My Word: Construction, destruction and peace protesters

Israelis are expected to know what to do in a “routine emergency.” It’s the unexpected emergencies that we have trouble with.

Kassam rockets being fired from the Gaza Strip 521 (photo credit: Nikola Solic / Reuters)
Kassam rockets being fired from the Gaza Strip 521
(photo credit: Nikola Solic / Reuters)
‘Will there be a siren?” and “Should we go to the shelter or outside?” These were the two questions I was most frequently asked by friends and colleagues ahead of last week’s major earthquake drill.
Each time I answered (“no” to the first question; “it depends which is closer” to the second) I couldn’t help but think how very Israeli the situation was. Israelis are expected to know what to do in an oh-so-oxymoronic “routine emergency.” It’s the unexpected emergencies (like tremors) that we have trouble with.
Having to figure out whether this is a “the ground’s trembling under my feet” type of potential disaster or “there are missiles falling from the sky” situation – an act of nature or an act of war – is a routine no one wants to get used to.
The well-oiled Palestinian PR machine (and we know where the oil wells are located) constantly churns out an image of a people under siege.
Writing on a day when I first checked how friends in the South are coping with an increased missile barrage from Gaza, permit me to say that if anyone’s under siege it is those residents of the Negev, Ashkelon and elsewhere who have to stay close to their shelters – very close, because, depending on where they live, they have between seven seconds and half a minute to grab their children, older relatives and pets and get to safety. As the cynics note, even Olympic sprint legend Usain Bolt wouldn’t be able to do it from a distance of 200 meters, let alone a mother of three from Sderot, an old lady in Beersheba or a young boy in Ashkelon.
When I received a press release from Adalah-NY: The New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel gleefully informing me that “New Yorkers will protest at Carnegie Hall with music, songs, chants and street theater against the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO) and its complicity in Israel’s apartheid policies against the Palestinian people,” I actually laughed. After a day glued to news reports of missiles and mortars being lobbed at my friends’ homes and worrying about the soldiers – children of friends – serving in the area, it wasn’t hard to think of the planned protest as a bad joke.
Just after I received Adalah’s threat/promise (when the daily missile tally was approaching 80 projectiles), my e-mail inbox received another statement to the press, this one announcing that “the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Mr. Robert Serry, marked the annual United Nations Day, celebrated on 24 October around the world, by a visit to the UN Gaza office and an UNRWA project in Gaza.
“‘During my visit, there was another escalation of violence between Israel and Gaza, which I deeply deplore. I call on all parties to show maximum restraint and return to the calm,’ Mr. Serry said.”
Serry has obviously had no more luck bringing peace to even this tiny part of the region than his counterparts have had in Syria, where some 35,000 have been killed in recent months, but that’s just an aside.
While Israel came under a wave of rocket fire, and criticism for responding, Gaza turned into a strange tourist attraction. A group of international activists, including several lawmakers, attempted to break the sea embargo on the Gaza Strip – the embargo placed to try to prevent more weapons reaching the area.
The Swedish-owned, Finnish-flagged Estelle was more a “ship in the night” than a flotilla and I hate to give its passengers extra publicity.
I would like to point out, however, that had they truly wanted to reach Gaza, they could have tried legally crossing the border from either Egypt or Israel.
In any case, Gaza seems to be managing without their help, which included (according to another press release launched into my inbox) 41 tons of cement. Or so it would seem from the visit by the emir of Qatar.
When Emir Hamad bin Thani inaugurated a new housing project in Khan Yunis together with Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh on October 23, Haniyeh said the housing project will provide homes for 3,000 families.
I couldn’t have been the only person thinking I’d rather have bin Thani as a friend than an enemy: If he can get thousands of homes built in Gaza – while a chorus of human rights organizations large enough to fill Carnegie Hall protests that Israel is causing a humanitarian disaster there – just think what he could do in Jerusalem, for example. Sorry, bad example. The same chorus, lining up behind the European Union representative Catherine Ashton does not want housing in Jerusalem, at least not for Jews. Some 30,000 residents live in the capital’s Gilo neighborhood, but the plans to add more housing units there have been shot down by the international community as “detrimental” to the peace process. (That’s admittedly one stage under “deplorable,” but in diplomatic terms it’s still close to “Don’t do it.”) Most Gilo residents in their early teens or older, by the way, can sympathize from bitter experience with Israel’s sporadically besieged southerners: Rockets from the Palestinian-controlled areas around Bethlehem rained down on the neighborhood during the second intifada. The attacks were, in fact, the type of behavior that the opponents of disengagement from Gaza often noted.
The disengagement/pullout/withdrawal/ expulsion – whatever you want to call it – is significant in this context. After all, Israel removed every last citizen – even those who had to be exhumed from cemeteries – and for five years the only Israeli in Gaza was abducted soldier Gilad Schalit. His release in exchange for more than 1,000 Palestinian terrorists last October was hailed by Hamas as a victory and “the way to go.”
In common with the Qatari emir, incidentally, I happen to think that construction of homes, hospitals – and yes, even more five-star hotels and shopping malls to host any “peace activist” who actually does make it to Gaza’s beautiful beaches – is a good thing.
A peace treaty is obviously a long way off, but economic stability could lead to some quiet at least. In the meantime, all sorts of questions wander through my mind: For instance, the emir might be able to travel to Gaza – I suspect Hamas is open to a new patron given the plight of its Iranian backer – but what would happen were Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to try to set foot on Gaza’s shores? Hamas and its jihadist allies don’t mind hosting Western parliamentarians and selfstyled peace activists, but the Fatah leader would likely be met by “open arms” of the more sinister kind: gunfire.
Something else to ponder is how you both construct a 3,000-unit housing project and maintain that the Palestinians should retain their refugee status throughout the generations.
Many Israelis, from the prime minister down, have pointed out that those truly concerned with a humanitarian crisis should turn their attention elsewhere – to the casualties of the civil war raging in Syria, for instance, or the unsung human rights victims throughout the Arab world, even post-Arab Spring. I say the Gazans, and that includes the women, Christians and other minority communities there, also deserve freedom, but it’s not Israel that’s repressing them. And by the way, I recommend listening to the music played by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra rather than the noise made by Hamas and its supporters.
The writer is editor of The International Jerusalem