This war did not begin two weeks ago. It began seven years ago and was intensified after the summer of 2005 when Israel completely abandoned the Gaza Strip. I knew this all the time but it didn't quite sink in. Sderot and Ashkelon, though only an hour by car from Tel Aviv, were thought of as backwaters, psychologically not an intrinsic part of the country, their population experienced by other Israelis as Israelis only marginally. Nothing really happens in the settlement towns, at least if Ha'aretz is your breakfast newspaper.
Yes, in the beginning of the seven-year itch, also Fatah launched rockets into the towns and villages of the adjacent Negev desert. Then it was overthrown by a bloody Hamas revolt that, I am certain, cost many more lives of civilians and children than the present Israeli struggle to free (at last) the quarter of a million of its people from the nearly daily terror that haunted their lives. I felt that terror yesterday twice.
As I mentioned in my last post, I was in Sderot almost all day and into the night. It is actually a lively town of 20,000 men and women, prettier than other development communities, friendly but more than a bit on the tense side. One of its marvels is that it is to Israeli rock what Nashville is to country and gospel. Some people call it Sderock. In any case, I was sitting in the living room of two friends, a married couple, he actually an immensely talented musician, Avi Vaknin, she an American immigrant film maker, Laura Bialis, who directed Refusenik and other movies. We were watching a videotape, and suddenly he jumps up: "There's the warning siren," which gives you fully 15 seconds to get to a shelter, which you find in nearly every house and along the byways of the to. When the siren stopped we went three blocks, maybe four to see the damage. Only physical damage, as it happens. But the Kassam had landed about 150 feet from an elementary school with 200 pupils on their first day back from an unscheduled vacation. I know the ruins in Gaza are awful, much more awful than the ruins in Sderot. Yet no one can live with random shelling for years on end, and when Hamas said more than a fortnight ago that it would no longer adhere to the cease-fire (which it wasn't adhering to anyway) the people who live in the south of Israel knew what further terror was in store for them. What did Hamas--or the world, for that matter--think that Israel would do? Or not do?
A few hours after the first sprint to a shelter in my life, again with our
own Yossi Klein Halevi, another siren sent me running
once more, following people I did not know to a place in which I'd never been. Imagine living like this every day... and night, trusting you would be awakened
every time by the alarm threatening death.
I am wrong about this having been my first time in a shelter. Long ago, in my cousins' kibbutz, Sha'ar Hagolan, the outermost kibbutz bordering Syria and Jordan in pre-1967 Israel, I had many occasions when fear of artillery from the Golan Heights made me run faster than I ever imagined I could.
So the Israelis have lived with this terror and other ghoulish fears for all of the years of their state's existence. The world is now desperate for another cease-fire in Gaza. But since Hamas in its ongoing frenzy will engage in its murderous routines Israel should not stop this battle without knowing that its enemy, the tormentor of its citizenry, has been dealt a truly mortal blow. This may not please the Security Council. But it will save Jewish lives and, in the end, the lives of ordinary Palestinians who do not want to die for some madmen's idea of holiness.