THE BLOG
02/15/2008 04:27 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Saving Sderot


Bernard Avishai, who is one of Israel's most provocative writers and thinkers, says that it is "getting harder and harder to find leaders in the Israeli government who are not calling for a massive invasion of Gaza." He writes about two Israeli brothers in Sderot, 8-year-old Oshri Twito and his 19-year-old bother, Rami.

"Imagine," Avishai writes, "if you can bear it, the affection with which an older brother watches over his little brother on a Saturday evening." They were walking in the street last week when a Kassam fired from Gaza blew up next to them. The 19-year old was severely injured. The little one lost a leg.

It is easy to see why Israelis are fed up. It is also easy to see why so many favor a full-scale invasion of Gaza to root out the terrorists. After all, what people in their right mind would put up with these attacks, attacks which serve no political goal and whose sole purpose is to terrorize and kill?

These are not attacks designed to end occupation. Even the most extreme Hamas militant knows that Israel is not going to withdraw from . . . Israel. These attacks are simply designed to inflict pain. As such, they are succeeding.

So why not invade?

Avishai writes: "Presumably, a military operation would root out Hamas and destroy terrorist cells--surgery followed by chemotherapy. Israel would enter Gaza in force and engage Hamas fighters on the ground. It would kill as many Hamas leaders as it could find and destroy the factories that make the rockets. Israel would then allow, even encourage, donor nations to invest in rehabilitating Gaza infrastructure. And in that context . . . Israel would probably agree to a sizable multi-national force, like the one in southern Lebanon, to enter Gaza and monitor the cease-fire."

It seems to make sense.

But then Avishai asks: "Why not try to get to a general cease-fire and multi-national force without the intervening bloodbath?"

In other words, if, in the end, Israel is going to have to work out a modus vivendi with the people controlling Gaza (i.e, Hamas), why not try doing it without losing dozens of soldiers in house-to-house combat, not to mention the hundreds of civilians--including God knows how many kids--who would die.

For me, it comes down to what your view of terrorists is. Can you ever talk to them? Are they ever at all rational or are they crazed jihadists who are hell-bent to see the last Jew dead?

There are, of course, people like that. One of them is the leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nassralah. Yesterday, following the killing in Damascus of the world's #2 terrorist (after bin Laden), Imad Mughniyeh, Nassralah railed against whoever it was who would take out such a fine exemplar of humanity.

Nasrallah said that by killing Mughniyeh "far from the field of battle," the perpetrators had "crossed a line." He said that, as a result, he would lead an "open war" against Jews, Israelis, and Americans because "all people have the right to defend themselves."

How crazed is this? Mughniyeh was responsible for killing 241 Marine peacekeepers while they slept in their barracks in 1982. He killed 85 Argentinian Jews and others at the Buenos Aires Jewish center and 29 others at the Israeli embassy in that city. He hijacked planes and ordered the execution of innocent passengers.

He did all these things, not on the battlefield, but by giving orders from fancy hotel rooms and other hideouts. As for Nasrallah's claim that everyone has the right to defend themselves, he clearly was not including Israelis, Americans, or Jews anywhere who are supposed to simply smile and take it when their children are murdered.

In short, Nasrallah, like Mughniyeh, is about as vicious and powerful a terrorist as exists anywhere.

And yet Israel entered into a cease-fire agreement with him in 2006. It was negotiated through the United Nations, but it is a cease-fire between Israel and the murderous thugs of Hezbollah. It has been in effect since August 2006. And it has held. Without it, the 2006 summer war would still be going on. Instead, the northern border has been calm (a situation which could end at any time, of course).

So the question has to arise. Why is it acceptable to enter into a cease-fire with Hezbollah but not Hamas? If anything, Hezbollah is more militant than Hamas. Hezbollah is jihadist, it favors war against Americans and Jews everywhere. Hamas is interested only in Palestine. Although Hamas continues to express its determination to achieve Palestinian statehood in all of Palestine, it includes moderates who say that they would accept Israel within the '67 lines. Hamas has repeatedly offered to enter into a cease-fire with Israel, through the United Nations or not, and has, in the past, not only declared unilateral cease-fires but adhered to them. Hamas has suggested laying aside arms for 15 for 30 year periods, sometimes even more.

Skeptics say that they would use the periods of cease-fire to build up their fighting capacity. That is, of course, what Hezbollah does. It is also what Israel does. The value of a cease-fire is not that it prevents the build-up of arms for future wars but that it prevents current ones. And, of course, a cease-fire can lead to a permanent truce. That has happened before.

So why not consider a cease-fire with Hamas? As far as I can tell, the primary difference between the two organizations is that Hezbollah is a far greater threat to Israel. It demonstrated in 2006 that it can, when it chooses, actually hit Israel hard. In fact, Hezbollah succeeded in producing the near-evacuation of Israel's north including the city of Haifa.

Hamas has nothing like that kind of power, nothing like that kind of range.

But, of course, given enough time,it will. A full-scale Israeli invasion may slow Hamas down for awhile but, in due time, it--or a successor group--will come roaring back, stronger than ever. Should Israel follow the example set with Hezbollah and only negotiate a cease-fire when Hamas is so powerful that Israel has no other choice?

It makes no sense. By the same token, it makes even less sense for Hamas to keep firing its rockets at Sderot, provoking Israel's deadly responses. If Hamas cared about the children of Gaza, who have borne the brunt of so much of this violence, it would simply stop the missile fire. Israel would then cease its own counter-fire,including, one hopes, the targeted assassinations,and a de facto truce would be in effect. At that point, the international community could step in, as Avishai predicts, to end the blockade of Gaza and help re-build it.

The bottom line is that both sides are acting so stupidly that one has to wonder if either really considers the human suffering they are inflicting on each other and themselves.Enough already. The answer to violence is not more violence. How many more will have to die before this not very revolutionary idea is finally recognized as obvious?



MJ Rosenberg is the Director of Israel Policy Forum's Washington Policy Center