My Word: Rockets and political science

As Eban put it in a speech in London in 1970: “History teaches us that men and nations behave wisely once they have exhausted all other alternatives.”

Building hit by rocket in Rishon Letzion 370 (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Building hit by rocket in Rishon Letzion 370
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
One of the strangest conversations I’ve ever had at a peace conference took place a few years ago in the lobby of a Moscow hotel, where a Palestinian representative of an NGO in Gaza took me, or at least The Jerusalem Post, to task for incorrectly identifying the rockets being launched at the Israeli South. Not all the missiles are Kassams, he pointed out. Kassams belong to Hamas; the rockets fired by Fatah were a different type. It was a Friday night and I didn’t write down the correct term to give Fatah credit for trying to kill my friends and compatriots. I’m not sure if I should apologize to readers or to the belligerent ostensible peace-seeker. I’ve no idea what happened to the Fatah aficionado in the wake of the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip in 2007. He might have bigger worries now than the exact wording of Jerusalem Post reports on the Islamist rulers.
I recalled the conversation, however, when my 11-year-old son mentioned something about Iranian Fajr-5 rockets in relation to the risks to Jerusalem’s holy sites. (I don’t attribute this entirely to piety. We live only a bus ride away, placing our own home in the possible firing line.) One of the things I resent about the ongoing hostilities is that they have turned even young Israelis into mini weapons experts. When I served in the IDF, in the build-up to the First Lebanon War, I was mainly concerned with Russian-made Katyushas, which I sometimes had to dodge as I passed through places like Kiryat Shmona on my way to base.
During the (First) Gulf War, we all learned of Iraqi Scuds. I don’t remember at what point we started numbering not only the wars but also the makes of the Kassam missiles. And you could tell things were bad when we began to distinguish the Iranian/Russian Grads as missiles that could hit the Beersheba area.
During Operation Pillar of Defense this month, between sirens, we all become rocket scientists, able to tell the difference between the homemade Kassams that the BBC and world media seemed to consider harmless – ignoring the psychological and physical scars they inflict – and the various weapons that sent Jerusalemites and Tel Avivians to their shelters.
The peace seminar I was attending in 2006 was cosponsored by the United Nations and the Russian Foreign Ministry. I should have known better – no, not about the missiles, about what to expect. I don’t suppose that world peace or even peace in the Middle East will be achieved with the help of either that global body or the Russian Republic.
I’m writing these lines before Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas requests that the UN grant the PLO-controlled PA the status of a non-member observer state. Going on past (bitter) experience, I feel fairly confident in relying on the insight of the eminently quotable former diplomat and foreign minister Abba Eban regarding the General Assembly: “If Algeria introduced a resolution declaring that the earth was flat and that Israel had flattened it, it would pass by a vote of 164 to 13 with 26 abstentions.”
The Palestinians, of course, consider it symbolic to seek a state on November 29; Israelis consider it ironic. The former could have gained independence on November 29, 1947, had their brethren been less committed to trying to destroy the Jewish state. But, as Eban also noted: “The Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”
I’m not convinced, by the way, that Abbas’s main motivation is to separate from Israel. He is also keeping his eyes on Gaza, where he currently has no control despite much-publicized reconciliation efforts, and he needs to keep his own party relevant.
And here lies the crux of the problem with the latest Palestinian bid for statehood. Most Israelis, including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, would be willing for a two-state solution but the Palestinians have in effect created their own two states, with Israel squashed uncomfortably in between them.
Obviously, one of the challenges of the Palestinians’ unilateral bid is that the UN would be granting observer-state status to a country without borders. That it’s a quasi-state without a democracy doesn’t seem to bother the UN at all – it’s par for the course for a very large part of its membership.
The optimistic believe that the statehood move could be used as a means of furthering a diplomatic process if handled properly (and fortunately the prime minister and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman seem to have realized that the more bombastic their threatened responses the greater the Palestinian PR coup). But the Israeli leadership is concerned, with good reason, that success in the UN will open the gates to the Palestinians in other international bodies, among them the International Court of Justice, where they are likely to seek the prosecution of most of the top Israeli military and political echelons.
Eban had a few words for it, describing the aftermath of the Six Day War as “...the first war in history that on the morrow the victors sued for peace and the vanquished called for unconditional surrender.”
If missiles have different names, they also have different addresses.
Their destination might be the same (Israeli citizens wherever they might be), but Israel has the right to know what name goes in the “Return to sender” slot.
I’m not among the “flatten Gaza” advocates (although I don’t think we needed to continue to supply it with electricity even as it showered us with its firepower). But there’s a way to – diplomatically – show the Palestinian Authority that the benefits of statehood come with certain obligations. If Abbas wants to accept responsibility for Gaza as part of his quasi state, he must also accept responsibility for the missiles launched from there (whatever they’re called).
Abbas can seek sovereignty, but what about our sovereign rights, which we accepted along with the duties 65 years ago? These include raising our children in peace.
The Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh on November 25 wrote a news story indicating that not much has changed since my interlocutor in Moscow sought credit for what decent people everywhere should consider an atrocity. Perhaps the Fatah guy talking to me about rocket terminology did not flee Hamas after all. Abu Toameh noted that several armed groups belonging to Fatah in the Gaza Strip boasted on November 24 “that they had also fired various types of rockets and missiles at Israel during Operation Pillar of Defense.
“A spokesman for the groups, which are affiliated with Fatah’s armed wing, the Aksa Martyrs’ Brigade, told reporters that his men fired 516 rockets and missiles at Israel during the conflict.”
I’m willing to give credit where credit’s due: Since I don’t have a voice at the UN General Assembly or international law court, I’ll make do with recording Fatah’s so-called achievements in these pages (which they evidently read).
Funnily enough, most Israelis when they seek credit or publicity ask that I give it for defense technologies, medical advances and scientific breakthroughs. But each to its own.
As Eban put it in a speech in London in 1970: “History teaches us that men and nations behave wisely once they have exhausted all other alternatives.”
Unfortunately, the wait itself is more than exhausting, it’s dangerous.
The writer is editor of The International Jerusalem Post. [email protected]