I wrote a long article last week explaining why dealing with Gaza is such a difficult task and describing a solution in general terms (short answer: a massive blow to force Hamas to disarm, followed by a “light” military occupation).
I thought that this time—after all, for once we have an American administration in our corner—it would be different, this time the Israel Defense Forces would follow through, and do more than just “mow the grass.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was talking tough, armored forces were poised at the border, and after all we had just absorbed some 690 rockets, $14 million in damage and four dead Israelis.
But I was wrong. We barely trimmed the weeds, with the IDF ordered to end the fighting before the Memorial Day and Independence Day celebrations last week, and the Eurovision song contest that will begin tomorrow in Tel Aviv. In particular it is being reported that the IDF was forced to “give up on striking Hamas’s long-range missile storage facilities,” which seems to me remarkably counter-productive if one wants to prevent disruption of events in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
Some kind of ceasefire deal was reached, which probably means that Israel must facilitate the transfer of millions of dollars to Hamas from Qatar, and who knows what other concessions.
Government officials insisted that nothing was less important to their decisions than Eurovision. But, of course, nothing was more important.
Netanyahu and the others are absolutely aching to present Israel as an advanced European- or North American-style country, a country where (perhaps unlike the Europe or America of today) the chance of terrorism or war is minuscule, and where we put on excessive spectacles like Eurovision as a matter of course.
It isn’t true. We are a small country that has been at war since 1948, where successive negligent governments have allowed dangerous terrorist proxies of our enemies to flourish on our borders, and where terrorism and flare-ups of violence happen on a regular basis. We are not quite the First World country we aspire to be, either (you can see this in the poorer neighborhoods of our cites or in the so-called “periphery”).
Do you get the feeling I think we have our priorities wrong? You’re right.
Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad understand the reasons for our reluctance to engage them: we fear a wider multi-front war; we don’t appear to have a satisfactory plan for Gaza if Hamas collapses; and we don’t want to be embarrassed by terrorism during, or even aimed at, Eurovision. So they made their demands and we gave in. Call it extortion or call it jizya, but they got what they wanted.
The residents of Sderot and other communities near Gaza have been remarkably patient as this happens over and over. It has been going on for decades: the first rockets were launched at Sderot in 2001, and the attacks increased in frequency after Israel abandoned the Strip in 2005 and still more after the Hamas coup in 2007. Every few months, the residents’ lives are massively disrupted. Their children, who have been exposed to this threat since birth, are suffering from PTSD. It’s remarkable that so few families have fled. How long can we expect them to be patient? Of course, it’s hard to get a fair price for a home in the region, so maybe many of them not only feel anxious, but also trapped.
And the zone of conflict is growing, as Hamas and PIJ improve their rockets and increase their range. It used to be only Sderot and the local kibbutzim and moshavim; now it is just as often Ashkelon, where two of the four deaths—murders—just occurred. They have rockets that can reach Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, although there are fewer of them. Today.
The government tells us that yes, it’s terrible, especially for those who have lost family members, but it’s not existential. And look at how many people are killed every year in traffic accidents. Meanwhile, there are so many reasons that nothing can be done now, but we have a plan and it will be implemented real soon.
No. Enough. The most basic obligation of a government under the social contract is to protect its citizens, and Israel’s government isn’t doing it. Don’t tell me that it is impossible. Why are the barbarians of Hamas and PIJ able to put us in a trap that we can’t escape? Do we have the wrong generals? The wrong government? Are all the smart people in high-tech? Is the problem, as some say, that every commander must have a lawyer by his side? We are stronger, we have an air force that is qualitatively among the best in the world, we have a fleet of drones, tanks, the best weapons in the world. Why can’t we fix this?
Well, here is one possible reason. It’s illustrated by this recent news item.
Israelis just marked Memorial Day for its 23,741 fallen soldiers and terror victims with a ceremony in Jerusalem. This is a deeply moving event for Israelis since there are few families that have not lost a friend or family member to war or terrorism.
An organization called “Combatants for Peace” (CFP) organized an “Alternative Memorial Day” event in Tel Aviv in which both Israelis and Palestinians from the territories who have lost relatives in the conflict mourned them together. CFP is funded almost entirely by foreign contributions, from the American New Israel Fund, and German and Swiss groups.
The implication is that there’s no moral difference. Someone who is shot to death trying to stab a random Jew in the street is a victim of the conflict, just like the Jew he stabs. The Palestinian who is killed when he plows his vehicle into people waiting at a bus stop deserves the same respect as the ones he murders.
Unsurprisingly, many Israelis find it obscene to equate fallen soldiers, police officers and terror victims with the Palestinian terrorists that murdered them. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu rejected a request for entry permits to allow Palestinians to enter the country for the ceremony. He cited security reasons, but I suspect that he felt that national self-respect required it.
Israel’s Supreme Court, in response to a petition from CFP, overruled the prime minister and ordered the government to grant 100 permits.
Hamas and PIJ want to win. They want to kill Jews and eliminate the Jewish state. They want this with all their hearts.
The question is: Do we want to survive as much as they want to destroy us?
This column originally appeared on AbuYehuda.com