack or the renewed occupation of the Gaza Strip - will lead to real calm.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017