By Ofra Yeshua-Lyth
A Hebrew version of this article was published by Themarker.com in May 2007 (the last paragraph was edited out).
For the past several years the Israeli southern development town of Sderot, once an almost model habitat for a melting pot of different Jewish immigrant populations, has become a symbol of Israeli despair. The Israeli defense establishment, with the most powerful army in the Middle East equipped with state-of the art high tech weapons and warning systems, is utterly helpless against a handful of Palestinian hard liners armed with primitive Kassam rockets which are launched on a daily basis into the midst of the town, spreading havoc and horrible panic, occasionally causing casualties – dead, wounded, and demolished homes.
Sitting ducks 20 kilometers from Gaza and Beit Hanun, receiving little more than words of sympathy and sometimes handouts from well to do compatriots or a publicity-seeking Russian oligarch, no wonder battered inhabitants of Sderot join the chorus of Israel’s loony hard liners calling on the Israeli army to “do something” against the rocket launchers. Suggestions vary between a full invasion of the Gaza Strip (from which the army was all too happy to get out only two years ago) or at least carpet bombing of its heavily populated areas. Both modes of operation guarantee heavy innocent civilian casualties but cannot guarantee an end go the Kassam shelling.
With the technological gap slowly but surely closing even in the back yard of Palestine, a new generation of rockets is expected to start hitting other areas of Israel, as the city of Ashkelon is already experiencing occasionally. With no political solution on the horizon all we are left is a bunch of politicians screaming for revenge to improve their popularity rates. More decent experts agree with the Prime Minister who admitted: “Nothing can be done”. As financial columnist Merav Arlozorov once summed up in the prestigious Themarker.com, “The only way to secure Israel against short range rockets… is to build a concrete dome over the country.”
“Nothing can be done”, indeed, but this is only because in Israel, strategic thinking is subdued to one particular ideology. If a problem of such magnitude had been bothering the business sector, for example, most people involved would eventually open for discussion the structural reasons that bring their venture to the brink of bankruptcy. Blocking certain lines of thinking because they make you uncomfortable is a common practice, but not a recommended one. An uncensored analysis of the Sderot predicament reveals a painfully simple truth: the Kassam rocket launchers may be perfectly assured that their random, untargeted bomb shelling would hit Jews only. As their popularity in the battered streets of Gaza rockets in direct proportion to the despair and misery they manage to produce in Sderot, nothing Israel would do will decrease their motivation. On the contrary, frequent and ferocious acts of Israeli Vendetta produce the vital fuel for this popular support for the rocket launchers.
So here is a very simple thinking exercise: what would have happen if there were Palestinians in Sderot? Working and making a living, or perhaps studying and learning for a better future? Local people from Gaza and the nearby Beith Hanoon live only ten minutes drive from the Strip’s border. It is an easy distance to target a short range rocket but also adequate for commuting for work or school. Economical and social conditions in the Gaza Strip are disastrous, mainly courtesy of the Israeli security forces. A token gesture of generosity towards those Palestinians – and there are so many – who seek nothing but quiet life, ready for mutual cooperation, could do more than any concrete dome.
What would Israel loose if a small percentage of the sums spent on fortifying walls in Sderot were to be used for creating a working area in the town for some of the unemployed inhabitants of Beith Hanun? If instead of sending busses to load bombing refugees from Sderot to well deserved temporary resting resorts in the center of Israel, those same busses would drive five miles westward and bring several dozens of men to new jobs that would give them back some of the lost self respect and would make their neighbors and relatives think twice before shooting Kassams into the area whenever possible?
Israeli security forces have often made cynical use of the notorious “Neighbor Practice”, which uses innocent Palestinians to knock on doors of suspected armed militia to avoid soldier’s casualties. It is a reprehensible practice when forced on the unwilling victims, but its efficiency has been proved time and again. If a mechanism of goodwill resembling this practice could be activated on a voluntary basis, preferably with the cooperation of some international organizations, Palestinian counterparts will soon be found to join such an effort. It is doubtful however, that present day Israel is psychologically capable of making goodwill gestures and to offer anything in return for good neighborly relations.
In the business sector, successful managers have always known that once you have a troublesome opponent – the head of a worker’s union or a competing firm with a product that might destroy your market – the best way (often the only way) to eliminate the opposition is to stretch out your hand, offer better conditions or even start working on a merger. At some stage the State of Israel will have to come to terms with the need to recognize the legitimate needs, the legitimate rage, and the endless destructive energies produced by needs and rage of Palestinians. It will have to find a method to neutralize these energies by peaceful methods.
Deep down in their hearts most Israelis understand that Sderot, with its thousands of long suffering inhabitants, is a miniature of the general Israeli experience, rapidly approaching its moment of truth. The dream idea of building a dense human habitat which will only have room for a single religious-ethnic identity is proving to be a failure in moral as well as in practical terms. So far the Kassam showers have not managed to wake us out of this dream. Most of us, after all, still live far away from the rockets’ range and have no problem getting a good night’s sleep, go to work on a regular basis, and even have some good time over the weekends in the swinging cities. At least until the next explosion.
The writer is a partner in a PR and strategic consultancy and the author of “A State of Mind; Why Israel should become Secular and Democratic” www.eretzbrith.com