The rocket fired from Gaza in the early hours of March 25 destroyed the peace of the usually pastoral Moshav Mishmeret in central Israel. The home of the Wolf family, veteran immigrants from the UK, was reduced to rubble. Seven members of the family, spanning three generations, suffered injuries of various degrees and two of their five dogs were killed. Footage of their wounded and traumatized 10-year-old bulldog with sad and uncomprehending eyes quickly spread on social media.
It’s fortunate that the two dogs were caught on video, wryly quipped one friend; wounded Israelis – even a baby – do not elicit as much sympathy.
The rocket caused more than physical and psychological damage. It almost wiped out history. The Hamas attack – a week after the terrorist organization claimed two rockets were launched on Tel Aviv “in error” – triggered a round of violence. The escalation, including 60 rockets launched on Israel during one night, diverted attention from two news items that should have been the far bigger stories.
On March 26, Israel and Egypt marked 40 years to the peace agreement signed between prime minister Menachem Begin and president Anwar Sadat. Begin, who pulled Israeli civilians and soldiers out of the Sinai Peninsula as part of the peace agreement, was also the premier who in December 1981 pushed through the Golan Heights Law, extending Israeli rule to the strategic area.
This week, US President Donald Trump signed a proclamation recognizing that Israeli rule. It was a bold and welcome move. The US recognition did not reward “Israeli aggression,” as Israel’s enemies put it. On the contrary, in 1967 the Arab world launched a war they hoped would result in Israel’s annihilation. They – the aggressors – lost. Israel assumed control of the Golan, Gaza, Sinai and reunified Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria. The war was not about “the settlements.” There were no “settlements.” There was Israel, the Jewish state.
Israeli control of the Golan has saved Israel, not endangered Syria. Israel is not the cause of Syria’s failed state status. It has only itself to blame for that. As Iran tries to establish a hold over the Syrian side of the Golan Heights it’s worth remembering that Syrians from their position above the Sea of Galilee pre-June 1967 turned the fishermen on the Kinneret into sitting ducks and picked off Israeli farmers as they worked in their fields.
Of all the responses to the American move, the one by Human Rights Watch was the funniest, in both senses of the word. “A decision by the Trump administration to deny the reality of Israel’s occupation of the Golan Heights would demonstrate disregard for the protections due to the Syrian population under international humanitarian law,” Human Rights Watch declared following the president’s tweet of his intention. “Particularly amid continuing, serious rights abuses by Israel in the Golan Heights, Syrian residents need the continued protections under the law of occupation, including the prohibition against building settlements and extracting natural resources for the benefit of the occupier.”
Talk about denying reality. The quality of life of the Golan’s population of 50,000 – divided into almost equal numbers of Jews and Druze, with a tiny Alawite presence – has constantly improved over the years and is immeasurably better than that of the residents of neighboring Syria. During the civil war, Israeli hospitals and field hospitals provided healthcare to some 5,000 Syrians, brought across the border by the IDF in Operation Good Neighbor. Yes, that’s a military operation to save the lives of citizens in what is still officially an enemy state. And, for what it’s worth, Israel last week was ranked 13th in the UN’s World Happiness Report; Syria was 149th out of the 156 countries.
Even as the rockets flew, many Gazans admitted that life had been better when Israel controlled the area.
Egypt, which also suffers from the terrorist organizations based in Gaza and Sinai, struggled to bring about a ceasefire. It did not offer to resume control over the Strip where it ruled until 1967. Nor did it grant the Palestinians in Gaza independence. It refused to take responsibility for Gaza even as part of the 1979 peace agreement. But it’s doubtful that ultimately any real peace solution with the Palestinians in Gaza can be reached without them linking their fate to their Arabic-speaking, Sunni brethren rather than Israel.
Saturday, March 30, will be the first anniversary of the so-called “Great March of Return.” It’s been a year of violence and environmental terrorism. And I understand the frustration of the Negev residents who have put up with some 20 years of rocket attacks and have not seen the same response that followed from the devastation of one home in central Israel.
Hamas organizes protests and attacks against Israel because it needs an external enemy; something to prevent the Arab Spring phenomenon from toppling its own vicious and floundering regime. It has learned from the excruciating experience of Syria and elsewhere.
Syria swiftly called for the United Nations Security Council to convene over America’s recognition of Israel’s control over the Golan. Russia and China, permanent members of the UNSC, find themselves in a bind, condemning the long-term control of the Golan – a defensive measure – while having no qualms about invading Crimea or Tibet, or the Russian presence in Syria, for that matter.
When Trump announced out of the blue in December that he was pulling US forces out of Syria (he later backtracked somewhat), I was in Birmingham, participating in Limmud UK. I was asked what I thought of the surprise move. It is a serious blow to the Kurds who bravely battled ISIS often alone, I replied, but while it’s not good for Israel, it doesn’t present an existential threat. It could be mitigated by an act such as recognizing Israeli rule over the Golan Heights, I added, and so many eyes rolled in the heads of the polite audience that I almost felt the movement.
The disbelief came as much from the desire of some to find fault in everything and anything Trump does. Yet even those Israelis who are repulsed by his personality and style, admit he has proven to be a true friend. Moving the embassy to Jerusalem and pulling out of the Iran deal, for example, have broad support across the political spectrum except for the radical far Left.
Israel’s permanent presence on the Golan is also well within the Israeli consensus, particularly after the full withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 was followed by rockets in ever increasing numbers and range.
On a press tour of the Golan Heights last June, then-regional council head Eli Malka (now running with the Blue and White Party) took pride in discussing ways to develop the area and create new jobs and better transport without ruining the Golan’s best features: its countryside and nature, successful agriculture and wineries, and historical sites, including the more than 30 ancient synagogues. The Golan had particular Jewish importance following the revolt against the Romans, almost 2,000 years before the European powers divided the region according to their own interests and whims at the end of the First World War.
It’s not clear whether the current round of violence will escalate or die down, but obviously this is not a long-term peace of the type men of Begin and Sadat’s stature was able to bring about. Sadat, of course, wisely chose peace when he realized Israel could not be annihilated militarily following the Yom Kippur War.
The dilemma of how to act regarding both Gaza and the threats from over the northern border will face whoever leads the country after April 9. And while none of the party leaders running in the general election is perfect, I appreciate the democracy and freedom symbolized by those multiple ballot slips. The neighbors’ grass is not always greener. Syria’s struggles are far from over and the green in Gaza comes from Hamas flags. They are not waved in peace.