Oshri_Oz.jpgSderot resides next to Gaza. Even before the Disengagement, Palestinian rockets were being launched at the town. Accuracy was a serious problem and the number of hits was small. Then came the Disengagement, but even though every single Jewish soldier and every single Jewish resident of Gaza were moved out of Gaza, the rocket attacks continued. One day, the Palestinians also attacked an IDF position outside of Gaza, killing some soldiers and kidnapping Gilad Shalit.

The rockets have continued unabated since the Disengagement and appear to be hitting Sderot with far greater accuracy, suggesting progress in Palestinian rocket technology. Some have likened living in Sderot to playing Russian roulette. For example, yesterday, an Israeli visitor to Sderot from an area in central Israel called Hod HaSharon, Oshri Oz (see photo), was killed because his car was in the wrong place at the wrong time. A piece of shrapnel from the Qassem rocket pierced his neck and he died shortly after. He leaves behind a pregnant wife and a 2 year old daughter.

Of course, while this is russian roulette for those who reside or visit Sderot, for the Palestinians this is a strategic play. They want to keep Israel engaged with Gaza, but they also want to make it clear that they want into Israel. The rockets right now have a range limited to western Negev communities and S. Ashkelon, a larger city, but the improved accuracy and larger number being launched mean real danger and real damage for all of Israel. Anybody thinking about Iranian and Hizbullah military and economic support for Hamas – both of which apparently exist – can envision a day in 5-10 years when those Palestinian rockets will reach much farther into Israel. Hamas is also learning from Hizbullah, according to a senior defense official in Israel, to launch from civilian centers. This, of course, means that any attempt to stop the attack or retaliate against the launching crew involves the possibility of hitting Palestinian civilians. This, in turn, leads to cynical propaganda eaten up by the journalists in the West.

This is where the excellent opinion editorial by Ari Shavit in today’s Ha’aretz comes into play.

Sderot is Us, Shavit calls it, and his point is strong and important: these attacks are not only against Sderot, but are attacks on the concept of a two-state solution, on the idea that peace will be possible with the Palestinians, on the nature of what Israel’s borders are, and on the future of Israel itself. He notes that if Sderot is hit, no other disengagement will ever work. Furthermore, he adds that it is not only the Palestinians who are teaching and learning from these attacks, but the fact that Sderot has not garnered the support of Israel’s peace camp and tepid support from Israel’s politicians is also instructive.

So the basic fact remains: Sderot 2007 is a city that seems cursed. A frontier city with no home front. A frontier city with no aura of heroism. A frontier city that the government should protect, but isn’t protecting. A frontier city that the nation should be standing behind, but is not. A frontier city abandoned by the center of the country.

It should not have been like this. Sderot is not Gush Katif. There is no debate. On the contrary: Sderot is a “Green Line” city. Sderot is a post-withdrawal city. Sderot is the righteous Israeli city after the occupation. Sderot is the future. Indeed, it is the litmus test that will teach us in real time what we can expect in the future when we withdraw completely. This being the case, Sderot should have been the apple of the eye of all those preaching withdrawal in the past, and of everyone who still believes in withdrawal. Sderot should have been the city of peace writers and peace singers and peace industrialists. A “peace now” city. A city of Israeli solidarity. A city of mutual responsibility. A city where strong Israelis stand together with Israelis who are less strong in the face of Islamic zealotry.

All this is not happening.

Read the rest below the fold, it’s important!

He goes on to list some of the weak responses to the attacks, suggesting that they reveal an absence of wisdom:

The attack on Sderot is a strategic attack on peace. It is an attack on the two-state solution. If the attack succeeds, there will be no chance of any future withdrawal. If the attack succeeds, the occupation will be perpetuated. Therefore, before the great political decision is made on how to act in Gaza, a moral decision has to be made about Sderot. Sderot must become the national project of the current period. Its residents cannot be expected to confront the Qassams alone. In the face of buses removing people from the city, buses of supporters must set out for it. In the face of the economic collapse of Sderot should come an unprecedented economic embrace of it by government and nongovernment bodies alike.

At the same time, it should be made clear that there is one law for Sderot and Tzahala [ed.: upscale neighborhood north of Tel Aviv]: A Qassam on Sderot is like a Qassam on Kikar Hamedina [ed.: central location where many of the country’s largest demonstrations have been held]. The insensitivity has got to stop. Sderot has to be defined as the Israeli front line. The struggle for the city should be viewed as both a struggle for Israeli sovereignty and as a symbol of the responsibility of Israelis for each other.

Sderot is us, all of us. We rise and fall with Sderot.

I don’t know that I expect Israelis to head over there in support, but I do expect those who advocate most strongly for a two state solution to make some sort of stand. Instead, they tend to shake their heads, tsk tsk a whole bunch in a condescending tone and tell us that it’s obvious this should happen since unilateral withdrawals are stupid.

Actually, people who say that are being short-sighted because if they believe that having Israelis occupy Palestinian areas is immoral then it is quite moral to evacuate these areas. If they would like some magical partner to appear on the other side to negotiate these withdrawals, then they are dreaming because no such person exists. Abbas is too weak and Hamas would not stop anyway (I include their sub-groups which they use as cover when attacking by claiming a different Islamic group committed the attack). Also, if one believes occupation is immoral, then every inch from which Israel withdraws enhances its position. The day Israel left Gaza was an important day in this regard.

For those who say, “You shouldn’t have done it unilaterally” or who say, “What do you expect as long as the Palestinians are also ‘occupied’ in the West Bank or have no state of their own,” I would say, “They will not get either a state or a withdrawal, ever, if they attack those towns and cities that are within the Green Line after receiving control of their own areas.” Nobody wants to be suicidal and if Gaza was a test of withdrawal, the lesson is clear: the Palestinians will keep attacking.

While this is depressing, it is also important because it teaches us that our best hopes may not match reality and therefore a new understanding of the situation might be necessary, even by those of us who strongly support a two-state solution and the removal of Israel from the majority of the territories. No, I don’t expect Peace Now or Yossi Beilin to make it a point to show up in Sderot in solidarity, but I believe that it’s time the government expended serious resources in this regard and made it clear both to Israelis and to Palestinians that it perceives Sderot, the western Negev and Ashkelon as important, as Shavit says, as any upscale neighborhood in central Israel. In fact, it perceives it as more important because it is the front-line and it represents the border – not just a physical one, but a mental border, as well, showing what Israel will and will not accept from its enemies. This is war.

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  • People seem to be forgeting it is war. It’s sad they need reminders.

  • Sderot is everywhere. It is only a matter of time until Hamas gets the far-reaching Grad missles ready that they reportedly have. Also, the situation now provides a glimpse of what will happen if Israel would enact a unilateral disengagement plan for Golan and the West Bank.

  • At least Israel is going after Hamas leadership targets pretty aggressively in Gaza. Isn’t this a way of addressing Hamas’s rocket attacks?

    I’m not sure if you’re backing away from support for a two-state approach, but I don’t see the Hamas attacks as somehow vitiating that solution. If you are backing away from it, I’d be curious to know why (stipulating that it’s self-evident Hamas isn’t a viable negotiating partner).

  • I still support a two state solution and still believe that the Israel’s Taba offer, with some revisions, is the outline for peace.

    What I’m saying is different. Those people who advocate for a two state solution and for a negotiated peace, particularly those on the left side of the political spectrum, have to recognize that Sderot and the western Negev represent an urgent warning and in fact a red line for any such hopes.

    The Disengagement from Gaza was a crucial event on the path to a resolution to the Israel-Palestinian component of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Israel took active steps to remove itself and its authority from Gaza. This put control in the hands of the Palestinans. Their response has been a simple one: to move the front line into Israel proper, into the part of Israel that should not be under dispute at all. In fact, as Shavit points out, this is considered a frontier. People like me, who want many of the settlements shut down (despite a strong sense that Israelis have a historic and moral right to be present in some of those areas), have often said, “Leave the West Bank or Gaza and invest the same time, money and energy building up areas inside the Green Line such as the Negev and Galillee.” Why? Because there is consensus about the Green Line across the board.

    Well, except, it seems, among the Palestinians. They are now violating the Green Line after the Disengagement and cannot use the excuse of “occupation” any longer. They are challenging the very essence of any future compromise. They are also undermining trust that they will ever abide by a peace deal.

    If they seek war, then they deserve war. Israel isn’t being anywhere as aggressive as it needs to be in Gaza, but that’s because the lesson of how to manipulate the media has been internalized effectively by some of Israel’s enemies: use civilians as cover and shield.

    More important, however, is that many people who support peace, a two state solution and the suffering of the Palestinians should be streaming to Sderot or at least screaming about what is happening there to anybody who can hear or read. While there is one aspect of this war that uses rockets, bombs and guns, there is another aspect of this war which is no less critical: the absolute right of Sderot to exist in peace and security. Those who wish to entrust the Palestinians with a state must take steps to make it clear that Sderot is a red line. Sderot is Israel.

  • I suppose the Israeli left has a difficult time with cognitive dissonance.

    Isn’t part of the problem that Israel’s tried occupying Gaza, and that occupation exacted costs that made withdrawal, however painful, strategically worthwhile? There may be no good solutions here, short of hoping that the Palestinians come to their senses and acknowledge that Hamas militancy has gotten them nowhere– instead, set them back.

  • Tom, the Palestinian strategy has always been to get whatever land they can get and to use it as a launching pad for future attacks on Israel proper. This has never been a secret; it has just been wilfully ignored by people who insist on misdiagnosing the real reason for Palestinian violence against Jews and Israel.

    The Palestinians do not want a state, they want to destroy Israel. Well-meaning people think that if Israel makes enough concessions the Palestinians will somehow “come to their senses” and make peace. This is only because they think this is a simple territotial dispute. But it isn’t.

    In short, the people who support Hamas militancy don’t think that militancy has set them back, but rather the opposite. They have gotten exactly what they wanted: Israeli territorial concessions for which the Palestinians have had to give up absolutely nothing. They have their base for attack which they are using to great effect; money is still pouring in in spite of a supposed international boycott; they are supported by Syria and Iran; and they can count on absolute international support if Israel responds “disporportionately”. Everything is going their way.

    The fact that we think Gaza is a cesspool and tha the Palestinians are suffering doesn’t mean anything to them. Amerliorating the physical situation of the Palestinians has never been the goal of groups like Hamas. Palestinian suffering is absolutley necessary for their strategy. Without it, no one will want to fight and the international community will not support them.

    It may be that Palestinian bloody-mindedness and just general savagery will finally convince the world to wash their hands of them. I hope so, but I wouldn’t count on it.

    Israel should do whatever it can to increase the infighting bewtween Hamas and Fatah so that more terrorists are killed. If necessary, the “Palestinian Authority” should be allowed to collapse like the rottenn structure it is. If Israel plays its cards right, perhaps this Fatah-Hamas tiff can be fanned into an all-out Palestinian civil war. If past experience (Black September, the Lebanese Civil War) the Palestinians will be much more effective at killing each other than the Israelis have been at killing them.

    Once they have finished killing each other, Israel can finish off whoever is left. Then there might be a chance for peace.

  • Despite the rocket attacks, the P infighting can only benefit Israel. It’s a great opportunity to take out the Hamas leadership and infrastructure, without very much purported int’l. censure (at least I haven’t seen/read very much of it). I don’t think the world’s would-be moralists will abandon the Palestinians altogether, but the Ps are making it very hard for anyone to point the finger at Israel as the problem.

    That being said, I hope for Israel’s sake that some alternative to a perpetuation of the status quo emerges, whether it’s a two-state settlement (perhaps a utopian dream at this point) or something else. I wonder at Israel’s ability to soldier on with this sort of insanity right at its borders.

  • Tom, the censure will come as soon as Israel makes its next mistake in terms of hitting a civilian target. At the point, the pontificating will begin and the diplomats will go into high gear.

    I want to point out to you that Israel is able to “soldier on” because it has to. It has been doing so for more than 6 decades because it actually began building the underlying political infrastructure of a state before 1948. They don’t just soldier on, by the way, they run the country – with all its many flaws as we’ve catalogued here – very well. They’ve gone from no state to a democratic state that has survived a PM’s assassination. They have a strong and independent media and judiciary. Culturally the country is thriving and the economy is robust and growing to the point where even last year’s war had a minor impact. We are so used to hearing about the evils of Israel and Zionism that all of these achievements tend to be forgotten.

  • No intention here to ignore or slight the achievements of the state, Middle. Just expressing concern at the intractability of Israel’s conflict with its neighbors. Speaking of which: today’s WSJ carries a news story on the increasing profile of al-Qaeda–linked groups in Lebanon and Gaza. Just when you think things can’t get worse, the conflict takes on an increasingly jihadist cast. Wait ’til Teheran gets its nukes.

  • Simply “leaving” Gaza was pointless when Israel locked the bloody gate and threw away the key while they continued to kill any Palestinian they could get in their sights.

    For god’s sake I am sick to death of Israel’s whining. They knew in 1948 that they had to give back the conquered land and allow the Palestinians to return and they refused – everything flows from that and to say otherwise 59 years on is to compound the original sin.

    531 villages, 13 large urban centres, 3 million acres of land and the lives of over 1 million people were destroyed in Ben Gurion’s ethnic cleansing called Plan Dalet.

    Israel simply has not right to exist on Palestinian land. Full stop.