Friday, February 29, 2008

World to Sderot: It’s Your Tough Luck

P. David Hornik | 2/29/2008

A planned march by Gazans on the Israeli-Gazan border fence fizzled out on Monday with a small turnout and relatively minor incidents. It was feared the march would be a replay, and worse, of the Hamas-driven breaching of the Gazan-Egyptian border a month ago. Apparently, though, warnings by Israeli leaders and Israel’s placing of artillery batteries and other forces along the border had a deterrent effect. No such deterrent effect was evident in continued Gazan rocket fire on Monday. Yossi Haimov, a ten-year-old Israeli boy in the hapless town of Sderot, took a severe shrapnel wound to the shoulder; doctors were able to save his arm but he faces multiple operations for shoulder reconstruction. Earlier this month another Sderot boy was even less fortunate and lost a leg in a Qassam attack.

In other words, the dysfunctionality that became part of Israeli governance in the early 1990s continues: deciding that a mass march on the border fence posed unacceptable risks, the Olmert government moved effectively to deter it; deciding that the shelling of civilians by armed terrorists is acceptable, the Olmert government lets it continue and turn life into hell for the residents of southwestern Israel.

The malaise is manifest in a different form in Jerusalem, where Olmert is seeking to appease and bribe the Shas Party into remaining in his governing coalition. Shas is a Sephardic-Orthodox, purportedly politically right-wing faction that has held the balance in several coalitions and earned a deserved name for political extortion and cynicism.


Shas supposedly finds the current Israeli-Palestinian Authority “final status” talks, particularly on the division of Jerusalem, deeply objectionable. The party is under heavy pressure to leave Olmert’s government over these talks and the continued inaction on Gaza.

With the right-leaning Yisrael Beiteinu faction having left Olmert’s coalition over the PA talks in January, his government now hangs by the thread of the reputedly nationalist Shas Party. Shas is playing the situation to the hilt.

Olmert and his political cronies are now trying to get legislation passed that would increase the authority of the rabbinical courts over marital and divorce issues. Since these courts operate by outmoded religious laws that discriminate against women and are in need of reform, this is bad enough.

Even worse, Olmert is seeking to reinstate inflated benefits to families—i.e., ultra-religious families—with large numbers of children. Trimming back these benefits was a major socioeconomic achievement of Binyamin Netanyahu in his term as finance minister.

Every Israeli understands that the secular Olmert and his allies do not think these initiatives are good things in their own right and are pursuing them for sheer political survival; and that Shas, anxious to mollify its genuinely hawkish voters with populist-“religious” gains, is a full partner in the venal dance.

The losers, if these machinations succeed, include—among others—the residents of Sderot and the smaller Gaza-belt communities, and the state of Israel itself as Olmert steers it into the suicidal waters of concessions to the jihadist PA.

For those mystified by the seeming nonchalance of the Israeli populace even in the face of terrorist and existential threats, part of the explanation is the corrosive effect on morale of these repeated spectacles of cynicism. They stem from a dysfunctional parliamentary structure lacking regional representation and beset with small factions wielding blackmail power—and from an overburdened Israeli system’s inability, so far, to resolve the problem.

And another part of the explanation is that it’s the most weak, feckless Israeli tendencies that consistently get the most U.S. and Western backing and encouragement. Last week Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch “urge[d] caution and proportionality” regarding possible Israeli military action in Gaza.

He also “argued that Palestinians in Gaza should stop the rocket fire out of their own self-interest” and stated: “If people in Gaza are to enjoy a better life, then it is incumbent upon those who claim they control the situation in Gaza to stop these actions which usually bring no benefit and only harm.”

Since it’s not plausible that Welch thought the Hamas “controllers” of Gaza would heed his words, what they really mean is that in the State Department’s view of the U.S. national interest the martyrdom of Sderot is not a significant concern and might as well continue. That national interest is instead thought to entail, among other things, the “Annapolis process” of Israeli offers of control of strategic land, Judeo-Christian holy places, and half of Jerusalem to the terrorist-infested Palestinian Authority.

And for the European Union, even Israel’s current measures toward Gaza are too much. Last week the European Parliament stated that Israel’s “policy of isolation of the Gaza Strip has failed at both the political and humanitarian level. The civilian population should be exempt from any military action and any collective punishment.”

Again, since even the Eurocrats probably grasp that military action in Gaza (like just about anywhere else) without harming civilians is impossible, the message was the same: let the rocket fire on Israelis continue; we don’t see it as enough of an issue that anyone should do anything about it.

Along with the Israeli boy who almost lost his arm on Monday, that day's dose of rocket fire lightly wounded a mother and her one-year-old baby and sent seven other people to hospital from shock. But, after all, the Israeli-PA talks are proceeding, the Olmert government is surviving, the U.S. and Europe are (or think they are) in the Arabs’ good graces, the oil is flowing, and all’s right with the world. Human decency does not encompass mostly working-class, politically powerless Israelis in their hell of daily barrages.
P. David Hornik is a freelance writer and translator living in Tel Aviv. He blogs at He can be reached at

No comments: