Week after week primitive Qassam rockets fired from Gaza land in or near the Israeli town of Sderot. [So far, they have killed about a half dozen Israeli civilians and injured more– ed.] They have seriously wounded soldiers camped near the town and they certainly threaten everyone from school children to the very old. The problem is that there are no easy solutions.
Of course the right-wing parties want the IDF to march right into Gaza and stop this outrageous assault on a civilian population but what would that mean? Would the IDF be able to track the elusive fighters operating on their own turf, amidst their own people? Would it mean a repeat of some of the tragedies of the 2nd Lebanon War, which inflicted grave losses on both sides? Would it necessitate a stupid and wasteful reoccupation of Gaza? None of these scenarios are very appealing.
Defence Minister Ehud Barak offered a kind of interim measure, tightening the screws on Gaza by cutting back on the electricity supply along with limiting gasoline shipments and a sharply curtailing commercial ties with the strip. There was a loud outcry against these measures from human rights groups, the United Nations and the European Union and the term they all used was – “collective punishment”. In other words, Israel was proposing to punish the entire population of Gaza, some 1.5 million people when the real culprits were a handful of terrorists and the Hamas officials which allowed them to operate. Human rights groups turned to the Israel high court arguing that the power cut was illegal and would harm innocent civilians.
Israel’s leading political columnist Nahum Barnea declared that Barak had made “a stupid decision.” First, even if not carried out, the threat to electric supplies and fuel gave Hamas excellent propaganda. Second, punishment of the entire Gazan population can only drive it into the open arms of Hamas. Third, as Israel seeks a dialogue with moderate Palestinian and Arab nations she appears to them as a cruel occupier. Even if the threats of sanctions are not carried out Israel has egg on its face. Undoubtedly, with that in mind, Attorney General Menachem Mazuz prohibited the electricity cut, at least for the time being.
This all leaves Israel with a predicament in which she has seemingly no good options and several poor ones. One is that she can maintain the status quo, tolerating the rockets until one hit a school or other sensitive location and then be forced to invade while suffering the taunts of right wing critics, who had urged preemptive action. Two, Israel might yet turn to electricity cuts and other harsh sanctions but suffer the diplomatic storm which would ensue, as well as adding to the ranks of Hamas. Three, the IDF could be turned loose on Gaza, with unknowable results, but this is probably not an option until after the Annapolis peace conference, while even then a poor choice. In sum, there are situations which admit of no easy solutions and the rockets from Gaza present just such a problem. Sober men and women at the cabinet table will be facing a major test of their humanity and of their wisdom. We can only wish them well.
Dr. Stephen Scheinberg is emeritus professor of history at Concordia University (Montreal) and co-chair of Canadian Friends of Peace Now. More of his opinions can be found at http://thejewishliberal.blogspot.com.