The thwarted attempt by Palestinian militants to capture an Israeli soldier near the Kisufim crossing has again raised questions about the government's "policy of no response" (Debka Hebrew).
In the incident, which occurred on Saturday afternoon, a team of four Islamic Jihad fighters broke through the security fence in a white jeep marked "TV." Lookouts immediately alerted nearby forces from the Givati Brigade. Meanwhile, the militants, who were dressed in military fatigues, stormed an empty outpost (a pillbox) and started firing. When they realized that the outpost was unoccupied and saw IDF jeeps arriving at the scene, three of the fighters returned to Gaza. Israeli troops began combing the area. A dog from the Oketz unit discovered the fourth terrorist, who had hidden in a pipe. After he revealed his location when he shot the dog, Israeli soldiers surrounded the man, who was killed in the two-hour long gun battle that ensued (Ynet Hebrew, New York Times).
Soon after the initial news of the incident, army sources expressed concerns about "tactical shortcomings" in the response of the unit summoned to the scene (Ha'aretz Hebrew). "Why," they asked, "was there no pursuit of the [Islamic Jihad] crew at Kisufim?" To Lt. Colonel Bassam 'Alian, who commands the Rotem Battalion (one of the four battalions in the Givati Brigade) and was among the first to arrive on the scene, the answer is simple: the troops focused on securing the area first and making sure that the terrorists did not reach nearby residential areas. (A quick excursus: Bassam 'Alian made the headlines in August 2006, after he was injured in Lebanon, shortly after being promoted to Lt. Colonel.)
I will leave it to the military to investigate these alleged tactical deficiencies, but it strikes me that the criticism might not be entirely rational. I cannot help linking this disappointment that Israeli soldiers did not manage to arrest or kill the other attackers with a general sense of frustration about the government's defensive policy. This frustration is most palpable among reservists from Sderot and the south. In a recent article, "An Israeli defeat in Sderot," Ze'ev Schiff argues that despite the organization's military weakness, Hamas has achieved deterrence vis-a-vis Israel, just as Hizbullah has in the north. He calls this a "national failure" more serious than the outcome of the Lebanon war. Schiff concludes by bemoaning
the almost total disappearance of the strategic principle set by David Ben-Gurion, to the effect that upon the outbreak of a military confrontation, Israel must quickly transfer the fighting to enemy territory. At present, it is the enemy who is immediately transferring the fighting to Israeli territory (Ha'aretz).In recent days, IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi has also called for an expansion of offensive action in Gaza by the army, though he still rules out a major ground operation comparable to Defensive Shield. Israel's National Security Council, on the other hand, believes that the current policy should be continued (Ha'aretz English).
The government's reluctance to authorize a large-scale operation in Gaza, however, is not based on the acceptance of a draw with Hamas alone. Israel is trying to avoid the inevitable civilian casualties that would accompany a return to the policies of June 2006, which included heavy artillery fire, and bombardment from the sea and air in response to qassam launches. Perhaps the government is hoping for a further deterioration of the Palestinians' diplomatic position, as well as the attrition of its fighting power in internecine conflict.
As we occupy ourselves with the management of this conflict, the future looks bleaker than ever. Because the Palestinian factions cannot guarantee Israelis' security, Israel will not give up the land the parties and the Palestinian people demand as a requirement for the cessation of attacks. To be sure, the armed struggle - at least of the sort carried out since the mid-1990s - especially the suicide bombings have only brought disaster to the Palestinians. Furthermore, the qassams and their more lethal future successors will bestow mere temporary gains upon the Palestinians (a cease fire here, a partial lifting of restrictions), until the next terrorist attack. Then, it will be two steps backward again.
I think the optimism of the "anti-Zionists," that Israel will disappear is misplaced. They believe that the world only has to be convinced of the suffering of the Palestinians. It is true that a great number of people today believe that Israel is the manifestation of evil and wholly responsible for the hardships experienced by Palestinian civilians. They bank on what they see as the inevitable triumph of justice, and the defeat of the wicked. In the words of Angry Arab:
Zionists miscalculated: the deep seated racism that characterized the minds of Zionist pioneers, and the contempt through which they looked at the Arabs, did not prepare them for an unexpected variable: the persistence of Palestinian struggle. That the Palestinians will not succumb to Zionist diktats. And that the Arabs will not let bygone's be bygone's.I think the inverse of what As'ad AbuKhalil is saying rings just as true. The Arabs, especially the Palestinian Arabs, were not prepared for the persistence of the Jews' belief that they belong there, and that they need their own state. What the anti-Zionists don't understand is that Israeli Jews have nowhere to go. They do not intend to "return" anywhere - certainly not to the precariousness of life without national self-determination. Perhaps it is time to admit that the interests of Israelis and Palestinians are simply irreconcilable. For both sides, national self-determination seems to have requirements that the other side will not accept. But the loser of this kind of "draw" is surely the person without a state.
In a very serious interview conducted by Sayed Kashua, best known for his hilarious satirical columns in Ha'aretz [the link happens not to be his funniest piece but it's still good], Hillel Cohen, the author of four fine works on the relationship between the state (or pre-state institutions) and the local Arab population, put it this way:
-"One could also say that the tragedy of the Palestinians from the start is that they found themselves on land that the Jews claim, and say is their historic homeland - rightly so apparently, unlike what some of the Palestinians think. The Jews have roots here and they've managed to stake a claim in this land. This is where the tragedy begins. If the Jews hadn't come here, nothing would have developed the way it has. But they did come here and they are also stronger. This is the root of the tragedy. The question within this equation is what you do about it. The tragedy within this equation is that if you're quiet and don't protest it doesn't help you, and if you protest gently it also doesn't help you, and if you move to an armed struggle, then it also hurts you. Whatever you do, you're screwed."
So what should be done?
-"I don't have a proposal for what the Palestinians should do. But let's say, theoretically, if the Palestinians were to take up a non-violent struggle en masse, maybe something would happen."
Then what? That would bring them back to an Oslo-type process.
-"Perhaps. Listen, I don't know what to say to the Palestinians. If someone were to land here from Mars and ask me which nation is worth joining, I probably wouldn't recommend he join the Palestinian people."
And the Jewish people? The Israeli people?