My cousin Adele Raemer lives on Kibbutz Nirim in the Western Negev. It is an idealistic community in an idyllic setting. Over the years, the kibbutzniks have lived the cliché, making the desert bloom. They created a lush, intimate oasis that is as warm communally as it is hot meteorologically. Unfortunately, these days, their beautiful lives are interrupted far too frequently by sirens and explosions as rockets bombard them from neighboring Gaza.
To let people in Israel and throughout the world know what it is like to live from warning to warning, from safe house sprint to safe house sprint, Adele recently started the Facebook group “Life on the border with Gaza – things people may not know (but should)." This apolitical on-line diary paints a pointillist picture of the courage involved in living an ordinary life under extraordinary circumstances, when you must be ready anytime for the 15-second scramble to safety, when “everyone” is suffering from some form of post-traumatic stress, when the kids are back to wetting their beds, the dogs are "frightened to death" by the strange noises, and the adults are living on edge. This on-line diary reflects the Israeli refusal to be defeated. It puts a human face on the evil decision of Gaza’s Hamas rulers to turn their fiefdom into a launching pad for Islamist terror rather than a hothouse for peace or normalization. And it details warning by warning, missile by missile, stress by stress, a massive failure on the part of the Israeli government – handcuffed by the international community.
A government’s primary mission is to protect its citizens. When tens of thousands of those citizens endure bombing barrages from hostile neighbors, the government must act. Fearing international condemnation for the simple act of defending its citizens, Israel’s government has decided to build shelters in most schools and many homes within rocket range. This decision limits physical casualties but ignores the psychological toll. It is the reaction of the “Galut Jew,” the oppressed accommodator, not the proud, game-changing Israeli fighter.
I hate war. I do not wish to see unnecessary bloodshed. But the residents of the Western Negev, including Sderot, have suffered too much for nearly a decade now. Barack Obama himself said, in Sderot on July 23, 2008: “I don’t think any country would find it acceptable to have missiles raining down on the heads of their citizens. The first job of any nation state is to protect its citizens.... If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I’m going to do everything in my power to stop that. And I would expect Israelis to do the same thing.”
Israel has ignored Obama’s prescription. Israel’s leaders should quote Obama’s rationale to Obama, the UN, and the Palestinians, restating the implicit deal Israel made when it withdrew from Gaza in August 2006. If five years ago Israel returned territorial control to the Palestinians in the hope for peace or at least quiet, Israel now needs to deprive Palestinians of some territory every time the Palestinians break the peace or the quiet. Every rocket launched from Gaza should yield two reactions. First, Israel should close the border completely for 24 hours, with no supplies or services, including electricity, emanating from Israel. And second, the Israeli Army should push back the border fence into Gaza, seizing a pre-determined amount of territory each time. If the rocket fire intensifies, Israel should seize back the evacuated settlements, one by one.
To the inevitable charges of “collective punishment,” and the absurd claim that “militants” beyond Hamas’s control are responsible, Israel’s leaders and diplomats – after quoting Barack Obama – should reply, “Hamas is claiming to be responsible for Gaza, so it must take responsibility for Gaza. These are the rules of war that have always operated: when aggressors from one territory attack their neighbor, the neighbor has the right to respond in self-defense. Traditionally, the currency in these matters has been land. Israel is returning to that traditional calculus. If the people of Gaza are unhappy, they should pressure their rulers. And if there is quiet for six months, Israel will begin withdrawing again, proving that Israel has no territorial designs on Gaza, only a desire for peace.”
Given its failure to respond so clearly for years now, Israel should not deploy this strategy immediately. The renewed rocket attacks and terrorist crimes of the last two weeks are attempts to provoke an Israeli reaction that will trigger world condemnation, easing the Palestinians’ unilateral declaration of independence next month. The international community has made it clear, especially in the corrupted UN, that Israel is the only country in the world that somehow lacks the right of self-defense. Preferring defenseless Jews, or dead Jews, to Jews who defend themselves, the world will probably reject this new Israeli doctrine. Instead, Israel should devote time this next month to preparing the legal rationale, finalizing military plans for these actions, and quietly conveying to the Palestinians, the Americans, and the international community, the new response, which will go into effect in October.
Too many Palestinian radicals have made it clear over the years that they are willing to sacrifice Palestinians lives to terrorize Israelis. But the Palestinian outrage when Israel built the security fence proved just how precious every inch of land is to Palestinians. Targeted actions depriving Gaza of territory in response to Palestinians targeting the Western Negev will put a particular price tag on each rocket, and every terror attack, making Palestinians responsible for their actions. The heroic inhabitants of the Western Negev know the cost to them of each Palestinian rocket attack. It is time for Palestinians to pay a steep price too for these evil aggressions – or better yet, end them.
Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Research Fellow in Jerusalem. The author of “Why I Am a Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today,” his most recent book is “The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction.” firstname.lastname@example.org