‘Oh cousbara!” I exploded the other day, partly because the first syllable of the Hebrew word for coriander sounds like a filthy expletive in colloquial Hebrew and Arabic, and partly because I couldn’t forget all the passionate discussions a few years ago concerning how the poor Palestinians in Gaza were suffering from the lack of the herb, an essential ingredient in Middle Eastern cooking.
The blame for the dearth lay, of course, with Israel, which had banned the import of the herb, also known as cilantro, along with a list of other products as part of the effort to put pressure on Hamas to release kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit. (It is strange how much effort Hamas puts into trying to abduct and keep IDF soldiers on their side of the border while complaining about “the occupation,” isn’t it?) The great coriander debate reached such levels that you could barely mention the Gaza Strip without adding a word about the missing herb. Cousbara even had its day in court, when NGOs complained about the plight of the culinarily deprived Gazans.
I don’t know why coriander was placed on the list of prohibited items. But this week Israelis got a taste of why the import of certain other products were banned or severely restricted in Gaza.
“Why is cement so dangerous?” a human rights activist asked me a few years ago in what was meant to be a rhetorical question, emphasizing why the naval blockade of Gaza was so cruel.
This week we got the answer as tunnel after tunnel was exposed, carefully built with cement and iron intended for the construction of homes and schools. The Hamas terrorists discovered coming out of tunnels near the dining room of a kibbutz close to the border were not seeking food, seasoned with coriander or otherwise. They were seeking to kill, destroy, and – if reports that they were equipped with tranquilizers are correct – to kidnap Israeli citizens.
The light at the Hamas end of these tunnels is from the furnaces of hell.
In times of war, and Operation Protective Edge is turning into a war, criticism of the government and army tend to be muted, but questions are important.
Among those I want answered is how this labyrinth of tunnels was constructed over the last few years without Israel being aware of the extent; or if Israel did know how many tunnels there were and where, why was no solution found before now, risking soldiers’ lives? (The question I had of what Hamas did with all the excavated earth was partially answered when the IDF found bags of what once held UNRWA supplies of wheat, filled with dirt.) Even more importantly, I would like to know to what extent Hamas’s ally Hezbollah is carrying out similar work to literally undermine Israel along the northern border.
I FEEL sorry for the ordinary people of Gaza. The rockets being launched from their towns (in many cases from their homes, hospitals, mosques and schools) are not wreaking the devastation on Israel that their leaders hoped. We’re tense, there is an emotional cost (and also an economic one) but massive rocket attacks tend to unite us, particularly when we are all worrying about the fate of IDF soldiers fighting the terrorists on the ground and below it.
Our collective sons and daughters know what they are fighting for – it is not an act of aggression (as a British radio interviewer threw at me this week), it is an act of defense. It is personal. Every IDF soldier is protecting family and friends under attack. (My vote for song of the week goes to the brilliant parody of the Frozen song: “Do You Think That Was a Siren?” It’s better to laugh together than to cry.) The Palestinian leadership, redefining chutzpah, is complaining that Gazan residents are suffering from Israeli air fire with nowhere to go for protection. The leaders themselves are doing their best to keep safe, underground or abroad.
After years of missile attacks, Israel not only developed the Iron Dome anti-rocket system (with US help), it mandated that every new construction must include a missile-proof area. Even as it ordered the terror tunnels, the Palestinian leadership did not provide its own people with shelters – they are more valuable as human shields and pawns in the propaganda war when Israel finally fires back.
So please don’t get me started on that “proportionate response” thing: Of course Israel needs to be able to both defend itself and retain its moral edge (for our own sake as much as for the Palestinians’), but, as I found myself frustratedly telling a radio interviewer this week, I do not feel that I have to apologize that not enough of my friends, family and neighbors are being killed to satisfy an overseas audience.
Israel set up a field hospital for Gazans, continued to treat Palestinian patients in regular Israeli hospitals, and provided humanitarian aid (and free electricity) – unlike Hamas, respecting the so-called humanitarian cease-fires.
One well-intentioned bleeding heart living on the other side of the world commented on Facebook that three trucks of medical supplies crossing from Israel into Gaza didn’t seem like a lot to her. I couldn’t be bothered to get into another argument and so I don’t know how much aid Israel is expected to provide a place that is firing more than 100 missiles a day at it.
The fact that UNRWA uncovered rocket stockpiles in at least two of its schools in Gaza did not come as a shock (unfortunately). That the UN-affiliated organization handed the weapons over to “the local authorities” – i.e. Hamas – did surprise me, for some reason. The organization subsequently denied giving the rockets to Hamas, but refused to explain who does now possess them and what other authority was operating in Gaza.
Hamas dug scores of tunnels to hide its method of operation.
Its aim is clear and on record in its own charter: Eliminate Israel.
Instead of “cousbara” in this round of hostilities the refrain is “The Occupation” – which implies that if Israel had not been founded in 1948, we wouldn’t have been under attack all these years. This neatly ignores murderous Arab attacks on Jews in Hebron, Jaffa and Jerusalem a couple of decades earlier because there were not meant to be Jews living here then, according to the Palestinian narrative.
The Jews don’t belong here. We are colonialists. Aliens. Invaders.
But still we come to the Promised Land – even as the missiles continue to fall; even as American and European airlines decided it was too dangerous to fly here (although many fly to war zones lacking an Iron Dome protective system).
French immigrants arriving this week quipped that they felt safer in Israel, even with the rocket attacks, than they did as Jews on the streets of Paris. Some 5,000 are expected to make aliya from France this year. More than 220 North American Jews landed on a Nefesh B’Nefesh flight this week, one of many chartered flights of immigrants this summer. That is one powerful sense of belonging we have, passed down through the millennia.
Even as we buried our dead, including lone soldiers St.- Sgt. Jordan Bensemhoun, 22, from France, former Californian Sgt. Max Steinberg, 24, and former Texan Sgt. Nissim Sean Carmeli, 21, more immigrants planned to move here. The massive turnout of thousands to salute the fallen soldiers – such a crowd for Steinberg that the Jerusalem Light Rail increased its service to the cemetery; so many for Carmeli that they couldn’t fit into the graveyard – demonstrated that awe-inspiring sense of family we have.
The Palestinian leadership in Gaza used tons and tons of cement to try to bring Israel down, rather than build up their own quasi state. They failed.
They could have planted coriander and flowers in the hothouses that Israel left in the disengagement from Gaza in 2005. They could have planted the seeds of peace.
Instead Hamas focused with tunnel vision on trying to cause the deaths of as many Israelis as possible, to chase us away. If it were funny, I’d say the joke’s on them, they have created greater Jewish solidarity than they can imagine.
And all those tunnels leaves them with not just dirt on their hands, but blood.
firstname.lastname@example.org The writer is editor of The International Jerusalem Post.