Quiet. That's what Ehud Barak says is the goal of Israel's current operations in Gaza -- "quiet for the south." By quiet, he says he means no more Hamas rockets falling on Israeli citizens within range of Gaza. No more sirens going off, giving people "45 golden seconds" to stop wherever they are -- even driving their cars -- and try to find cover, something a woman in Ashdod wasn't quite able to do the other day.
Here in Jerusalem, where I unfortunately will only be for a few more days before I have to return to the States, there is a strange sense of quiet. I feel confident that we are out of the range of Hamas' rockets for now. But, it has been raised in my conscious for the first time that I am staying in an apartment that does not have a "safe room". I do not have a gas mask or anything else I might need if Jerusalem suddenly came under a serious attack from the skies.
And, I well know that the quiet can end in many other says. I was here at another time of "quiet" -- in the summer of 2000 when there was real hope that, with Bill Clinton's help, a real peace agreement might be forged and all this death and violence could come to an end. But, at that time, the Palestinians, then led by Arafat (who has since passed from the scene), chose another course and returned to a violent path to seek their goals. Bus and other suicide bombings fell upon Israel over the rest of the year I was here and beyond. Everyone here knows that such attacks could happen, again.
Israel is gambling that it can continue to prevent such attacks with such measures as the controversial security barrier that prevents people from the West Bank -- hopefully, including suicide bombers -- from freely entering into Israel. The stated goal of this current operation is to, as I said above, prevent rocket attacks from Gaza. The possibility of rocket attacks was very much on my mind a few days before the operation began when Minna and I were driving up the relatively new Highway 6, a toll road that makes it possible to head from Jerusalem to the north of Israel without having to either pass through the Jordan Valley (in the West Bank) or through the traffic of Tel-Aviv. I noticed how close the road runs to the West Bank and, thus, how easy it would be for a tiny cell of terrorists to shut down the road entirely with a few homemade mortars. I know that it is not force that is preventing that from happening. Rather, it is a political solution -- the currently relatively good relations with the Palestinian Authority (which controls the West Bank, while the more radical and Islam-focused Hamas controls Gaza).
I think this is what this current operation has to really be about -- not stopping Hamas from firing rockets, which is something that is pretty much impossible to do with force, but with making a political statement to the Palestinian people. A statement like, you have a choice. You can either live in peace beside us and have a chance to form a real state that can join the community of nations and start to build a stable economy, like the Palestinian Authority is starting to do in the West Bank. Or, you can continue to live in a continuous state of mutual violence next to us. If you choose the second option, note that Hamas cannot even protect itself, not to mention you, from the Israeli Defense Forces. Look how pathetic and hopeless are their attempts to respond militarily with a few rockets. Look how our planes took them by surprise and killed so many of their leaders in the initial attack last Saturday morning. How is it in your best interests to choose to be led by such people?
Of course, Hamas is gambling that the Palestinian people will hear the opposite political message. They are hoping that -- instead of the people in Gaza looking to the West Bank and deciding it is better there -- that the people in the West Bank (and East Jerusalem) will look to Gaza and let their anger and outrage motivate them to choose Gaza's current path, the path of Hamas. If that happens, few places in Israel will have the safe feeling of quiet I enjoy now.
In order to reject Hamas' path, the Palestinian people will ultimately have to accept something that they have not been able to accept for decades before the State of Israel even came to be in 1948 -- they will have to accept that Jews have a right to live in this land and that the State of Israel has a right to exist. That will indeed involve much sacrifice for them.
But it is the only path to quiet.
[x-posted to abayye]