gaza power station 298.8.
(photo credit: AP)
On Thursday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak gave the go-ahead to gradually reduce the provision of Israeli power and other supplies to Gaza. There was even talk about imposing blackouts for several hours a night in response to rockets fired from Gaza at Israeli civilian targets.
Yet the government bent over backwards to stress that none of the above should be regarded as retaliatory, lest Israel be accused of collective punishment. The UN has already warned Israel against inflicting anything that might be deemed such a punishment. Hence official Israel portrays its threat to Gaza's power supply as "a continuation of Israel's disengagement" from the Strip.
Ironically, though Israel fully evacuated from Gaza in August 2005, it's not really allowed to disengage and Gaza keeps dogging the Jewish state. By the rigid application of international law, Israel remains liable for the population's welfare because it still controls most points of entry into the Strip - save for its frontier with Egypt. Israel's proclaimed disengagement is legally meaningless, as is its designation of Gaza as an "enemy entity." Much though Israel may protest, it's perceived abroad as Gaza's de facto occupier, thereby maddeningly frustrating Israel's most justifiable security priorities.
By this logic there's almost no measure Israel can reasonably take to discourage Kassam barrages from Gaza on Israeli towns and villages. Whatever Israel does could be construed as collective punishment, be it returning fire to the sites from which Kassams are launched (deliberately positioned in crowded hamlets), targeted killings (in which civilians, behind whom the terrorists shield, could be unintentionally hit) or even the most passive response of all - power cuts.
Israel directly supplies most of Gaza's electricity. Moreover, Gazans frequently and brazenly fire on the very Ashkelon power plant that provides their electricity. That electricity is used, among other purposes, to power Kassam production. There's little doubt that no other sovereign state would resign itself to a situation in which it is forced to power the production of hardware and munitions geared to destroy the very facilities in which said power is generated. Yet such submissive forbearance is precisely what is demanded of Israel.
More scandalously still, those who berate Israel for alleged collective punishment are apparently not incensed by the rocketing and routine terrorization of ordinary Israelis. Are Kassams aimed at kindergartens not in the category of collective punishment? Do Sderot's children not deserve protection from indiscriminate assault?
Limiting power, fuel and chemical supplies may directly decrease Gaza's Kassam-manufacture potential and increase incentive for grassroots pressure on the Strip's Hamas overlords.
Hamas's hegemony has indisputably wrought unimaginable economic damage to its own electorate. Nevertheless, there has been no observable opposition from Gaza's masses to the continued terrorizing of neighboring Israelis. Whether the cause is fear of Hamas or solidarity with its belligerence, Gazans' acquiescence to terror exposes them to risk.
The sort of deterrence contemplated in Jerusalem is the least painful and most nonviolent imaginable. It would not be necessary, moreover, were it not for the inaction, and in some cases even support, of Gaza's inhabitants and leaders for the Kassam assaults. Israel should make this plain both to Gaza's residents, to Arab states and the wider international community, which so often bewail Gazan hardships and pin the blame exclusively on Israel.
Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip more than two years ago, and has no claims there. It would have no involvement in Gaza were it not being constantly attacked from the Strip without provocation. Its return fire, and its latest efforts to deter the Kassam crews, are the direct consequence of those attacks as Israel strives to fulfil its paramount obligation to protect its citizens.
Official Israeli spokespersons would do best to adopt a forthright tone and make this plain, and to bluntly state that those who turn a blind eye to Gaza's transgressions cannot appoint themselves advocates for its citizenry. There is either serenity everywhere, or nowhere.
Hence little purpose is served by hiding behind "continuing disengagement" terminology. Equivocations and euphemisms imply admission of guilt. Israel should not undercut its own case with superfluous apologetics. It is much more effective to tell it like it is and clearly affirm that this country's rights to self-defense are not less legitimate or inferior to others'.