Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Eyeless in Gaza—What About Sderot?

The UN Security Council is debating the situation in Gaza. But what about Sderot, which Israel is trying desperately to protect? Israeli representative Gilead Cohen demanded at yesterday's session: “What would Security Council members do if London or Moscow, or Paris or Tripoli were being bombed? Would you continue to sit with folded hands?”

The full argument would go something like this: We left Gaza. There are no settlements anymore in Gaza. No sooner did we leave than Hamas began sending Qassam missiles down on our heads. Some land near schools: it seems inevitable, God forbid, that one will eventually hit a school. The children of Sderot often have to be treated for shock; they and their teachers go to shelters every day. And now the United Nations is, of all things, condemning us for trying to put an end to this reign of terror. So we are cutting off electricity and imposing a siege, yes, but we are not sending explosives at random into populated areas. Sderot, in contrast, does suffer random violence and is becoming a dying town in consequence. What state would stand idly by and forebear such a thing: the loss of one of its towns, its citizens crouching in shelters. How dare the enlightened world treat us this way? (Can it be some kind of double standard imposed on Jews?)

This is not exactly a bad argument. It is also not exactly a credible one. The suffering of Sderot is insufferable, and any reasonable person must conclude that the resort to Qassam missiles, like the resort to suicide bombing—to terrorism in general—is the product of a totalitarian mind. (I wrote about this at length in 1979.) But what Israelis simply have to get into their heads is that the reason why the people in the West seem so indifferent to Sderot, why they focus their empathy instead on the candlelight in Gaza, has almost nothing to do with current claims of who started it or who is fighting fairer. Rather, their reaction is something like the reticence you feel when a heavy smoker you know finally contracts lung-cancer. This has all been building for a very long time.

Let’s ignore the fact (though, obviously, Gazans do not) that the Gaza Strip was originally populated by refugees who fled a war zone in 1949 and were then not permitted to return to their homes. You can argue that Israel could not let them return.

Let’s ignore how Arafat and Fatah had been thunderously welcomed to Gaza in 1994, after signing the Oslo Accords and promising “the peace of the brave,” only to see Hamas rise as peace-talks stalled under Bibi Netanyahu. You can argue that at least some of Fatah’s loss of face is explained by Fatah’s own corruption.

Let’s ignore how, as Chris Hedges wrote in 2001, the time of Oslo proved a time of mounting despair, including a halving of Gaza's GDP. You can argue that economic hardship is the result of a mutually destructive escalation.

Let’s ignore the fact that when Israeli forces go after the people they suspect of firing the missiles, they often hit innocent bystanders, so that the attacks can seem random to the families of innocent civilians who are killed. You can argue that intentions do matter here, that Qassams are inherently instruments of terror, while Israeli actions kill innocents accidentally.

What cannot be ignored, what people in the West cannot possibly get out of the back of their minds, is that during the past forty years Israel has maintained its occupation in order to create Greater Israel. You cannot argue away almost half a million settlers, moving in everyday, little by little, bringing roads, the army, and closures. On this biggest question, people in the West have had plenty of time to assess the claims and counterclaims. They think Israel has been not only terribly wrong but self-destructive.

Israel finally pulled 8000 settlers from Gaza in 2006. But that is a little like cutting down to only one pack a day. When the Sharon government evacuated Gaza, it did so without any effort to reach an agreement, but rather under fire, as in Lebanon. It openly admitted that this unilateral move would be followed by a unilateral annexation of territories around major West Bank settlements and, of course, Jerusalem.

Now, under the Annapolis framework, Olmert is trying to stop new construction in the West Bank. But he still refuses to halt construction in the outskirts of Jerusalem. Meanwhile, the wall and closures have made the West Bank, where Hamas does not rule, a Gaza-in-the-making. What can you say that has not been said?

“Our real problem is that we don’t have a prime minister who can govern,” an old friend of mine told me, a professor in a teacher’s college in Sderot, who runs with her students to the shelters every day”; “We’ve had one prime minister after another, who has been a hostage to right wing parties and their vision. We can’t talk to Hamas, we can’t talk about the division of Jerusalem, Lieberman will leave, Shas will leave.”

“I sit in the shelters intimidated like everybody else. One day I was in a parking lot and the missile exploded right in front of me. I could hardly move for an hour. But now I sit in shelters, often with Bedouin students, and I am trying to think what they are thinking. With these missiles trying to kill us. But these missiles coming from their own brothers, who are fighting a war they can hardly disagree with.”

Should the army have moved in? “What will that achieve, other than to make more mothers cry. More families broken, here and there. They are making these rockets with sugar. Sugar. We are going back to the Romans. We don't need Western sympathy. We need their intervention.”


bar_kochba132 said...

Bernie, when did the HAMAS rulers launching Qassams at Sederot say it was because of the "settlements"? Didn't they say that they would never recongnize Israel under any circumstances? Regardless of what borders Israel has?
You are again promoting the myth that the Arab/Israeli conflict is due to the outcome of the Six-Day War in 1967. You are willing to trade 1967 (Judea/Samaria/Gaza) in return for 1948 (the Palestinians more or less give up the right of return). They , INCLUDING THE "MODERATE" FATAH under Abbas and Arafat said a million times that they don't accept this deal. It is ALL ABOUT "1948".
When France cut off Israel just before the 1967 War, there were no "settlements" in Judea/Samaria/Gaza. When the New York Times editorial wrote during the waiting period before the war that "perhaps the creation of a Jewish state was a mistake", it had nothing to do with Judea/Samaria. Support for Israel in the US, at least, is much strong today , post-1967, than it was before 1967 when Israel came into control of Judea/Samaria/Gaza. So we see that attitudes of most people towards Israel is not based on "the settlements".
When Alef Bet Yehoshua came out with his recent demand (similar to yours) that the US "force (or 'rape' in David Landau's colorful expression) Israel to get rid of the outposts and then the settlements" you two are really expressing something else....contempt not so much for the settlement enterprise, but rather those who are behind it...the religious, the Sefardim, the other words, those outside of the Israeli Secular Ashkenazic Establishment. Both of you repeatedly state your fear that some day they may push your elite out of power (they already have a majority). You want someone to intervene to make sure they are kept out of power permanently (if you think I am exaggerating, then explain to me why you made the ridiculous comparison of the religious Sefardic SHAS party to HIZBULLAH?-they have no armed militia or paramilitary groups and they have not tried to take over the goverment. This nonsensicle comparison shows your irrational fear of those who oppose you politically).

Finally, who is going to "intervene" for you? Who is prepared to revive the British Mandate to rule the unruly local "natives?" Who is going to send troops to fight Arabs in order to protect Israel when the Arabs are their own friends and trading partners? You think the EU, the US or Arab "moderates" who you want to send troops want to enmesh themselves in another Iraq?

Shawn said...

Another excellent post.

Obviously, the Qassam rocket fire is the primary pretext for the increasingly severe measures from Israel, but how much do you think does the resignation of Avigdor Lieberman play into this? Is Olmert trying to improve his "tough" credentials now that he has a weakened majority in the Knesset?

Andrew Schamess said...

Dr. Avishai did not say that the rocket fire is a protest against the West Bank settlements. Obviously it's not.

He said, and I think he is exactly right, that the situation has gotten to this point because of numerous missed opportunities for peace. And many of these opportunities were missed by Israel, because - again, exactly as Dr. Avishai says - we were pursuing a policy of territorial expansion rather than one of diplomatic resolution.

Our premise has been that the Palestinians are weak and we can make peace when we are ready, when we have full control of the reservoirs, Jerusalem, the surrounding land, etc. (and can maintain demographic superiority in these areas).

I agree fully that we need to reject this policy if we are ever going to end the conflict and its associated violence that is so damaging to both sides.

Jonathan Mark said...

"""the reason why the people in the West seem so indifferent to Shderot, why they focus their empathy instead on the candlelight in Gaza, has almost nothing to do with current claims of who started it or who is fighting fairer. Rather, their reaction is something like the reticence you feel when a heavy smoker you know finally contracts lung-cancer."""

Those who feel that way have already embraced a concept of collective guilt with respect to the inhabitants of Sderot.

Having embraced the concept of collective punishment with respect to the unfortunate denizens of Sderot, they cannot logically decry blockading Gaza as collective punishment.

Bernard's analogy is inapt.
What have the residents of Sderot done that corresponds to smoking cigarettes? What if some people in Sderot are Meretz or even Hadash voters?

God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, but only after determining that there were no righteous there besides Abraham and family. Anyhow, Hamas and Islamic Jihad are not God, and they don't have the authority to engage in collective punishment of the residents of Sderot.

All the people in Sderot did wrong was to live just north of the Gaza strip. Is that such a crime? Why should Israel accept any collective punishment of the residents of Sderot?

Andrew Schamess said...

I think you're really missing the point here, Jonathan. Dr. Avishai says very clearly that "the suffering of Sderot is insufferable." He goes to some trouble to document the awful impact of the missiles on the people living there.

He's not saying that they deserve collective punishment - far from it!

What he is saying is that the diplomats and politicians of the West believe the people of Sderot are as much victims of Israeli policy, i.e. of failure to negotiate an end to the conflict, as they are victims of Hamas.

Because of this, their sympathy for Israel is limited.

The smoking analogy applies to Israeli foreign policy (i.e. Israel has persisted in an unwise program of territorial expansion, and is now suffering the consequences) - not to the people of Sderot, with whom Dr. Avishai is in sympathy and who obviously do not control the actions of Israel's leaders.

Jonathan Mark said...

The analogy might be apt if it was to second-hand smoke.

Smokers themselves are personally responsible for smoking, and are guilty for smoking.

Anyone who believes that residents of Sderot are like smokers by definition believes in the collective guilt of the residents of Sderot.

"""Because of this, their sympathy for Israel is limited."""

You are making my point for me.

Because "the diplomats and politicians of the West" believe in the collective guilt of people of Sderot--who are responsible for their fate the way smokers are--their sympathy for the people of Sderot is limited.

"""The smoking analogy applies to Israeli foreign policy (i.e. Israel has persisted in an unwise program of territorial expansion, and is now suffering the consequences) - not to the people of Sderot,"""

Again, you have made my point for me.

If the smoking analogy doesn't apply to the people of Sderot, and yet "the diplomats and politicians of West" apply the analogy to the people of Sderot anyway, then that is further evidence that "the diplomats and politicians of the West" believe in the collective guilt of people in Sderot.

Andrew Schamess said...

Saying that a nation has an unwise foreign policy that brings harm to its people is not the same thing as saying that the people have collective guilt and deserve collective punishment.

I suppose that, in some way, we are all "collectively punished" for the stupidity of our leaders; but that does not make collective punishment morally acceptable.

It does, hopefully, impel us to criticize leaders and policies that bring harm to our nation, and to other nations, as Dr. Avishai is doing in this post.

Andrew Schamess said...

Clarification: we all suffer collectively for the stupidity of our leaders. That does not imply acceptance of collective punishment as a legitimate method of warfare.

Jonathan Mark said...

"""Saying that a nation has an unwise foreign policy that brings harm to its people is not the same thing as saying that the people have collective guilt and deserve collective punishment."""

On the other hand, saying that one is not sympathetic to civilians getting shelled at random DOES indicate a belief in collective punishment.

That is what we are discussing, right? Bernard said that the outside world is not sympathetic to the residents of Sderot because it views them as equivalent to smokers who get lung cancer.

Smokers are guilty of smoking. So the persons who view the residents of Sderot as smokers view those Sderot residents as guilty.

Andrew Schamess said...

Well, Jonathan, it really seems to me that Avishai is expressing sympathy for the people of Sderot, while criticizing an Israeli leadership that valued land over peace, and that has failed to stem the violence that has taken place over thirty-odd years.

You seem to be saying that Avishai is endorsing collective punishment. I don't think he is at all. I just don't see how you can get that from this post.

Jonathan Mark said...

It doesn't have much to do with Bernard. My reading of what Bernard wrote is that the European leaders, not Bernard himself, are unsympathetic to the people of Sderot.

Bernard is not the one comparing Sderot residents to smokers who get lung cancer. But Bernard is saying that the European leaders are making this comparison.

I don't see how any other interpretation is possible.

Do you think that Bernard wrote that European leaders are sympathetic to the residents of Sderot? He writes that the opposite is the case.

Andrew Schamess said...

OK, I see what you're saying.

bar_kochba132 said...

My point in talking about the settlements is rather as the most blatant example of what the Arabs and their allies around the world are complaining about. No matter what concessions Israel makes, there will always be more Arab grievances that they will use to justify their attacks, both physical and political, on Israel. Sharon and those who supported said that destroying Gush Katif would make it clear the Arabs have no more excuses to attack Israel from Gaza since there would be no more "occupation". They said "the whole world will see that we are the good guys and will give us a free hand for any measures we will have to take against them". Of course, we see that it didn't work out that way. They still said.."no the occupation continues in other ways, control of the borders, economic restrictions, and the continued Israeli 'occupation' of Judea/Samaria, etc". Bernie himself admitted that it goes back to the Balfour Declaration (blogger "themagneszionist" says it goes back to the First Zionist Congress in 1897, I say it goes back to Patriarch Abraham in the Bible). Yossi Sarid recently wrote in Ha'aretz "once Israel goes back to the pre-67 lines there wil be peace", presumably because there would be no more Arab grievances. I can't believe that he really thinks that, I believe that he simply feels that after we are attacked within those borders, the Western "progessives" that people like Sarid, Bernie and others so desperately want the approval of, will once again look at us as "victims" (the most honored status in the world today) and so they can feel better about themselves, especially if they don't live in the border areas.

Jonathan Mark said...

"""Yossi Sarid recently wrote in Ha'aretz "once Israel goes back to the pre-67 lines there wil be peace", presumably because there would be no more Arab grievances. I can't believe that he really thinks that,"""

My experience has been that people who say that often do NOT believe what they are saying.

But these people do not think of themselves as liars. They think of themselves as nudging others along towards a historic compromise, one that involves not only territorial concessions but demographic onces inside of pre-1967 Israel.

That is why they feel that they can in good faith say "land-for-peace" when what they actually mean is right-of-refugees-to-return-plus-land-for-peace.

I once had a conversation with a board member of Americans for Peace Now. I asked how it could be that APN says it supports "land for peace," but also (sometimes) says that in addition Israel must permit some Palestinians to immigrate to Israel.

I asked, shouldn't APN state up front that it supports right-of-refugees-to-return-plus-land-for-peace?

The board member told me that APN doesn't mention the requirement that Israel allow Palestinians to immigrate to inside pre-1967 Israel because doing so would "raise red flags."

The Palestinian demand to settle Palestinians inside of Israel's pre-1967 borders is not important enough to mention, said the APN board member.

bar_kochba132 said...

You know, I didn't even catch the irony of the last line of Bernie's posting...the woman forced to endure the Qassam's says "we need Western intervention." Do you understand? Zionism has come full circle. This was exactly the same lament the Jews tragically caught in the Nazi web in Europe said. "We need foreigners to come and rescue us". Wasn't Zionism supposed to empower the Jews and prevent this helplessness? It can, but we are still hearing the same self-abasement like "what are we doing that makes the non-Jews hate us so much? It must be us who are bad" We hear it today and we heard it then. As if nothing has changed for some people. For the Zionist Left which sunk into the deep despair we hear in the postings, and many others, it is if Zionism and Jewish self-respect never existed.

Jonathan Mark said...

"""This was exactly the same lament the Jews tragically caught in the Nazi web in Europe said. "We need foreigners to come and rescue us"."""

I wonder whether in fact Jews in Europe thought in those terms. The Diary of Anne Frank did not include such sentiments.

They surely thought that in order to survive the Allies must win the war. Anne Frank was happy on D-Day.

But I doubt that Jews in Nazi Europe thought that the Allies were fighting to rescue the Jews.

bar_kochba132 said...

Of course not, Jonathan. They knew it very well. That is the point. After the horrors of the 20th century, we Jews did not want to be at the mercy of the "good intentions" of the world anymore. That is why the scene Bernie described in Sederot is so infuriating. This does not mean I support indiscriminately bombing Gaza or anything like that. But the people who brougth the Oslo disaster and later the destruction of Gush Katif were criminally stupid. They promised "now that we are pulling out of the Palestinian areas we will have a free hand to deal with them if they attack u s" which we now see was an outright lie. Our hands are tied more than ever.
Israeli leaders have such unbelievable tunnel vision. Their only concern is keeping the US Administration happy, not taking into consideration the effect their policies have on the Arab world. Israeli concessions have only hardened the Arab attitude and have strengthened the most radical Islamic elements. The Islamics keed saying "see, they brought Arafat and his gangs to Israel and turned them loose to kill, they then ran away from Lebanon which greatly enhanced HIZBULLAH's power, they then ran away from Gush Katif (Gaza) bringing HAMAS to power." And now Olmert wants to keep up the momentum of dismantling Israel. Only a complete change in mentality can turn things around. Fortunatley a few are beginning to express this, the latest being former IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Yaalon who, in a speech to the Herzliya Conference said that peace agreements are just not in the cards and that Israeli concessions just push peace ever further away. I find this newer sense of realism encouraging.

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