A security inspector checks materials at Kerem Shalom Crossing.
(photo credit: DEFENSE MINISTRY)
Israel reopened the Kerem Shalom Gaza border crossing Wednesday, after four days of relative calm. As Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said, the previous days were the quietest since March 30, when the “Great March of Return” and related rioting began.
Liberman ordered Kerem Shalom closed for commercial goods on July 9 and the banning of gas and fuel on August 2, in response to the continued launching into Israel of incendiary aerial devices – kites, balloons and condoms – which devoured thousands of hectares of land in flames. Then, last week, came the barrage of over 200 rockets and other projectiles in a single day.
It must be noted that the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) allowed humanitarian supplies, such as food and medicine, into Gaza throughout this period. Also, Egypt controls a crossing into Gaza at Rafah, and consistently limits the passage of goods through it despite not being a usual victim of fire-kites and rockets – yet Israel was the sole target of condemnation from the UN last week.
In any case, opening the crossing was the right thing to do. The “quiet will be met by quiet” formulation, which has been repeated many times since then-defense minister Ehud Barak used it before Operation Cast Lead in 2009, makes sense – because Israel does not want an escalation, and we have had relative calm since Friday. Closing Kerem Shalom was part of the retaliation for the continual fire from Gaza, so it should be scaled back as the violence recedes.
In addition, there is no reason to cause undue suffering to Gaza’s civilian population, which is already living under Hamas’ tyrannical, theocratic regime. Many Israelis may hope for Gazans to protest on the street due to their poor economic situation – as we’ve seen done recently by disgruntled Iranians. But Gaza has been in dire straits for longer, and that still hasn’t happened, so blocking commercial goods is clearly only a tactical, not a strategic move.
But the reliance on temporary tactics highlights the problem with how this government treats Gaza overall.
The residents of the Western Negev suffer from constant onslaughts from Gaza. Children are growing up traumatized by having to run to bomb shelters in the middle of the night – when they’re not already sleeping in safe rooms.
And all the government says and does is some version of “quiet will be met by quiet” – nothing about how to solve this issue in the long term and bring back some normalcy to the many Israelis living under fire.
With that in mind, it’s understandable that Bayit Yehudi ministers voted against a cease-fire with Hamas at Wednesday’s cabinet meeting.
“This ‘quiet’ will give Hamas total immunity so that it can rearm itself with tens of thousands of rockets that will threaten all parts of the country and will allow it to launch a war against Israel... under convenient conditions,” Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett said this week.
Israel does not seek an escalation, but “quiet for quiet” lets Hamas set the terms, lick its wounds, and attack again when it sees fit.
It’s not that a cease-fire and opening the crossings are bad ideas. The problem is it’s not backed up by an overarching strategy to keep Israelis safe. We’ve repeated the “quiet for quiet” formula for nearly a decade, and nothing has changed.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu knows this; as opposition leader, ahead of the 2009 election, he said the government must “knock down Hamas.” Liberman knows this as well, having famously said that within 48 hours of becoming defense minister, Ismail Haniyeh would be dead. It’s not clear that those strategies will guarantee Israel’s safety, but at least they had ideas beyond attacking when Hamas attacks, and stopping when Hamas stops.
What we need is for the government to be more forward-looking and to take a holistic view. Residents of the South have been suffering long enough. We need more than “quiet will be met by quiet.”
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