At Large

An Unfolding Nightmare

Israel's withdrawal from Gaza has given terrorists new life.

By 11.3.05

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JERUSALEM -- "'Let them give us compensation like they gave Nisanit and Elei Sinai, and we'll leave,' one resident said recently" -- thus reports the Israeli daily Haaretz. Nisanit and Elei Sinai were two of the recently evacuated Gaza communities. The speaker lives in the small village of Netiv Ha'asara, slightly north of Gaza in pre-1967 territory.

The problem is that since the Gaza withdrawal, life in Netiv Ha'asara has become unbearable. Three and a half months ago, already slightly before the withdrawal, a young woman was killed there by a mortar shell. Since then the village has been hit several times, and on Wednesday, as Haaretz describes it:

Five people were lightly wounded...by mortar shells fired at [it]....The blasts cut off electricity at Netiv Ha'asara and at adjacent Kibbutz Yad Mordechai. One shell hit a vehicle, spraying shrapnel on a young man standing nearby. Another shell made a direct hit on a home.

The article adds that "more and more members of [the community] are talking about leaving, but given the current security situation, it is obviously hard to sell homes."

As in Netiv Ha'asara, so in the other Israeli communities surrounding Gaza. Ynetnews, the English website of Israel's largest daily Yediot Aharonot, reports: "Ongoing firing of Qassam rockets toward Israeli towns and kibbutzim surrounding Gaza Strip raises fear that children may be hit by rockets while in unprotected nursery schools, kindergartens." It quotes one parent from Kibbutz Gevin: "I am very very fearful for my children. It doesn't matter how much you guide children and tell them to put their hands over their head. A hand over the head will not protect them from a Qassam which will open a hole in the ceiling."

How did things come to such a pass? It happened because Israel, which has become less Zionist and more like a typical democracy, behaved dysfunctionally toward a security situation. Clearly, the reality before the disengagement, when the Israeli communities within Gaza were under attack, was difficult. The Gaza settlers, however, were a hardy, ideological lot few of whom could be goaded to leave by the bombardments. The Israelis living near Gaza are more ordinary citizens who do not accept a constant, terrifying threat to themselves and their children as part of the bargain.

Remaining in Gaza and letting the settlements be shellacked was also, of course, no solution. The stark reality that faced Israel was one of terrorist aggression that could only be dealt with by military defeat, including the reconquering of Gaza if necessary. Israel conquered Gaza in 1948, 1956, and 1967 -- never out of ideology, always in response to terrorist or military belligerence. Gaza is a piece of land bordering Israel that is ripe in every way for terrorist activity and infiltration. The 1967 Joint Chiefs of Staff study on defensible borders for Israel concluded that Israel needed to retain all of Gaza, and stated:

By occupying the Gaza Strip, Israel would trade approximately 45 miles of hostile border for eight. Configured as it is, the strip serves as a salient for introduction of Arab subversion and terrorism, and its retention would be to Israel's military advantage.

Israel has so far responded to the bombardments of the Gaza-bordering communities with its air force and artillery -- in a manner ludicrously ineffective. A teeming domain of over a million hostile Arabs in which thousands of religiously motivated terrorists hide among the civilians and in underground shelters cannot be defeated or even deterred by a few bombs or shells. Already two NGOs -- a Gazan one and an Israeli one -- have teamed up to petition Israel's Supreme Court against Israel's overflights of Gaza on grounds that the sonic booms are psychologically harming the residents.

Moreover, ynetnews also reports that "the air force's activity over the Strip...is very dangerous" and quotes an air force officer: "While in the past there were estimates that the terror organizations have [shoulder-fired anti-aircraft] missiles, today -- in light of the smuggling through the breached southern border -- I can say for certain that they have such missiles."

And the threat to the border communities is only a small part of the unfolding security nightmare that Israel brought upon itself by handing land to the enemy without strategic logic. As most of the security establishment predicted before the pullout, the theater has shifted mainly to the West Bank with an intensification of terror there, which has included a Zarqawi-style kidnapping and murder of an Israeli citizen, a drive-by attack on a hitchhiking post that killed three, a suicide bombing in the town of Hadera that killed five, and many other incidents.

As for the 700 Egyptian border guards emplaced along Gaza's border with Egypt, they have proved -- as also predicted by cooler heads -- to be a bad joke as terrorists and weaponry stream into the Strip (as alluded to by the air force officer). Terrorists are also leaving the Strip, circling through the Sinai, and infiltrating Israel further south in large numbers. More generally, the terror organizations, which by late last year had been weakened by an ongoing Israeli campaign against them, have responded to their free gift of land by rebounding both psychologically and operationally.

The denial of danger, the flight from logic and necessity in a desperate attempt to escape violence, is common to democracies. In Israel's case, given its smallness and location, the tendency is especially worrisome.

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About the Author

P. David Hornik is a writer and translator in Beersheva, Israel, blogging at PDavidHornik.typepad.com.