The Daily Star (Editorial)
September 28, 2007 - 12:00am

As miserable as conditions have become in the Gaza Strip, there is plenty of potential for the situation to get even worse. Straining under the weight of a collapsed and besieged economy, the civilian population is already heavily dependent on foreign aid for basic foodstuffs, and the United Nations warns that drugs and other medical supplies are at dangerously low levels. To make matters worse, the continuation of rocket strikes into Israel produces a steady stream of violent responses from the Jewish state that often claim the lives of innocents. Now the Israeli government is making ominous noises about its inention to take tougher action over the rockets, and that can only spell trouble for regular Palestinians.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's cabinet recently declared Gaza "an enemy entity," a redundant designation unless one recalls the threat that came with it - and those that have followed. Several senior Israeli officials have averred that the "enemy" announcement fulfills some bizarre legal standard by which the Jewish state now sees itself as being entitled to shut off the flow of electricity and water into the impoverished strip. An instantaneous humanitarian outcry seems to have stalled the implementation of such odious steps for now, but statements like those of Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev (to the effect that power and water will, somehow, only be cut off to "terrorists," not their neighbors) continue to hang over the strip like storm clouds. As though this threat of collective punishment were not sufficiently alarming on its own, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Wednesday that the odds of a major military operation were on the rise. As if to punctuate the warning, Israeli attacks on Gaza the same day killed 11 people.

Since long experience has repeatedly shown the ineffectiveness of military action as a means of halting the rocket fire, this is not deterrence. It is pure blackmail, an attempt to turn public opinion against militant groups by threatening to kill women and children. There can be no excusing any government that sinks to such a level, and it merits only the condemnation and derision of right-thinking people everywhere.

At the same time, however, it must be noted that the rockets that keep hitting Israeli towns like Sderot cannot be described as instruments of resistance. It is true that Israel's occupation of Gaza has "ended" in name only and that even if the withdrawal were genuine, the West Bank's continuing imprisonment would theoretically justify armed action from anywhere to free it. But the rockets serve no such purpose. Inaccurate and lacking the payload to inflict meaningful damage on any but the softest targets, their only function is to provide a regular pretext for Israeli attacks that have killed hundreds of Gazans.

Hamas says that it has suspended its own use of rockets, a claim that most observers believe to be true. Some of its top leaders have also publicly called for other groups, like Islamic Jihad, to follow suit. The party has made no concerted effort, though, to enforce its demands - and so to spare civilians the consequences of the vengeance inflicted by the Israelis. In addition, given the nature of the domestic political battle in which it is locked with the rival Fatah faction that rules (under Israeli boots) in the West Bank, Hamas has some very good reasons to demonstrate that it can get things done. If it cannot impose its writ in Gaza, even when innocent lives are at stake, it has no chance of winning the "legitimacy" contest with Fatah. More important, anarchy in Gaza undermines the very cause that all Palestinians espouse: that of liberating their land and their people. By allowing the rockets to keep flying, Hamas is allowing an irresponsible few to endanger and possible destroy the dreams that so many have waited so long to realize.


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