The two faces of the Gaza Strip were on full display this week, displaying the “dilemma of Gaza” which vexes anyone who cares about human rights.
In the past week, Grad missiles have been fired at Netivot, anti-aircraft fire has been directed at IDF forces along the Gaza border, and Qassam rockets landed near Ashkelon. Thankfully, no one was injured in these attacks.
That the rocket fire from Gaza was ineffective is certainly a blessing, but it doesn’t mitigate the crime. Some argue that the relatively low number of fatalities fromm Qassam attacks (14 by recent estimates) renders these attacks of limited importance. But any death from willful attacks on civilians is the greatest possible violation of human rights, and I’ve witnessed first-hand the terror these attacks can produce among residents of southern Israel.
Israel, of course, attacked Gaza in response, killing three as of this article’s writing (no word yet on whether the people killed or those reported injured had anything to do with any attacks on Israel). The militants taking these haphazard potshots at Israel seem unconcerned with the fact that their actions are not only ineffectual, but bring further destruction down on the already devastated Strip.
But the various Palestinian groups in Gaza (the Popular Resistance Committees and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine seem to be carrying out these attacks against the wishes of Hamas) do not have a corner on the market of foolish, ineffectual, criminal and cruel actions. Both sides use the actions of the other to justify their actions. The rocket attacks “justify” Israel’s siege and the siege “justifies” the rocket attacks. They are mirror images of each other.
A video series highlighted this week in both YNET (Israel’s most popular, and populist, English news web site) and the New York Times presents the faces of the overwhelming majority of Gazans who have nothing to do with attacks on Israel. The siege under which they suffer has no practical or ethical justification, and it needs to end.
Palestinian rocket attacks intentionally target civilians, an obvious crime. They also endanger Palestinian civilians, because they provide justification and legal basis for some Israeli actions, which might endanger, harm or even kill innocent civilians. That Israel has taken steps far beyond what it is allowed, by law, good sense and ethics, to do in response doesn’t change the fact that the rocket attacks are launched with the intent of murdering innocent Israelis and thus expose the civilians of Gaza to real and serious risk from legitimate Israeli defensive actions.
By the same token, Palestinian rocket attacks cannot begin to justify the ongoing siege of the Gaza Strip. The siege, which has prevented most reconstruction after last year’s devastation, has not accomplished any of the goals Israel has stated for it. The people of Gaza have not risen up against Hamas, Gilad Shalit remains captive, Hamas has re-armed itself and the frequency of rocket attacks is not much different from that which prevailed during the “truce” which held through the summer and autumn of 2008.
The siege has frozen the already crippled Gaza economy, and smuggling goods through tunnels into the Strip is virtually the only industry that is growing there. As this video in Hebrew demonstrates, even if you don’t speak the language, the taxes Hamas gathers on the consumer goods being smuggled in gives them a steady source of income. Hamas gets its rockets and its money, while the people of Gaza get only basic food staples and medicine.
All the siege accomplishes is to further diminish Israel’s already badly damaged image, harm its relations with its few allies in the Muslim world, increase the difficulty of returning to negotiations with the Palestinians and, of course, greatly magnify the suffering in Gaza.
Both the siege and the rocket attacks harm the side taking the action, and at best do them no counter-balancing good. Yet they continue. Either side could cease their destructive actions with no harm to their own positions. And still they don’t.
One looks at the firing of rockets into Israel and wonders what the perpetrators think they are going to gain by these actions. Any perception they may have that such actions give Palestinians the feeling that they are at least striking backis overwhelmingly negated by the damage Israel does in its response.
Israel is virtually married to maintaining the siege, according to those I’ve spoken with in the State Department who have tried to convince the Israelis to relax some of the restrictions. There seems to be a devout belief in Jerusalem that the siege will accomplish something, despite its failure to do so until now.
More likely, though, there is a reluctance to admit the strategy has failed and concern that the Israeli public will then ask what the government will do now, a question to which the Israeli leadership has no answer. It is the political need to do something, which often eclipses the question of whether the something being done is actually effective.
And so there are two faces on each side. In Gaza there are the militants firing rockets at Israeli civilians while the populace suffers under a siege and an increasingly unpopular Hamas government. In Israel, there are the people in the south living under constant fear of attack while the country as a whole turns a blind eye to the massive and pointless suffering being inflicted in Gaza.
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