Thursday, May 20, 2004

Feeling bad
Were I not Israeli, I would very likely be pro-Palestinian too. We don’t come over as very nice, do we? And maybe we’re not. But then we’re not in the business of being nice, although we try so hard. We’re in the business of staying alive.

Many years ago, I saw an episode of a science fiction TV series that left a strong impression on me. I can’t even remember which series it was. I’m not crazy about science fiction, but this episode had a powerful anti-war message that stuck in my memory.

The story was of a planet in which a war had been going on for so many years that, at some point in the distant past, they had decided to do away with the messiness of real battle. The war had evolved into a virtual war. I can’t remember how exactly it was organized but the gist of it, I think, was that people were killed by lottery.

It was decided that, say, five hundred people from one side, and three hundred from the other, had to die in a certain development of the war, and so five hundred people from one side, and three hundred from the other would be chosen randomly, and receive summons to come and be put to death. A war of honor, as it were. Very tidy. Thus the war never ended. Only the people kept on dying.

Things changed only when people from outside, the human heroes of the series, showed the inhabitants of this planet how absurd the situation was.

Thinking back on this story, it crosses my mind that the people on the planet had done the Western thing: they’d tried to eliminate an ugly, brutal side of life; they’d tried to make war prettier, with horrible consequences.

Another thought that comes up is that maybe those know-it-all human visitors should have butted out.

I have been loath to discuss the ongoing military operation in Rafiah, even though I have no doubt of its necessity. Besides worrying about our soldiers, I suppose I had been holding my breath to see if we could manage to pull it off without any nasty mistakes. No such luck.

I am so sorry that an Israeli tank killed those children in Rafiah, even if it was by mistake. I think of their mothers. My worst nightmare has come true for them. I can hardly begin to imagine their terrible anguish.

In the Intifada in the late 80’s, friends fresh back from reserve duty told that in some Palestinian homes that they had entered to conduct searches, they had come across little kids chained to their beds, to keep them from going out to throw stones, and maybe get shot or arrested. Can you imagine trying to bring up kids in such conditions?

Today’s Palestinian mothers must be the sisters of those kids. I wonder if they still chain them to their beds or if they’ve just given up.

I have been along the border with Egypt in Rafiah. It runs right through the middle of the town, very dense urban landscape. When I was there, in the late eighties, I remember people’s homes being right next to the border fence, at least in the central part of the town. I suppose a lot of the buildings adjacent to the actual border have been leveled since, to destroy existing tunnels and to prevent the construction of new ones.

Even if we get out of the Gaza Strip tomorrow, tunneling and smuggling of weapons and explosives from Egypt will continue, and the need to combat this will persist. Probably even the need to go further into the Gaza Strip to destroy weapon factories and workshops. Israeli soldiers and Palestinian combatants and civilians will probably continue to be killed.

I no longer believe that leaving the territories will give us any moral justification in the eyes of the world, when the need to defend ourselves arises again, as it surely will, even right after disengagement, as they’re calling it now, probably even, horror of horrors, during the actual disengagement itself.

The Israeli Zionist left is deceiving itself. Ceasing to exist can be our only atonement. Maybe even that will not suffice.

This is not to say we shouldn’t leave the territories. We should, painful as it may be. The only question is when and, to a lesser extent, how.

One sentence jumps out at me from Haaretz’s report of yesterday’s incident: “Dozens of children marched at the head of the procession”. These people were marching towards an area that was under curfew, in the middle of a military operation, and they put the kids in front. Cynical bastards.

You say they are the weak side, so they have no choice but to act as they do. And I say we are the weak side, because we have feelings of guilt when we kill, and they do not*.

Our guilt will be the end of us. The Palestinians’ strength is that they have no such shackles. And they make good use of ours.

* I am aware that this is a generalization. Just as I know that not all Israelis feel guilty, I can imagine that not all Palestinians do not.

Update: R.T. to the rescue. He says it was an episode of Star Trek. I suspected as much.

Another update: A reader, Hillel (Sabba) Markowitz, explains:

The point of the episode was that when Captain Kirk destroyed the computers that automatically calculated "casualties" and the "casualty implementation stations" the other side's computers were programmed to fire real missiles to punish "noncompliance" with the treaty.

As soon as he took action, both sides immediately began frantically trying to disable their missile strike capability as they realized what had happened.

Somehow, I do not think that this would occur with our current adversaries.

Fighting in Rafiah
By Elliot Chodoff

The volume of nonsense appearing in Western media reports this week concerning the IDF operation in Rafiah in the Gaza Strip borders on the fantastic. Given that anything the IDF does is almost automatically condemned by these sources, and nearly any Palestinian terrorist act is met with at least understanding if not out right approval, this week has witnessed some of the most blatant distortions in both terminology and reporting seen in the current terrorist war.

The IDF began its operations in Rafiah early this week to attempt, once and for all, to neutralize two major security threats: the corridor along the Egyptian border which has been the target of countless attacks on IDF troops over the past four years, and the numerous tunnels which run under the corridor between Rafiah and its Egyptian sister city.

Last week, the deaths of 13 IDF soldiers at the hands of Palestinians in Gaza brought these two threats into sharp focus. Seven were killed in the corridor by roadside bombs, antitank ambushes, and snipers, and six were killed when their armored vehicle was destroyed by a roadside bomb in an operation to eliminate rocket factories in Gaza. In all cases, the weapons, ammunition and explosives were smuggled into Gaza through the Rafiah tunnels. This week it was decided to put an end to the flow of weapons from Egypt into Gaza.

Relatively high Palestinian casualties resulted, not from indiscriminate IDF fire, but from a number of behavioral phenomena on the Palestinian side. First, buoyed by their successes in the previous week, Palestinian gunmen made the often fatal mistake of thinking that they could take on the IDF in face to face combat. Second, the Palestinian gunmen used their regular technique of bringing noncombatants, especially children, into the combat zone. And third, Palestinian “bystanders” routinely exposed themselves to danger in the midst of ongoing combat.

Yesterday, the third of these phenomena led to the deaths of 8 Palestinians. In what has been termed a protest by the media, a group of hundreds of noncombatants mixed with gunmen marched toward the area in which IDF troops were engaged in combat against armed Palestinians. Ignoring orders to stop, including warning shots by a helicopter gunship and a tank, the crowd continued to approach until a tank shell, also fired in warning, exploded against an abandoned building. Immediate Palestinian reports of a massacre of 23 were soon reduced to 10, as some of the massacred turned out to be corpses removed from the hospital morgue. Later adjustments brought the total down again, this time to eight.

Naturally, Israel was condemned by the UN and most of the world for the incursion and the loss of life. It is patently unclear under which law this condemnation took place, as there is no provision in the rules of war for noncombatants marching into the midst of a firefight in mixed crowds with gunmen. It is also curious that the US abstained in the UN vote, even as reports came out of an American helicopter attack on an Iraqi wedding party left over 40 dead. Interesting how dangerous celebrations can appear when they include the indiscriminate fire of AK 47 assault rifles into the air.

Last but not least, some in Israel are using the incursion and the loss of life as evidence that Israeli settlements in Gaza are the root cause of all this evil. On this subject it should be clearly understood that regardless of whether one supports the Sharon disengagement plan or opposes it, IDF antiterrorist operations in Gaza will not end with the removal of settlements. They will only end with removal of terrorists.