Friday, July 07, 2006

7-Jul-06: Despite all - more missile terror

The repetition of the reports of Qassams being fired into Israeli communities makes for boring reading - and for a nightmarish kind of day-to-day life for those who have to endure them.

Though the Israeli military is in a position today where it can blast the living daylights out of any portion of Gaza it chooses, the terrorists who operate from there see logic in continuing to fire their missiles into any Israeli town within range and invite response. It would be superficial and misleading to say these people are determined. More accurate to say their hatred is relentless and their moral compass permanently out of action.

Yediot describes today, Friday, as being a day of panic in the Israeli communities close to Gaza. Since early this morning, six missiles have been fired into the area from Gaza. The shrieking Red Dawn alert system is in a state of constant activation, causing nerves to be even more frayed. One missile hits an agricultural produce factory near the Sha'ar Hanegev Regional Council offices. The factory is damaged and one of the employees is lightly wounded. Another missile lands on the grounds of the Kibbutz Saad agricultural community (see picture). Four more crash into the town of Sderot. Yediot's report provides these additional human-scale details:
Three residents were hurt by the rockets' shrapnel. They were treated by a Magen David Adom emergency team and were evacuated to the Barzilay Medical Center in Ashkelon. The rockets were seen by the town's spokesman Yossi Pinchas Cohen, who is usually in charge of reporting about the rocket fire. This time he was forced to deal with a threat on his private home. "The rocket landed right next to my house, at a basketball field near the new community center," the spokesman said. "There was great fear in my house, the children began crying and everyone panicked. Lots of people also gathered outside, and there is a great commotion here in the city." Panic erupted in almost all the Qassam falling sites and many residents gathered in the area, protesting the ongoing fire since Thursday evening. One rocket fell next to a bus station. "The Qassam hit right next to the station, and half a minute later a bus arrived there to collect passengers," an eyewitness said. "If it had been one minute earlier, it would have been hit and it would have definitely been a great disaster."

Thursday, July 06, 2006

6-Jul-06: Firing into Ashkelon again

No strategic goal; no military objective; no sense. Simply firing missiles into civilian areas because they can, irrespective of what damage this will do to their own population and resources, the suits of the Hamas regime continue to drag the Palestinian Arabs into the moral depths while waging their war of terror on Israel.
For second time in 24 hours, Qassam hits neighborhood in southern [Ashkelon]; eight people treated for shock, including four children. Hundreds gather in area. Earlier, mayor meets with city council members to discuss rocket fire... Simultaneously, another rocket hit grove in the Kibbutz Zikim area, causing a fire. IDF officials said that the Qassam rocket launched Wednesday night landed roughly 12 kilometers from its launch site. The rocket was a dual-engined rocket, and was launched from northern Gaza, slightly south of the evacuated settlement of Dugit. A second Qassam rocket in 24 hours landed Wednesday evening at a street in the Shimshon neighborhood in south Ashkelon. Eight people suffered from shock and were evacuated to the Barzilay Medical Center in the city, including four children.
That's what Yediot says late Wednesday night. We'll file an update in the morning.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

5-Jul-06: An asymmetrical conflict

It's rare to find a European journalist who looks at, and tells about, this war in terms other than the powerful versus the weak. (Many non-European media people do it this way too, but from personal experience it's a highly European phenomenon.) The powerful of course refers to Israel. The weak, depending on the context, can mean the impoverished Palestinians or the entire Arab world. The key thing here is that, being perceived as strong and superior in almost every measurable way, Israel is always in the wrong.

For many Israelis and for people who understand the case for Israel, this is just silly. It reflects a superficial, knee-jerk approach to a complex set of interlocking issues. But from long and bitter experience with visiting reporters and editors, this silliness is precisely what animates much of the interest (and there is tremendous interest) in the media's coverage of this war. Israel is a highly desired posting for a journalist, and we have hundreds of them here at any given time.

For us, as parents of a child murdered in cold blood on a summer's day in the midst of the nation's capital city, being presented as the strong party while the murdering gang, funded by huge European government grants and by donations flowing from all corners of the oil-soaked Arab world, are presented as weak is - how shall we put this? - not persuasive.

What's less persuasive still, at least to us, is the aggressive use of the word 'peace'. Just say the word 'peace' as in 'peace' activist, 'peace' group, summer of 'peace', 'peace' protest and our blood starts to boil. Not because we're opposed to peace (of course we're not) but because 'peace' in the context of this war is a highly politicized term that almost invariably refers to initiatives condemning Israel, Israelis and Israeli actions. In the Arab-Israel conflict, 'peace' has come to mean the opposite of what it means in the dictionary.

Today, a column by Thomas L. Friedman in the New York Times touches on peace, squeezes it into the Gaza context, and comes up with some plain talk that, to our way of thinking, makes an important statement:
Israel has evacuated Gaza, and what does Hamas do? It doesn't put all its energy into building a nest for its young there - a decent state and society, with jobs. Instead, it launches hundreds of rockets into Israel. The Palestinians could have a state on the West Bank, Gaza, and eastern Jerusalem tomorrow, if they and the Arab League clearly recognized Israel, normalized relations, and renounced violence. But those driving Palestinian politics seem determined to destroy Israel in its territory - even if it means destroying themselves in their own territory.
Journalists of the sort we mentioned above love referring to the bombers, the shooters, the stabbers and the Qassam firers, as desperate, but that's nonense too, and Friedman is right in saying why. The desperate in this story are those who put up a high fence to keep the barbarians out and their own children safe; who forcibly pack up their own communities and move the people away so that (whether they're right on this or not) conflict with the neighbours can be avoided; who take painful, unilateral steps to accommodate the other side even while holding overwhelmingly most of the military cards and overwhelmingly most of the fire-power.

The desperate in this story are Israeli, especially Israelis like us who have lost a child to this awful war. We're desperate: desperate for peace, for mutual respect, for an end to the conflict.

But the party that puts its energies into blowing up the other side's buses, cafes and schools even when this means blowing up the children of their own people - that party is not desperate. That party is rabid, foaming at the mouth, driven by a hatred that the rest of us cannot fathom.

That's the real asymmetry in this ongoing war. Thank you, Mr. Friedman.

5-Jul-06: More From the Anti-terrorist Front

As of noon today, there are 19 specific terror alerts regarding plans to carry out terror attacks, most of them focused on Islamic Jihad and the northern Samaria area.

A second terror attack (the first is reported below) was foiled today, this one based in the usually-quiet Jericho. As a result of intelligence information (details are rarely released), Fatah terrorist Mahmoud Jaberi was cornered in his Jericho home. He preferred to avoid apprehension, but was spotted, shot and killed while escaping. His home was searched, and explosives found. Jaberi happens to be the terrorist responsible for the stabbing murder in April 2001 of an Israeli taxi driver, Simcha Ron whose close friendships with many Israeli and Palestinian Arabs eventually made no difference.

It's been a busy day. IDF forces arrested 10 other wanted terror suspects today in various Judea and Samaria villages. Four Hamas operatives were arrested in Qalqilya; 5 more in Ramallah; a Fatah terrorist was arrested in Bethlehem.

5-Jul-06: Preventive Measures... Work

There are many aspects of the news coverage of this war that infuriate us. One of them is the dishonest and cowardly way some reporters and photographers distort the way the Israeli authorities carry out preventive security. Among the favorite cliches of agenda-driven reporters and photographers (see image at right, courtesy of one of many Israel-bashing sources) is the Israeli security check. Nothing captures quite so well their perception of an asymmetrical war. You can count on words like "forced to stand in the heat", "treated rudely by Israeli troops", "seething anger", "humiliation" and "demeaning" sprouting from each sentence. But never the unbearable truth that this is the strategy of last resort and it saves lives on both sides.

A classic of the genre is Robert Fiske's memorable article with the unmemorable title "How Pointless Checkpoints Humiliate the Lions of Palestine, Sending Them on the Road to Vengeance". If you click the link to read it, please keep in mind it was written several weeks before the murder by Hamas terrorists of our fifteen year-old daughter. Ponder also on the fact that Malki's killer hid his explosives inside a guitar case on his back. Under current Israeli security procedures (but not at that time), he would have been stopped and our daughter would be twenty and alive. (The death toll that day was 15, plus 130 injured, plus a young mother left unconscious and still unconscious today.) The appalling Fiske, and perhaps also his editors at Britain's Independent newspaper, would find it hard to see what that has to do with him and his writing. But for us the connection is clear.

For those of us not infected by the Fiskean approach to this war, the role of active, preventive security is probably better appreciated. Events today emphasize their usefulness.

A news blackout was lifted an hour ago, as a result of which we can write that the security forces succeeded this morning in finding and stopping the intended-perpetrators of yet another large-scale terror attack, this one set to be carried out in an Israeli city somewhere in Israel's centre. One of the terrorists was arrested in the Barkan industrial zone following some successful intelligence work. He was wearing an explosive belt, the kind often called a suicide belt. (A pity to use the word suicide, which places all the emphasis on the would-be murderer. We wish the word were avoided in settings like this.) Haaretz says the taxi driver who transported the man to the area was also detained.

Prior to the arrests, forces were deployed throughout the Sharon region (the cities and towns north of Tel-Aviv) as well as in a number of Judea and Samaria communities this morning. Unannounced roadblocks were set up at strategic locations on highways and suspicious vehicles were stopped for inspection. Though most Israelis pay scant attention to general security alert announcements and the local media rarely report them, a high alert had been declared for the Sharon region and then canceled at about 10 this morning - for the best possible reason (i.e. the terrorists were found and stopped).

Other details are still currently banned from being published. But we can report with a reasonable degree of confidence that no one died of humiliation, and the injury toll from being forced to sit in a car being searched by security forces was zero.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

4-Jul-06: Missile Strikes School in Central Ashkelon

To anyone paying attention these past twelve months to the relentless firing of missiles from the freshly-abandoned Gaza Strip into Israel, what happened today was only a matter of time. But to political poseurs, today was a turning point. It's important to pay attention to the differences between these two viewpoints.

More than 500 missiles have struck Israel from Gaza this past year; thirty in the past week alone. The numbers are mind boggling. There have been deaths, injuries and property damage. Reporters with an agenda keep describing these rockets as home-made, and want us to believe that they're really just symbolic and not lethal; this is the sort of rubbish that leads to maiming and deaths. Those reporters are an embarrassment to their media and profession.

The effective range of these missiles keeps growing as the terrorists get more skilled. While sources in the IDF argue over whether their true range is 7.5km or 10km, we don't know whether to laugh or cry. Gentlemen, wake up. If they can cover 7.5km today, then it will be 10km tomorrow, and 150km by next month or next year. Don't waste our time and your goodwill with hair-splitting arguments that lose all meaning when a school in a major Israeli city is struck and damaged.

Some missiles previously managed to reach the outskirts of Israel's largest city in the area, Ashkelon, and caused concern there, but no panic till now. (We have reported on this in recent days: here for instance.) But panic is certainly what the beleagured residents of a smaller Israeli community closer to Gaza have felt for this past year and before it - and with very good reason. Their homes, vehicles, schools, stores, factories, sidewalks and everything else have suffered direct hits day after day for many months. And for the most part, until the people of Sderot took to the streets to protest, the authorities in Jerusalem and the leaders of the military pretty largely ignored them. Sderot's frustration was manifest and perfectly understandable.

Now place yourself in the shoes of a Sderot parent, trembling at the thought of another night of missiles and shrieking Red Dawn missile-warnings... as you listen (as we did just now in the car, coming home) to the prime minister speaking at a 4th July party at the US ambassador's estate tonight, responding on national radio and TV in prime time to what happened today (see photo above):
This evening a serious incident like no other took place, when a Qassam landed in a school in our southern town... This is a serious step up in the terror war which the Hamas-led government is responsible for... This serious act and this criminal attempt to hurt Israel's citizens will have far-reaching consequences.
You don't need to be on the right or the left of Israeli politics to be appalled at the way this terribly dangerous scenario is unfolding. The residents of Sderot have been warning - shouting and screaming would be more accurate - for a year that the terrorists and their government in Gaza are trying to kill and injure anyone they can hit. And while missiles are not the only means of doing so, they are the means most widely deployed and potentially the method of greatest danger. And before the people of Sderot said it, the people of the now-destroyed Jewish communities in Gaza did. Then they were removed from Gaza in the name of a peace-building strategy, and look at what we have reaped as a result. (Charles Krauthammer has an outstanding short essay called "Gaza is freed yet Gaza makes war" in this week's TIME Magazine. It's brilliant.)

We disagree with prime minister Olmert. This is neither "
a serious step up in the terror war", nor "a serious incident like no other". It is, in fact, more of the same - a continuation of the terror war that has been raging for nearly six years and that will continue for more unless decisive, consistent, goal-oriented policies are executed by those in charge of Israel's destiny. A political leader who can call this "a serious incident like no other" is telling us that he feels untouched by all those others. This is unacceptable in a national leader.

It's a tremendous shame that this needs to be said, but the prime minister's words make clear that it does have to be said. Sderot is no less strategic than Ashkelon. Ashkelon is no less strategic than Jerusalem. Jerusalem is no less strategic than Ramat Hasharon and Kfar Saba. Israel is under attack, and a winning Israeli strategy for dealing with it is nowhere in sight.

4-Jul-06: Saving Hostages

This is a heavy morning. The news media aren't saying it explicitly yet, but most people understand we're waiting for some unpleasant news now that a bogus "deadline" set by jihadist gangs has come and gone. Praying for a better outcome, but deeply worried; no Israeli soldier kidnapped by Arab terrorists has ever emerged alive.

It's the thirtieth anniversary today of one of the bravest, most creative rescue missions ever: the saving of most of the Entebbe hostages in 1976. The anniversary reports in the media this week emphasize the individual courage of the Israelis who made it possible, and the creativity of the planners and leaders of the rescue. They remind us of the central role that luck - good and bad - played in the amazing episode. They also remind us of how much mis-reporting there was at the time, including a complete cover-up of the active role which the Ugandan and other authorities at the time played in supporting the hijack and providing the German and Arab terrorists with indispensable logistical and practical support.

Israelis of every stripe are anxiously watching what happens in and around Gaza this morning.

The terrorists who grabbed and dragged an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit (pictured above) from Israel into Gaza last week are the spiritual heirs to the hijackers of Entebbe. Theirs was no military manouevre; no strategic goal is at stake here other than another in an endless series of attempts to undermine the confidence and sense of security and well-being of Israeli society, and demonstrating that when it comes to jihadism, anything goes. We don't need to spend much time analyzing the terrorists and their motivations, because we have so little to learn from them.

But what about the side-shows? Not much changes.

  • Hamas, saying it wishes to resolve the hostage crisis and bring the Israeli teenager home safely, offers this advice: the way "to protect his life and solve the problem [is] through calm diplomatic channels... We reiterate the necessity to resolve this problem with logic and wisdom". So the keys are in our hands. Logic. Wisdom. Diplomacy. The cynical Hamas message recalls the words of Ugandan despot (the media did not call him that at the time) Idi Amin. Rescued hostages say he had a similar devotion to logic, wisdom and diplomacy. According to a Jerusalem Post account, "Amin visited the hostages a number of times, telling them with jolly tones and waving shalom that he was appointed by G-d and was their friend. Their release, he said, was dependent not on him, but on the Israeli government's ability to be reasonable and release 53 Palestinian 'freedom fighters' from jails, primarily in Israel, but also held in France, Germany, Switzerland and Kenya." While dispensing this jovial advice, Amin arranged for hundreds of his troops to guard the airport terminal - against a possible rescue. Thank you, President Amin. You taught us a valuable lesson. 
  • Back then, the breathtaking Israeli rescue produced a depressingly familiar diplomatic reaction that is mostly forgotten today: a resolution to the UN Security Council condemning Israel for its "act of aggression". Yes, aggression. Yesterday, the government of Switzerland declared sonorously that "a number of actions by the Israel Defense Forces in their offensive against the Gaza Strip have violated the principle of proportionality and are to be seen as forms of collective punishment, which is forbidden". Proportionality, we've noticed, is one of those extremely subjective metrics that changes size the further you are from the party accused of doing it. Not to be left behind, Indonesia has cancelled its tennis game against Israel. 
  • Also on the international relations front: the Palestinian Justice Ministry says this morning (via the London-based daily al-Quds al-Arabi) that they are filing a petition against Israel with the International Criminal Court in The Hague. They say Israeli air strikes against government buildings, power stations and a school in the Gaza Strip are blatant violations of international law. Strangely they say nothing about jihadist attacks on schools, restaurants, buses and hitch-hiking posts. Having personally been at The Hague when the Palestinians last sent lawyers there to bludgeon Israel (at the World Court hearings into the legality of the Israeli security barrier in 2004), we can only salute their strategic thinking; this kind of tactic works. When it comes to The Hague, the old Australian advertising slogan is as true as ever: "When you're on a good thing, stick to it." 
  • The positive resolution of the Entebbe hijacking was not the end of Arab terrorism in the seventies. It was more like the beginning and was rapidly followed by many other outrages. Here, the snatching of Gilad Shalit, the cold murder of Eliyahu Asheri, have been framed before, after and during by ongoing shooting attacks on civilians and missile firings into any accessible part of Israel. This morning, Gaza Palestinian terrorists fire three Qassams into Israel from the northern Gaza Strip. One lands near Kibbutz Yad Mordechai and two in open fields near Kibbutz Nahal Oz. (These are neither military targets nor disputed territory. They are simply Israel.) 
  • Israeli Arab members of the Knesset made their contribution yesterday to the national anxiety. Having been asked by parliamentary colleagues to add their voices and moral weight to calls by most Knesset members for the release of Gilad Shalit, they refused, preferring instead to call on their Palestinian brethren to extend an ultimatum issued earlier Monday so there could be more time to broker a "prisoner" swap - the kidnapped soldier for terrorists like our daughter's murderer. In plain words, an expression of confidence in the terror gangs and their strategy. MK Mohammed Barakeh expressed their position with his usual straight talk to a fellow MK: "I won't do anything at your request." Our taxes at work.

Monday, July 03, 2006

3-Jul-06: Marketing Suicide to Children

A Normal Rockwell classic
In Gaza yesterday, Israeli forces spot three gunmen approaching their position and fire on them; the three are killed and the bodies are then checked - with great care, based on bitter past experience. Two of them are found to be wrapped in explosive belts. They had been sent as human bombs.

The romance of Palestinian Arab society in particular, and Jihadists in general, with suicide and infanticide is in full force. The most unimaginable aspect of this is that the death of children is a principal goal - not of Israel but of Palestinian Arab parents and Palestinian Arab society. Difficult as this is to accept, there's plenty of evidence.

Earlier this week, with Israeli and Gazan forces in a hot shooting war with each other, official PA television, controlled by the 'moderate' Abbas, has chosen, after a three-year absence, to renew its campaign of advertorial-style, pro-suicide video clips. Their chief purpose is to encourage young children to become shaheeds - fighters happy to go to their violent deaths.

Haaretz reports today that government-controlled Palestinian TV is screening an overwrought, highly emotive short film about the Palestinian boy Mohammed al-Dura. The video depicts a child portraying al-Dura peacefully playing in heaven; "follow me" he calls to other children while the popular singer Aida croons in the background, describing how the earth longs for the deaths of children: "How pleasant is the smell of the earth whose thirst is quenched by blood pouring out of young bodies."

The very serious and disturbing doubts about what really happened to Mohammed and his father Jamal six years ago are the subject of numerous investigations; The Second Draft is a carefully documented and persuasive example. But irrespective of whether the boy al-Dura was shot by Israeli forces, murdered in cold blood by his own people, or alive and well today, it is the icon created by his image that has caused, and continues now to lead to, untold deaths on both sides of this ongoing war.

The film was earlier taken off the air by the Arafat government in 2003 in response to Palestinian Media Watch director Itamar Marcus showing it to a U.S. Senate hearing. Airing this video clip now has one clear purpose: to influence the behavior of young Palestinian Arab children, encouraging them to seek death as a means of inflicting pain on the despised Jews.

The appalling abuse of their own children is part of a consistent pattern of pathological, self-destructive behavior by Palestinian society over a period of years - and it works. Palestinian Media Watch points out that the Arafat regime's TV campaign succeeded, according to 3 separate opinion polls of Palestinian society, in persuading between 70 and 80 percent of Palestinian children to want to die as shaheeds. So to those who believe the Palestinian thugocracy has achieved nothing in its decades of leadership: technically not true. No other government in the history of civilized society comes close to the evil outcome the Palestinian Arabs have wrought with their own children.

Footnote: The BBC provides this background. Official broadcasting is run by the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation (PBC) which operates Voice of Palestine radio and Palestine TV. These outlets came under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian president in early 2006; the move was seen as an attempt to prevent the new Hamas-dominated government from exerting control over the official media.