Rattling the Cage: Getting nostalgic over Gaza

The disengagement isn't to blame for Hamas. This is just nature taking its course in Gaza.

larry derfner 88 (photo credit: )
larry derfner 88
(photo credit: )
A consensus seems to have formed in Israel that the disengagement from Gaza was a deadly mistake - that it caused a steep escalation of the Kassams falling on Sderot and, most recently, allowed Hamas to take over the Strip. In all, according to the new Israeli wisdom, the removal of Israeli settlers and soldiers from the Gaza 21 months ago has badly weakened Israel's security. This consensus, for the most part, is a crock. The IDF Spokesman's Office says about 1,550 Kassams have landed on Sderot and its environs since the disengagement in mid-September 2005. But the Kassams started landing on Sderot four years earlier, when the IDF was dug in the Strip and Israeli settlers were living in Gush Katif. In those last four years before disengagement, Palestinians in Gaza fired some 4,600 Kassam rockets on Sderot. So nothing's changed on that score. There are no more rockets hitting Sderot now than there were in the "good old days." However, the number of Israelis killed by Gaza Palestinians has changed dramatically since disengagement - for the better. Since the last IDF soldier left the Strip until now, eight Israelis have been killed by Palestinians in Gaza - four civilians in Sderot, and four soldiers, according to the Foreign Ministry's Web site. Another soldier, Gilad Shalit, has been kidnapped. By comparison, in the five years from the start of the second intifada until disengagement, 148 Israelis were killed by Gaza Palestinians - 91 soldiers and 57 civilians. In addition, 11 foreign civilians were killed by Gazans in that time. So in terms of bloodshed, there's nothing to discuss - Gaza was many, many times more deadly for Israelis before the disengagement than it's been since. PEOPLE SEEM to have blocked it out of their memory, but Gaza, when we were occupying it, was a local synonym for hell, for the worst place on earth. Gaza was where 8,000 Israeli settlers and thousands of Israeli soldiers were surrounded by 1.4 million Palestinians. That's why we got out of there, and that's why everybody except the hardline Right was deeply relieved and grateful to Ariel Sharon for making it happen. Regarding Hamas's "coup" last week, does anybody remember which Palestinian organization in the Strip was the strongest, by far, on the eve of Israel's departure? Was it the Khan Yunis branch of Overseas Republicans? Was it Yisrael Beitenu? No, it was Hamas. What happened in Gaza last week wasn't a coup at all, it was more of a Hamas mopping-up operation against Fatah. The status quo in Gaza was hardly affected; now Hamas is 100% in control instead of only 98%. The outcome of that brief, almost completely one-sided civil war only formalized Hamas's position; de facto, it has been ruling the Strip for years, even under the guns of the IDF. The disengagement isn't to blame for Hamas. This is just nature taking its course in Gaza - and thank God Israelis are outside the killing fields instead of in the middle of them. I agree, Hamas's dramatic victory is fearful. It's fearful for Israel, for Egypt, for Jordan, for everyone in the world who isn't an Islamic militant, while for the militants it's a shot in the arm. It could be disastrous, but on the other hand it could be the start of something better - a more urgent approach by Israel and Egypt to deal with the smuggling of weapons from Sinai, through the tunnels dug underneath the Philadelphi corridor, into the waiting hands of Gaza's Palestinians. Weapons smuggling is the one thing that clearly has gotten worse since disengagement - which is not to say smuggling wasn't a problem before. The intifada in Gaza didn't run on homemade weapons, nor did it run on the "Oslo rifles." It ran on the arsenal that was transported through those tunnels, which have been dug there for the last 20 years, and which the IDF never succeeded in shutting down. But it's gotten worse since the IDF left, and Israel, naturally, is putting the blame on Egypt. A story this week in The New York Times, though, says Egypt, aware of the threat it faces from Hamas, has been working steadily harder over the years to cut off the flow of arms, but finds that the Bedouin smugglers are nearly unstoppable. (Bedouin smugglers are also nearly unstoppable for Israeli Border Police patrolling the Egyptian border for prostitutes, drugs, stolen cigarettes and other valuable "items" on their way to Israel.) SO MAYBE it's time now for Israel to stop blaming and start taking the steps necessary to block the weapons from reaching Hamas. Egypt, according to a recent Jerusalem Post editorial, wants to increase its anti-smuggling forces at the Gaza border from 750 to 6,000, but Israel objects because this would relax the rules of demilitarization in the Camp David peace treaty, and anyway Israel thinks the real problem is that Egypt isn't trying hard enough. But maybe the Times article is correct, and Egypt is trying to stop the weapons smuggling as hard as it can, and the real problem - this is my suggestion, not the Times's - is that Israel won't allow Egypt to put enough soldiers near the Gaza border to solve the problem. Israel's leaders should ask themselves: Who's the bigger threat to Israel today - Egypt or Hamas? And who's the bigger threat to Egypt today - Israel or Hamas? We have a clear common interest with Egypt in weakening Gaza's rulers, and if Israel's leaders will recognize this and act on it along the Philadelphi corridor, Hamas's triumph in Gaza may become much less of a triumph than it now seems. The rise of Hamas has the potential to strengthen an anti-Islamist partnership between Israel and the moderate Arab world, starting with Egypt, without which I doubt that the fight against Islamism can be won. And if this partnership is forged, and the military threat of Hamas in Gaza is blunted, and the momentum of Hamas's victory is stopped, then the disengagement from Gaza will exceed Israelis' expectations of success. As things stand, disengagement hasn't lived up to those expectations. The Kassams are still flying, the Egyptians haven't shut down the weapons smugglers. This is why so many Israelis consider disengagement a failure. But if you compare the amount of suffering and death the Gaza Strip is causing us today to the amount it caused us before we left, then disengagement remains, on balance, a success. And remember - getting out of Gaza was only necessary because Israel, in its arrogance, decided after the Six Day War to keep it. The occupation, not the disengagement, was the real mistake, the original sin.