My Word: Between the Eurovision and making Hamas face the music

Security cameras outside the home of the Handeli family in Rehovot last week revealed a state of confusion that could pass as a state of mind.

A MAN PAINTS a mural on a structure located close to the Eurovision Village in Tel Aviv (photo credit: REUTERS/CORINNA KERN)
A MAN PAINTS a mural on a structure located close to the Eurovision Village in Tel Aviv
(photo credit: REUTERS/CORINNA KERN)
Sometimes you don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Security cameras outside the home of the Handeli family in Rehovot last week revealed a state of confusion that could pass as a state of mind. Footage on one camera shows the mother, Ortal, rushing out of the house, clearly distressed, obviously looking for her children. A second camera, meanwhile, captures a group of kids suddenly abandoning their bikes and standing with bowed heads, hands behind their backs, not moving. Poor kids. It was the right response for the wrong siren.
The children who had just days before stood in silent tribute during the siren that sounds out throughout Israel on Holocaust Remembrance Day, and were prepared for the moment’s silence on Remembrance Day for the IDF Fallen this week, did not realize that the siren that blasted as they played in the yard on Shabbat morning was a call to take cover. This was not the time to recall the dead.
The mother later told reporters she was proud of them. So she should be. You can’t blame them for showing such respect. And you can’t blame them for being confused. They weren’t the only ones who weren’t expecting the barrage of rockets fired by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad from Gaza.
During the two-day onslaught 700 rockets were launched on southern Israel. There were four Israeli fatalities: Moshe Agadi, 58; Moshe Feder, 68; Pinchas Menachem Prezuazman, 21; and Ziad al-Hamamda, 47. As President Reuven Rivlin noted when he paid condolences to the four bereaved families, they represent a cross-section of Israeli society from the ultra-Orthodox Prezuazman to the Bedouin al-Hamamda. The terrorists’ rockets don’t differentiate.
Images from another security camera also made me want to weep. Footage from Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon shows newborn babies being raced to a safe room as the red alert sounds out. If you want to know what a war crime looks like, watch this video. See the fear on the face of an older woman, perhaps a grandmother, trying to catch up as a father pushes a bassinet down the hospital corridor. Spare a thought for the poor mother having to sprint for shelter hours after she’d given birth.
It’s not easy at the best of times. I don’t know how fast you can run, but imagine trying to reach safety in 15 seconds if you have to first grab your kids, elderly parents and pets. That’s without having to convince your children that they should be running for cover and not standing still, without creating panic.
My Facebook feed filled with stories of friends in the South who had no peace on either Saturday or Sunday. It also featured heartbreaking pleas for help from pet owners whose dogs and cats had been frightened by the sirens and had run away. The animals’ natural response was to run and hide, but not necessarily in the nearest bombproof shelter or safe room.
The international media at first ignored the story. And then, as usual, came the skewered headlines. There were reports of a Palestinian mother and baby who died in Gaza; Hamas reports, parroted freely, that immediately placed the blame on Israel. There was less mention of the IDF response, released in a statement on Twitter, which declared: “Today we can say with certainty, after looking into the event, that they were killed as a result of an explosion of combustible materials during the activation of a Hamas explosive device.”
One way or another, they were victims of Hamas, an organization that exploits its own population as human shields. And that’s what makes this war such a hard one to fight.
The children near Rehovot and elsewhere throughout Israel are being taught to respect the fallen. The Palestinian children are being educated to believe in murder and “martyrdom.”
The two groups shooting the rockets are called Hamas – an acronym of the Arabic name “Harakat al-Muqawamah al-Islamiyya,” “The Islamic Resistance Movement” – and the PIJ, Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Their names alone should give you a clue that their main concern is not the economy. Both know that investing in rockets and terror attack tunnels is not the way to bring about a thriving society. That’s not the point.
They also know that they can’t bring Israel down, but they can try to make life uncomfortable. To a certain extent, what we witnessed this week was a game of chicken. Ironically, Hamas and the PIJ rely on the effectiveness of the Iron Dome anti-rocket system no less than Israel does. They challenge it but trust that their hits won’t cause the sort of destruction that would inevitably unleash a devastating response by Israel.
THE TIMING of the latest round of hostilities was also chosen carefully: To exert maximum pressure on Israel in the sensitive period around Remembrance Day and Independence Day (which Palestinians refer to as the Nakba, Catastrophe), and the first anniversary since the Trump administration moved the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It was also (correctly) assumed that Israel would not want the PR disaster of rockets raining down and putting an end to the Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv next week. The ceasefire after 48 hours, on the other hand, came just ahead of the start of Ramadan. Even Islamist terrorist organizations know that their support could disappear if they were to ruin the holiest month in the Muslim calendar, when people fast during the day and feast in the evenings.
Technically, Prime Minister (and Defense Minister) Benjamin Netanyahu with a caretaker government – post-elections, pre-inauguration of a new coalition cabinet – has more room to maneuver at home. Motions of no-confidence from either Left or Right are irrelevant. I suspect part of his inaction therefore is deliberate. It fits in with his efforts to keep the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) separate from Hamas-controlled Gaza, with its natural links to Egypt to its south. And perhaps it is a sign that he is waiting for Trump to reveal his long-anticipated “deal of the century.”
It is likely that Netanyahu – who always takes the broader regional and historical view – believes that the Trump deal could provide a better diplomatic solution than anything he could lead on his own, and certainly better than trying to retake control of Gaza, with the inevitable loss of life to both IDF soldiers and Palestinian civilians.
Interestingly enough, there was not a wave of protest in the Arab world, which is growing tired of the Palestinian insistence on victimhood and handouts. Refreshingly, even the European Union supported Israel’s right to defend itself.
AND SO LIFE resumes what passes for normal. There will be sirens and fireworks. The Handeli children will stop and ask themselves which sounds are a mark of national unity and which the sign of foreign enmity. The babies born this week in Ashkelon will grow up on the stories of how special their births were – tales of joy and fear.
And there will be music. Israelis love to sing. Especially this time of year. We sing to remember, we sing to forget; we sing when we’re happy and we sing so much when we’re sad that a whole genre has developed called shirei dikaon (depression songs), heard on the radio in times of war, terrorism and remembrance days.
Hence in Tel Aviv, the show had to go on: The Eurovision Song Contest, after all, is nothing if not a form of escapism. Participants and tourists were barely aware of the bombardment of the South at the start of the week. It was obvious that Israelis would much prefer to watch the Eurovision in peace, or just get on with their daily lives, than have to worry about hits of the non-musical kind. It’s time for international pressure to force Hamas to change its tune.