Nearly a year ago, I was in the southern Israeli city of Sderot, where, on almost any day, you could see the current war coming. "The next Middle East war may start over Sderot," I wrote back then. [in "Rocketing Toward War" February 19, 2008*] I came by my prescience the hard way — in a bomb shelter. That day, three Qassam rockets had hit the city. It took no genius to see the imminence of war. It takes real stupidity to blame it on Israel.
...I am informed by a Palestinian journalist in a Washington Post op-ed article that Israel is trying to stop "amateur rockets from nagging the residents of some of its southern cities." In Sderot, I saw homes nagged to smithereens.
...As the leaders of Hamas understand, the war in Gaza is about Israel's incessant fight to be a normal country. Maybe that's impossible...
...Three years ago, Israel pulled out of the Gaza Strip. Good, the world said. Next, pull out of the West Bank, the world said. But then Hamas, which has vowed to destroy Israel, won the election in Gaza. Sderot soon became hell...If Israel withdraws from the West Bank, will rockets come from there? [yes!]If you lived in Tel Aviv, a spit from the West Bank, would you take the chance? [no!]
Anyone could have seen this war coming. The diplomats and demonstrators who are now so engaged in the problem and the process were nowhere to be found when rockets began raining down on southern Israel.
...The horrors of war are not to be dismissed or demeaned...But what has been ignored is the series of events that led to this war. Anyone could see how it was going to start. As always, though, it's a lot harder to see how it ends.
Rockets launched from the nearby Gaza Strip fall here almost daily. These Qassams are crude devices that hardly ever kill people, although they have, and hardly ever wound anyone, although recently a boy lost part of a leg. They hit with unpredictable regularity, taking a roof here, a piece of a wall there and demolishing the peace of mind of every resident. Bit by bit, Sderot is going crazy.
The next Middle East war may start over Sderot. To many Israelis, the daily rain of Qassam rockets is reason enough to go back into Gaza and eradicate the rocket-makers, the rocket launchers and the entire Hamas leadership that now runs Gaza. The call for action superficially makes a certain amount of sense. But memory rebukes: Didn't Israel just pull out of Gaza?
Yes, it did. It withdrew most of its military and all of its settlements and turned the wretched area, populated by 1.2 million mostly poor Palestinian refugees, over to the moderate Palestinian Authority. Then the PA lost an election to Hamas and the militants have been in charge ever since, permitting the incessant rocketing of Sderot and its environs. The Qassams are lofted over the high border wall, and whether they hit a school or a hospital or a cat basking in the sun is of no concern to Hamas.
In Europe and elsewhere, where activists are just plain dizzy from their own moral virtue, Israel is denounced for inflicting suffering on Gaza. But the protesters say nothing about the Qassams raining from the sky -- sometimes as many as 40 a day. The adjectives for the Qassams are innocuous: crude, inaccurate...
...Sderot represents the metastasized insanity of the Israeli-Palestinian struggle -- rockets sent to kill anyone, it doesn't matter whom. The tempting solution is to respond in kind. But this has been done. In Gaza. In Lebanon...inevitably, the rockets will return, sooner or later reaching Ashkelon, the major port not all that far away. (Nothing in Israel is all that far away.) Gaza is a pitiless trap.
Israelis don't trust Hamas, and why should they? It wishes Israel nothing but death. But some accommodation has to be reached. There are ways. Any agreement, though, would undercut Israel's moderate Palestinian ally, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah organization. Israel could do nothing, but nothing is demeaning, dangerous -- and, anyway, nothing is not what Israel does.
Sderot...is also a metaphor. Its residents are trapped. So is Israel. Sooner or later, if nothing is done, a rocket will hit kids on the playground or mothers strolling the street, and Israel will have to respond -- another nasty, little war. That much is clear. This too: Absolutely nothing else is.