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Even in Sderot, Israelis Say No to Endless War

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It has been widely acknowledged that Israel began a public relations campaign soon after beginning their bombing campaign over Gaza. As usual, they have had plenty of help.

One example of this was Alan Dershowitz's article "Israel, Hamas, and moral idiocy" which ran in the Christian Science Monitor on New Year's eve. In a tired tradition, Dershowitz tries to blame the Palestinians for making Israel kill them:

"The firing of rockets at civilians from densely populated civilian areas is the newest tactic in the war between terrorists who love death and democracies that love life." This is just the latest version of a justification for collective punishment that Zionist luminaries have been offering for decades. Golda Meir articulated this sentiment most famously after the 1967 war: "When peace comes we will perhaps in time be able to forgive the Arabs for killing our sons, but it will be harder for us to forgive them for having forced us to kill their sons."

The one piece of the Dershowitz article, and the broader pro-war p.r. campaign, that warrants a response is his comments on Sderot. Sderot is a town on the border of Israel and Gaza and the frequent target of missiles from Gaza. They have now been facing rocket fire for eight years. In that time they have faced thousands of rockets and 13 residents have been killed. Sderot is often held up as the reason for the Israeli attacks. Dershowitz explains, "The residents of Sderot were demanding that their nation take action to protect them." He understands this as a demand that Israel obliterate Gaza.

Like Dershowitz I've been to Sderot: just over a year ago in November, 2007. Like him, I saw the devastating effects of the missiles from Gaza. Even though there had not been a death from these rockets in recent memory when I was there, I was not surprised to find that the missiles had inflicted an incredible mental wound on the residents. But I was surprised to find that although the people of Sderot who I met wanted the missiles to end they understood that militarism would not protect them.

The people I met with were not calling for war, they were calling for negotiation. They knew that they would be the ones to catch the brunt of an attack on Gaza, not Tel Aviv, not Jerusalem. Even an IDF commander I met told me, off the record, "The Qassams [missiles] are like stones, there is no way to stop them. The only way is negotiation."

My experience has been affirmed by the people of Sderot itself. Ironically, the Washington Post published a powerful op-ed by Julia Chaitin, a senior lecturer at the Sapir Academic College near Sderot, the same day the Dershowitz article ran. Chaitin wrote in "Darkness in Qassam-Land,"

But I know the answer to our conflict will not come with this war. We will know peace only when we accept the fact that the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have every right to lives of dignity. We will know peace only when we recognize that we must negotiate with Hamas, our enemy, even if we are devastated that the Palestinians did not elect a more moderate party to lead them. We will know peace only when our leaders stop considering our lives cheap and expendable, and help us create a beautiful, green Negev, free of fear and despair.

Even more amazing, residents of Sderot are organizing to try to end the attacks. Read the text of this petition signed by hundreds of Sderot's residents which has been posted at the website jews sans frontieres. From the petition:

The period of calm changed the lives of the people of Sderot, Ashkelon and the region beyond recognition, allowing all of us to experience again a life that is more normal and sane. The continuation of this calm is essential and critical to the residents of the region from every possible aspect: physical, mental, spiritual and economic.

Another round of escalation may break our already brittle spirit, and take us all to another round of self-destruction and pointless bloodshed. It is not certain that we will survive. And you must be aware of that, if you indeed care about the residents of this area. We've been through this movie too many years--and results speak for themselves: feeling trapped, abandonment, and hopelessness for us and our children!

The petition continues:

On the other side of the border live a million and a half Palestinians under unbearable conditions, and most of them want, like we do, calm and the opportunity of a future for themselves and their families.

We live in the feeling that you have wasted that period of calm, instead of using it to advance understandings and begin negotiations, as well as for fortifying the houses of residents as promised.

We call on the Prime Minister and the Defense minister not to listen to the voices of incitement and do everything they can to avoid another round of escalation, to secure the continuation of the calm and to work...towards direct or indirect negotiations with the Palestinian leadership in Gaza in order to reach long term understandings.

We prefer a cold war without a single rocket to a hot war with dozens of victims and innocent fatalities on both sides.

We ask you to offer us the possibility of political arrangement and hope and not an endless cycle of blood.

Clearly not all people in Sderot agree with these views, as has been shown. But it's also clear that Dershowitz and other proponents of the endless war will always use the people of Sderot as the cannon fodder they need in the moment. The residents of Sderot are primarily Mizrahi Jews, poor and working class, who have been settled on the periphery to play exactly this role. As much as Dershowitz might want to fight to the finish, those in the crossfire just want an end to the shooting.

An earlier version of this essay appeared on the blog MondoWeiss.