'We're having a blast.'
That's what I often reply to concerned callers. We have friends and family all over the country, in fact all over the world who have called. It's nice to hear from them. Their first question is how is everybody. After my attempt at foxhole humor my answer has been, "Everyone's okay, tfu, tfu. tfu." So far the Kassams have fallen all around us but not on anyone's home. One landed in our orange groves (a few broken branches and some orange juice). Two landed very close to the school which is closed and empty. One landed in the middle of Moshav Mivtahim right by their Bet Knesset [synagogue] and caught an 80 year old man returning home from services, out in the open. He received serious wounds but will recover.
On our moshav a lot of the families, especially those with small children, have accepted invitations from friends and relatives in other parts of the country to stay with them for the duration. The Area Council (sort of like a county government) has arranged for programs to take the kids out of the area on a daily basis. On the fourth day of the war, a trip was organized for the kindergarten children and first and second graders of this area, to an amusement park at Kibbutz Givat Brenner. My daughter who has a new two-week old son at home couldn't accompany her two eligible children so I, the resident grandfather, was pressed into service. It was a fun day away but to tell you the truth after spending three hours on a bus filled with noisy children accompanied by loud Mizrachi (Middle Eastern style) music which the bus driver needed to help him drown out the noise and focus on his driving, and an additional three hours in an even louder indoor amusement park; when I got home I was looking forward to a nice calming evening of tzeva adom alerts [Red Alerts] and exploding Kassams. But the kids had a good time and their mother got some time off. Yesterday, my daughter and her family left to spend the weekend at her brother-in-law's family in the north. Though that means four adults and eight small children sharing one house, which is not easy or comfortable, it is a relief to my wife and me, and also saves on phone expenses as I won't be calling her after every nearby Kassam explosion.
The second thing some callers ask is for an explanation about what is happening. There are a lot of aspects to this. First of all there is the military aspect. Back in 2002-2003 the Palestinians were very big into suicide bombings. They and their sympathizers were selling the idea that the suicide bombers were their answer to Israel's F-16s and that it seemed like Israel had no military answer. Of course, Israel had a military answer and it began with operation Defensive Shield, where the IDF went back (most people forget that the IDF had been withdrawn under the Oslo Accords) to the Palestinian population centers and in some very bitter fighting destroyed much of the terrorist infrastructure and killed or imprisoned a lot of terrorists. You may remember operation Defensive Shield. That was when the Palestinians faked a massacre in Jenin with the help of major international news agencies. The IDF then set up a series of road blocks to prevent the transfer of terrorists and their weapons/explosives from one place to another within the Palestinian Authority. Finally, mainly because of public pressure, the government reluctantly undertook to build the defensive barrier (the "wall"). It was this combination, though expensive in lives and money, that reduced the suicide bombings originating from the West Bank from two a day to about one per year.
Three years ago Ariel Sharon decided to withdraw the IDF and the Israeli settlers from the entire Gaza Strip (and symbolically the northern West Bank, as well). This ended attacks on the settlers there and allowed the IDF to concentrate on border defense. The net result was an end to suicide bombing from Gaza. The Hamas in Gaza, frustrated at not being able to strike at Israel with suicide bombers, went over to the use of Kassam rockets. These are inaccurate and at first were poorly made. The IDF response was to eliminate the firing positions close to the border, pushing the rocket firing crews farther away from their main target, which was the city of Sderot. This involved flattening Palestinian citrus groves and other cover but it was successful. However, there was a learning curve at work on both sides and each side countered the other's moves with improvements of their own. Most of the time the IDF stayed ahead of the game but once in a while the Hamas pulled off a success like the one where they tunneled under the border barriers and successfully attacked an IDF position capturing Gilad Shalit, who, if he is still alive, is currently being held prisoner in Gaza.
About six months ago the Hamas agreed to a ceasefire proposed by Egypt. Of course, for a while they tried to continue firing Kassams through various proxies but the IDF made it clear that this subterfuge was unacceptable and this firing died down. All during the cease fire the Hamas would fire a rocket or two from time to time, and they were constantly planting explosives along the border to cause casualties to border patrols. There was some sniper fire directed at agricultural workers near the border, a few mortar shells fired across the border and some attempts at infiltration but it was relatively quiet. A couple of weeks before the end of the ceasefire the IDF located a Hamas tunnel adjacent to the border and attacked it. Nothing much changed. There were a few Kassams fired before the attack and a few after but the Hamas was shaken up by the event because their tunnels had usually gone undetected by the IDF and this one had been detected. As the end of the six-month cease fire approached, the Israelis made it clear what our response would be in the event that the ceasefire ended. Tzipi Livni, our foreign minister, flew to Cairo and, after speaking to Egyptian president Mubarak, had a news conference where she announced that Israel's response would be overwhelming. The Egyptians, Jordanians, the Palestinian Authority and others told the Hamas that they should renew the ceasefire for another six months. The Hamas refused and unilaterally announced that the ceasefire had come to an end. Almost immediately the kassam and mortar attacks increased reaching one day to eighty rockets and mortar rounds.
Last Saturday morning Israel opened up a coordinated air attack on Gaza. We were at home for our customary Saturday morning brunch with our children and grandchildren. I heard what sounded like someone moving furniture. I thought that maybe there were practice maneuvers at a nearby army base. My son-in-law said that it was the beginning of the offensive. And so it was. We expected a big reply from the Hamas but that didn't come for almost five hours. In fact the expected response was about 200 Kassams a day. However, the Hamas has not been able to come close to such a level in the first five days of the fighting. Even more importantly, the Israel Air Force has done a good job of keeping Palestinian civilian casualties to a minimum. Everyone here realizes that civilian casualties only help the Hamas to generate international support. As it is the world press seems to have dropped the term "militants" when talking about Hamas casualties and prefer to call them "Palestinians", not differentiating between combatants and noncombatants and projecting a false image of large numbers of civilian casualties. I suspect that if an Israeli bomb doesn't go astray in the next day or so and wipe out an apartment house full of innocent civilians, the Hamas may be forced to blow one up on their own.
One final note and then I will sign off. I've followed several debates on a number of forums about the current fighting. It seems to me that there are certain truths about the Hamas to which the Palestinian sympathizers and Hamas apologists seem blind and as a consequence their words have become less and less relevant to an analysis of the current fighting. These truths are:
1. The Hamas refuses in principle all direct negotiations with Israel
2. The Hamas refuses in principle any possibility of recognizing Israel.
3. The Hamas refuses in principle any possibility of peace with Israel
The important words in these three are "in principle". These are positions that the Hamas take NOT in response to anything Israel has done but rather in response to what Israel is; i.e. an entity whose very existence for them disproves the truth of Islam.
Some additional truths that the sympathizers and apologists must contend with are:
4. Hamas has adopted classic 19th and 20th century anti-Semitism as part of its working ideology. They proclaim that they are in conflict with the Jews not just the Zionists or Israelis, and that the Jews are responsible for all of the world's ills both now and in the past.
5. Though Hamas gained power democratically, it is not a democratic movement and maintains its power over the society through force and internal terrorism.
6. Though Hamas and their apologists may talk about international law, the Hamas is a serial violator of the Geneva Conventions.
7. Both peace and the welfare of the Palestinian citizenry are of absolutely no value to the Hamas. They are an organization which prides itself on its love of death. They take greater pride in the production of martyrs than in increasing the living standards of its people.
As I wrote above, unless sympathizers with the Palestinian cause and Hamas apologists can recognize and address these truths, then they really have nothing of importance to say on this conflict.
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