September 20, 2007 - There has been much hysteria over talk about Israel cutting off electricity to the Gaza Strip. It is time to defuse the hysteria - and also the hypocrisy.
First, it hasn't happened yet. What is actually happening:
For many months now Palestinians in Gaza have been launching rockets against Sderot and Israel's other southern cities, resulting in loss of life and much additional damage. The potential for further damage is very great, with schools and fuel centers within rocket range.
Israel has found itself in a deep dilemma. What is the best response? One response might be an Israeli incursion into Gaza - something Israel's leaders want to avoid if at all possible. As Israeli Prime Minister Olmert stated, "the price of a military operation in Gaza is known to all, and in any case conditions are not ripe for this."
Trying to find a measured response, the IsraelI government has declared Gaza a "hostile territory." This could allow Israel to impose sanctions such as limiting supplies of fuel and electricity, restricting the transfer of certain goods (especially anything that might be used in the manufacture of rockets), stopping visits to prisoners, and increasing the monitoring of funds.
The Israeli government rejected an option that would have totally cut off all fuel and electricity to Gaza. Instead, in the words of a senior Israeli government official: "We will reduce the amount of megawattage we provide to the Strip, and Hamas will have to decide whether to provide electricity to hospitals or weapons lathes." There would be exceptions for humanitarian reasons: the flow of power to hospitals for running their generators would not be decreased. Food and medical supplies would be allowed, but other goods restricted, such as pipes that can be used for making rockets. The object is not to make the Palestinian people suffer, but to make it harder for them to continue firing rockets at Israeli civilians.
The official Palestinian response is astonishing. Hamas said of the Israeli plan: "It is a declaration of war and continues the criminal, terrorist Zionist actions against our people." Firing rockets at cities is not an act of war? Gaza has been at war with Israel ever since Israel vacated all of its settlements there.
The response from Fatah was no more coherent. A minister in the government of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas stated: "It is collective punishment against the people of Gaza, and discourages serious political discussion." Firing rockets at cities is not "collective punishment"? Are those rockets meant to "encourage serious political discussion"?
The sanctions that Israel is contemplating are a way of trying to stop the flow of rockets without a violent response that would endanger Palestinian lives. Right now Israel is supplying Palestinians with the power they are using to run the metal workshops where they make their rockets. The Palestinians would now be given a choice: Here is your electricity, just enough for your people's needs or for killing Israelis. Which will you choose?
Examine the Palestinians' response very closely. If they simply stopped firing the rockets, there would be no need for Israeli sanctions. The Palestinians, who call themselves powerless, are actually in control. They can put a full stop to the sanctions by halting their aggression and returning to the peace process. Therefore all this moaning about "collective punishment" amounts to insistence on the right to keep firing the rockets. What else could it mean? The Palestinians are saying: "We have the right to make war on you, but don't you dare try to stop us or we will complain about human rights violations and war crimes." It's really simple: if the Palestinians don't want these sanctions, then stop firing the rockets.
It may be a simple solution, but you won't hear it on the BBC, and you won't hear it at the UN. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that Israeli sanctions would violate international law. "Such a step would be contrary to Israel's obligations towards the civilian population under international humanitarian and human rights law," Ban stated. Do rockets aimed at civilian targets violate international law? Would it be more acceptable to the UN if Israel fired rockets back into Palestinian villages, one Israeli equivalent for each qassam?
But, some demand, Israel should go after only those individuals who are firing rockets, and not take any measures that might affect others as well. Unfortunately this is very difficult when rocket-launching terrorists hide among the general population, using them as human shields. The hypocrisy of the demand is exposed on considering that when Israel does go after specific perpetrators of terrorist acts, it is accused of "targeted assassinations." What country would allow its citizens to be shelled without taking any measures to stop it? Not one. Yet that is expected of Israel.
Suppose you had an electrical generator on your property that was supplying power to your neighbor's house. Suppose your neighbor was using that power to make an electrical bomb to blow up your house. Would you continue supplying that power?
The Palestinians use "occupation" as a justification for everything, including war crimes. I would love finally to see an end to the dilemma of settlements and occupation. I would love to see two states, Jewish and Palestinian, with clearly defined and mutually recognized borders. But how can this happen, given the Palestinian response to any concrete gesture of peace? Israel has withdrawn from Gaza, and the result has been rockets falling on the Israeli south. Israel withdrew from Lebanon, and the result was rockets falling on the Israeli north. What will happen when Israel withdraws from the West Bank?
The great obstacle to peace today, greater even than the Israeli settlements, is the determined Palestinian effort to make life in Israel unlivable. This is no secret. The Palestinians have made their intentions clear: "We have decided to make Sderot a ghost town. We are not going to stop launching our rockets until they leave." The term for this is ethnic cleansing. That is what Israel is resisting. If the Palestinians do not like Israeli resistance, they should remove the provocation. Israel is not invading. It is not bombing. It is not shooting rockets back. Instead, for now, Israel is contemplating selective and limited sanctions. It is trying to find a way to stop those lethal rockets with minimum impact on Palestinian civilians. To cry "collective punishment" instead of stopping the rockets and coming to the peace table, to use a transparently phony morality to excuse continuing attacks on Israel's population centers, is not just hypocrisy. It is war.
Ravid, Barak. "IDF Formulates Plan to Limit Services to Civilians in Gaza." Ha'aretz, September 20, 2007.
Peace with Realism