February 8, 2009

A Dispatch from the Border with Gaza

Gaza City from Sderot.jpg

Not since the Second Intifada, when more than a thousand Israelis were murdered by Palestinian suicide bombers, have Israeli civilians suffered in a way that makes for compelling news copy or TV reports.

The southern Israeli city of Sderot sits right next to the border with Gaza, and it is the target of choice for Hamas and Islamic Jihad's Qassam rocket barrages. The first time I visited the city under fire was immediately after the Second Lebanon War in August of 2006. Israeli civilians were still on their way back to Haifa, Kiryat Shmona, and other urban areas that had been emptied of people when Hezbollah turned the northern sixth of the country into a free fire zone. Lebanese villages were still smoldering, and their dead were still being cleared from underneath rubble. Sderot, by contrast, seemed downright sedate even though rockets packed tight with metal fragments and ball bearings still fell from the sky every day.

The city had been under fire for years before I got there, but the barrages were tolerable, albeit barely. Sderot had never been abandoned. Its residents were never made into refugees. Only a handful of people had been killed by the time I first visited, and not even a dozen more have been killed in the meantime. It's easy to callously ask

Posted by Michael J. Totten at February 8, 2009 11:41 PM
Comments
"Hamas didn
Posted by: ElMondo at February 9, 2009 8:00 am
"Hamas didn
Posted by: Lindsey at February 9, 2009 1:41 pm
"Hamas didn
Posted by: Li'l Mamzer at February 9, 2009 3:05 pm
Michael,
Exceptional report - thank you.
Once again you've brought your unique "man on the street" perspective to the story; without your report, I was still convinced that Israel's recent offensive was justified. After reading your report, one realizes just how great Israel's restraint has been - it gives a whole new perspective on tolerance for terror. The choices that parents are making to protect their kids are mindboggling to those of us who live is a free and safe community.
Posted by: Lisa-in-DC at February 9, 2009 6:51 pm
I'm amazed that Israeli's have not formed 'militia' groups and fired back rockets themselves. At some point unless the Israeli government ignores the UN and rest and simply smashes Hamas irrespective of the Palestinian casualties, the urge for Israeli's to strike back will become irresistible resulting in militias or vigilante groups that the government won't be able to control.
Posted by: cubanbob at February 9, 2009 6:59 pm
Thank you, Michael.
The parents and their children...really gets to me.
Posted by: Paul S. at February 9, 2009 10:43 pm
As an Israeli, I can only be grateful that there are journalists like MJT who are willing to look at the Israeli side of the conflict. How often do we see the mainstream media sneeringly dismiss the qassam attacks as "crude, homemade rockets" that don't kill anyone. Most of the world is engaged in a willful suspension of imagination and empathy for Israeli civilians, while wallowing in every suffering of the Palestinians - real or imagined.
One point made in the article with which I would mildly disagree is the suggestion that Israel was nonchalant and passive in the face of qassam attacks, because it was limited to a small number of civilians in the south, and the body count was low. This isn't really true. For a long time Israel was locked in a game of cat and mouse with Hamas rocket squads, with rapid aerial response teams often taking them out as they fled the launch site. Then there was the ceasefire that lasted for about six months, and which Hamas refused to renew.
The larger point to this is that Israel did engage in a policy of proportional responses, and it didn't work. Then they tried a truce, and that didn't work. So all of the howling about disproprotionate responses is made by people with a historical memory that does not go beyond last week's headlines.
Posted by: MarkC at February 10, 2009 8:59 am
Without addressing the snake's head in Tehran this is endless. Even then, bad actors abound. Today's election in Israel, and its consequences, are huge.
Posted by: Paul S. at February 10, 2009 2:08 pm
The election results show that the peace camp is in the minority. This will undoubtedly mean an election victory for Hamas in the west bank, and that the peace process, if there ever really was one, is dead. So be it. Maybe this is part of some inexorable dialectic where 1948 will have to be fought over again, and this time the winner will take all.
Posted by: MarkC at February 10, 2009 10:05 pm
On the other hand, has everybody seen the picture of Bar Raffaeli on the cover of Sports Illustrated? http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1063143.html
VA-VA-VOOM! There's always something to be joyous about.
Posted by: MarkC at February 11, 2009 12:07 am
MarkC,
"So be it."
I made a mental note-to-self a while back to pay particular attention to your posts; you've struck me as a savvy observer with a cut-to-the-essence realist's eye that resonates with me.
For what it's worth, from the luxury of shelter that distance provides me here in America, I feel tremendous sadness and apprehension; I guess it's somewhat like the feeling I acknowledged as a conservative when our November election results finally were reality. I can easily see near term as well as longer horizon events careening out of anyone's control, perhaps in a cataclysmic chain reaction of inevitability, engulfing warriors, the innocents, the guilty...everyone and everything.
Posted by: Paul S. at February 11, 2009 12:08 am
Paul S -
Thanks for the compliment. There is something about living in a place, especially as an outsider, that gives you a realist's perspective. I see no room for optimism. As somebody said, hope makes a good breakfast but a poor supper, and we ate breakfast fifteen years ago.
So, what do you think of Bar Raffaeli?
Posted by: MarkC at February 11, 2009 5:32 am
The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 02/11/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.
Posted by: David M at February 11, 2009 11:21 am
Once again MJT, awesome reporting!
Posted by: dclydew at February 11, 2009 1:22 pm
MarkC,
Leonardo's one lucky dude.
Be still my heart...
:-)
Posted by: Paul S. at February 11, 2009 3:11 pm
(Got here via someone who is familiar with you, MT)
Most Israelis may talk about wild optimism for short periods of time, mostly before elections when they are convincing themselves of the option of change.
Most times, I'd describe what Israelis employ as "wary pragmatism". They hope things will be different, but most don't believe they will, not in the next decade or so, unless something changes radically. And in a decade from now, they'll believe the same, most probably.
They believe there can be change, but that the process will be slow, unless like Michael posted some posts ago, in his interview with the local reporter, there is something decisive and which changes things radically, such as a total seperation and cold peace.
Optimism is good. But when things are considered to have been more or less "the same" with only brief respites to hope for, and "normal relations" being amiable cold peace, it's not dead, but it's deep within the drawer.
Posted by: Guy Shalev at February 14, 2009 5:02 pm
Guess the author of this piece is seriously trying to convince himself that Israel's killing of 1000+ humans (mostly civilians) and laying waste to big swaths of Gaza was really about stopping the incoming from Gaza to Israel. Let's play along here:
Was Israel's action effective? No. Rockets still fly towards Israel, last I heard.
So does this mean that Israeli leadership is
a) incompetent
b) sadistic
c) out to achieve a totally different goal than that stated in this post?
You be the judge.
Posted by: Persephone at February 17, 2009 9:54 am
Persephone, you ignorant slut (remember SNL from the eighties?)
As usual, you blithely pass off falsehoods as though they were accepted truisms. Israel claims that two-thirds of the casualties were militants. Undoubtedly you believe that Israelis are shameless liars, as well as psychopathic murderers, but that doesn't alter the fact that your facts are contested.
Second, the operation undoubtedly had a deterrent effect. The small number of rockets Hamas is firing for show cannot compare with the onslaught we had before the operation, and we are now on the brink of a ceasefire agreement that should include the return of the Israeli prisoner Gilad Shalit.
In short, you're full of shit.
Posted by: MarkC at February 17, 2009 10:35 am
Persephone, have you ever been to Israel? It's a very small country. At one point, you can drive from the border with the West Bank to the beach in 20 minutes. And that's with traffic. The threat described here is very real.
It's a more likely scenario than Iran's threats of nuclear attack. If Iran's non-nuclear rockets are used by Hezbollah and Hamas against Tel Aviv, Israel would be forced to attack Lebanon and Gaza. Then Iran's Mullahs and Hamas' Saudi supporters could sit safe and sound, cheering the destruction. Which has been the Saudi/Iranian modus operandi all along. They won't even break a nail. It's a lot less risky than nukes.
PS. - what is this supposed to mean?
c) out to achieve a totally different goal than that stated in this post?
What do you think the 'totally different goal' could be?
Posted by: maryatexitzero at February 17, 2009 2:59 pm
Persephone,
Look at it this way.
If one warning is not enough there will always be another.
Eventually even you will hid it, not to mention Hamas.
Posted by: leo at February 17, 2009 3:40 pm
I almost decided not to comment on this piece, but today I came across
http://washingtonbureau.typepad.com/jerusalem/2009/02/the-white-flags-of-gaza-part-ii.html
this - the links are needed.
Luckily, there are multiple journalists in the world. As a piece in a mosaic, the sort of report above is... okay. Or, to be more descriptive, a sincere, well-written, factually accurate (as far as I know), convincing piece of excellent pro-Israeli propaganda.
The stuff about the effects of Hamas rockets on Israeli civilians is very moving if you have no inclination to think about the same effect times, oh, fifty, in total ordinance volume, on the far side. Or even if you do, actually. So, um, good work, I guess.
For the record, I don't entirely agree with Persephone, either.
Posted by: glasnost at February 18, 2009 6:24 am
Doesn't surprise me you wouldn't comment on this, glasnost. Someone might accuse you of putting aside blind belief and attempting objectivity. Wouldn't be me though. I have no use for blind ideologues. I hope we never meet; I have a short fuse.
Posted by: Paul S. at February 18, 2009 12:51 pm
glasnost,
Few questions.
What is the reason you take those reports you linked to for granted while Michael's piece comes through as nothing but propaganda, however well written?
How do you know it was IDF and not Hamas who scribbled messages on walls then suddenly discovered it?
How do you know that white flags were waved at all (most likely true)?
How do you know civilians waving white flags were shot or even shot at?
How do you know there were civilians?
How do you know those were IDF soldiers rather than dressed up Hamasis?
Assuming allegations in your link are true what makes you believe it is pattern rather than exception?
Do you know whether Israelis are investigating those claims or not?
Thank you.
Posted by: leo at February 18, 2009 7:35 pm
Leo,
What is the reason you take those reports you linked to for granted while Michael's piece comes through as nothing but propaganda, however well written?
I don't specifically disbelieve any of the factual assertions in Mike's piece, which is why I called it "factually accurate".
Assuming allegations in your link are true what makes you believe it is pattern rather than exception?
You're putting words in my mouth; I didn't say anything about patterns or exceptions. I wouldn't have assumed that I'd be reading these articles until I read them.
How do you know there were civilians?
Letting this stand in for all the factual questions: How do I know that there are tunnels under Gaza? How do I know how many people died in the Beslan school shooting? How do I know who won the Israeli elections last week? I don't have physical, first-hand evidence of any of this. Just like everyone else, I read words on a screen that make claims and try to make judgments about them. The Mcclatchy link discusses a variety of stories in several MSM newspapers. It's pretty clear that there are unanswered questions.
It seems clear from the article that Palestinians told journalists that these things happened, possibly with or without producing physical evidence of unknown uniqueness. (From what I recall of the article, there was some physical evidence displayed). Obviously, like all human beings, Palestinians don't always tell the truth. However, it's very morally and intellectually convenient to assume that every unpleasant fact you hear about the IDF from a Palestinian is a lie. That's what I'd guess your default state of mind is. You've been conditioned.
I think Mike cares about the factual accuracy of his pieces, to some extent. Better than many, even. Lies are for amateurs, anyway. The world as a whole is moving past that kind of crude manipulation into much subtler types of manipulation - practiced constantly by ordinary people in our daily lives and all types of instittutions - created by selective presentation of some types of information and disinterest or hardwired disbelief in others. This is actually progress, sort of, or it could be.
I think the apocryphal reports here of the IDF shooting civilians are about as unverified or verified as the reports we have managed to hear about of Hamas shooting civilians. The New York Times would report both. But trips to Israel sponsored by the types of organizations who are the only ones offering these kinds of trips for free, are not the kind of trips where both types of rumors will make it to Mike's ears.
I think he could try harder to push on the bubble that he is economically and psychically comfortable in.
Posted by: glasnost at February 20, 2009 6:52 am
glasnost':
You're putting words in my mouth; I didn't say anything about patterns or exceptions. I wouldn't have assumed that I'd be reading these articles until I read them.
Then I am confused because of this:
"I almost decided not to comment on this piece, but today I came across
http://washingtonbureau.typepad.com/jerusalem/2009/02/the-white-flags-of-gaza-part-ii.html"

It seems pattern did not deserve comment while exception did. Is pattern simply too boring too comment on? Then my assumption was wrong and I apologize.
leo: "How do you know there were civilians?"
glasnost': "Letting this stand in for all the factual questions: How do I know that there are tunnels under Gaza? How do I know how many people died in the Beslan school shooting? How do I know who won the Israeli elections last week? I don't have physical, first-hand evidence of any of this. Just like everyone else, I read words on a screen that make claims and try to make judgments about them."
There is indisputable evidence to Gaza tunnels, to Beslan school massacre, and to Israel election results. In those cases it is not necessary for either you or me to have first hand evidence. There are plenty of respectable alternatives. However, Palestinians were caught in a lie before and more than once (remember Jenin massacre for example?). I for one refuse to buy anything they are selling unless it can be corroborated by evidence rather than hearsay and empty allegations.
"But trips to Israel sponsored by the types of organizations who are the only ones offering these kinds of trips for free, are not the kind of trips where both types of rumors will make it to Mike's ears."
Of cause it is propaganda but it does mean it is a lie. And if it does not then I do not care whether it is propaganda or not.
Posted by: leo at February 21, 2009 9:42 pm
I wonder, Michael, did you ask for the Bios of Major Chezy Deutsh and Col Miri Eisen? In particular, were they born in Israel? This may seem irrelevant information to you, but I bet Palestinians who can trace their history in Palestine back thousands of years think it matters.
Also, did you not see the obvious contradiction in your article? The part where you say the Erez waiting room was "packed with reporters from all over the world", and a photo to prove it, yet Eisen says "But they almost never write about this".
Excuse me, but the world did know about this. Why? Well, the reporters weren't allowed into Gaza (in the interests of free speech, of course) so what else do they write about? We downunder heard all about it, I can assure you, esp from the Israeli point of view.
And when I clicked on the link "Hamas didn't allow their wounded to be treated by Jews" I found the article actually said "Hamas discouraged..." and that Palestinians were, in fact, treated at a Jordanian facility set up within Gaza. Really, Michael, the story here is that there was no story.
But, according to you, Israelis are so humane that they they will set up a hospital for those they are trying to kill.
It's like the humanitarian aid Israel allows into Gaza: just enough to keep them alive so Israel can kill them at their leisure.
Anyway, I would be very appreciative if you could get back to me on my opening question.
And, if you don't mind, can you give me a contact at AIPAC so I can apply for a free trip to Israel too?
Posted by: kbrmrebutted.blogspot.com at March 7, 2009 2:36 am
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