Who says election promises are just words? Gaza's leaders promised war and delivered it
By AMOTZ ASA-EL
First, the good news, such as it was this week.The first good news is that the IDF is more efficient in Gaza than in Lebanon. The Strip's totally flat terrain and its lack of a hinterland make it generally easier to follow what is happening there and more difficult to transport large cargoes through it without being detected. Topography aside, it is also encouraging to see that the IDF's brass, from the chief of General Staff down, have learned to shut their mouths and avoid the cameras. That can't do us any harm.
Equally heartening has been our politicians' genuine effort to plan together, brief each other and generally harmonize in launching this campaign, even while some of them compete directly against each other in next month's general election; not to mention the delivery of the civilian defense authorities, who seem to have learned something since their underperformance in '06. And the South's population has also been responding maturely - as of this writing - to what is unfolding as its most militarily testing time since 1949.
And also positive has been the initial response of the international community to this week's violence. The silence of the Kremlin, the White House, the Elysee Palace and 10 Downing Street as well as China and even Egypt has once again demonstrated - as it did during the first days of the fighting in '06 - that Islamist fundamentalism is the international community's No. 1 scourge, even if its willingness to actively confront it remains inconsistent. Most governments would have been just fine had Israel done something swift that would silence Ismail Haniyeh, Mahmoud Zahar and Khaled Mashaal once and for all.
And that, where the ifs begin, is also where the good news ends.
THE TRUTH about Gaza is that it won't pacify; it's a matter of tradition. The only town in the Holy Land that was foolish enough to resist Alexander the Great, Gaza is also the city that consciously and voluntarily voted by a landslide for a leadership that promised it war, and not just war, but a war that had to cost it as dearly as it just has, and deliver yet more of the destitution, humiliation and despair which already had long been Gaza's hallmark.
Looking at Gaza's sorry skyline through my mother-in-law's living room in a nearby kibbutz, which is now in the process of attaching bomb-resistant cement cubes to its members' houses, I am reminded of Moshe Dayan's eulogy more than 50 years ago in the nearby Kibbutz Nahal Oz, above the fresh grave of Ro'i Rothenberg, a young farmer who was kidnapped, murdered and mutilated by Palestinians who had engaged in a conversation with him.
"We are a generation of settlers," said the general to the silent audience, "and if deprived of the steel helmet and the cannon barrel we will not be able to plant a tree or build a house." Then Dayan proceeded to discuss the enemy: "Let's not refrain from seeing the hatred that inflames and fills the lives of hundreds of thousands of Arabs around us. Let us not turn our eyes - lest our hand weaken. This is the destiny of our generation and the choice of our life - to be ready and armed, strong and tough."
It also is ours.
WE, JUST like Dayan in his time, must still appreciate the fact that the view in the opposite direction, from Gaza to our towns, is revolting for the Gazans. It serves them as a constant reminder not only of the lands they lost after choosing to attack the newly established Jewish state, but also of the backwardness to which they have since been condemned. For nowhere else do Israelis and Palestinians live in such numbers, in such proximity, and across fields so flat that our prosperity and their destitution contrast starkly even when viewed with the naked eye.
No, they are not going anywhere and neither is their wrath. Moreover, chances that a more pragmatic leadership will arrive in their midst and make them sensible remain low at best. I often think of what author Amos Oz told a bunch of us who sat with him for a long talk in his study, incidentally just when Ariel Sharon had announced his plan to unilaterally retreat from Gaza. "Why this abandonment," wondered the veteran peace activist, "why not give it to Abu Mazen, so he can show his people an accomplishment?"
Good question, actually. Why did Sharon, from his own viewpoint, not hand Gaza over by agreement to an established Palestinian leadership? Did he fear the tacit precedent such a move would have set for future relinquishments of land? Did he disparage Abu Mazen's leadership? Did he hope for Gaza's takeover by Islamism, and its leaders' consequent divorce from the West Bank's leaders?
We will never know all this. The jury will always be out, and suspicions will always be plausible that Sharon's unilateral departure from Gaza was not a break from, but the continuation of his other strategic blunders, from the invasion of Lebanon to the West Bank settlement drive, which split this society to its core and severely damaged our foreign relations.
All this will always be intriguing, but at the moment it is immaterial. What matters is that Gaza's presence is solid and its enmity implacable. Chances that less fanatic people will replace the leaders who led it to where it has arrived are about as good as chances for snow in Mecca.
It follows that we must take this thorn in our side as a given, and focus our thoughts not on how to change Gaza, which will never be up to us, but on how to defy it, which will always be up to nobody else but us.
For no military surprise, commando infiltration, aerial bombardment, armored flanking or infantry outflanking will make Gaza fade or its wrath vanish. Only the constant sight of the Jews across the border building, planting, multiplying and fending off enemies will eventually make them realize that the civilization with which they have chosen to clash also knows a thing or two about stubbornness, and that the nation with whom they picked a fight is the one that God Himself called stiff-necked.
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