May 25, 2007 - On May 15 Hamas escalated its rocket war against southern Israel.
At least 16 rockets and six mortar shells were launched at Sderot that day. The attacks continued into the next day and beyond. Several residents were injured, and several more treated for shock.
The purpose of the attack was clearly to use Israeli bodies to unify a Palestinian people torn by the strife between Hamas and Fatah. Khaled Meshal, chief leader of Hamas, stated on Hamas al-Aqsa TV that this was a "historic opportunity" to unite the feuding Palestinian factions to fight their common enemy. Killing Israelis has always been a reliable method for making partisans of both sides forget their differences.
The casualties so far include one death, a 35-year-old woman in Sderot whose car was hit. She died on her way to the hospital. Now the rockets are reaching the industrial area of Ashkelon, which has a big fuel depot and the potential for a disaster of major proportions. The death toll is bound to increase. Already in Sderot a missile crashed through the roof of a high school into a classroom adjacent to one where students were taking an exam.
Aside from the death and injuries, the war of nerves has been taking a toll. Here is one eye-witness account of life under fire in Sderot:
"It was a type of scream I couldn't recognize, half laughter, half terror, complete madness.
"The first 'TSEVA ADOM' ["color red"] alarm went off as I was across the street from my office, borrowing a friend's computer on the fourth floor of an apartment building. Like usual, we stepped into the corridor - the safest place in the house - and waited. 15? 14? 13? I had gotten to twelve when I heard the screaming. A type of scream I couldn't recognize, half laughter, half terror, complete madness. 11? 10? it fell. Maybe a block away at most. Everyone in the apartment raced outside, and it wasn't until 30 seconds later - when I woke from my daze - that I realized the screaming hadn't stopped. I was about to step outside to join the rest when, 'TSEVA ADOM'. Again. 15? 14? I had barely reached 13 when it crashed, shaking my entire body - half a block away."
The account continues:
"A young mother was pushing her child in a stroller, when the first 'tseva adom' alarm went off. Rationally speaking, she would have had enough time to pick up her child and rush with him into a nearby basement. But instead, she toppled over the stroller, child inside, and herself fell to the ground - screaming. She did not cease until Natasha and the others who ran out of the apartment lifted her and her child, and carried her into a neighbor's apartment."
Whether or not the qassams actually strike their targets, they are having their intended effect. Over one third of Sderot's 23,000 residents have already fled, some never to return. This is the Palestinian strategy: turn Israel into a hell where Jews will no longer want to live.
Hamas, the elected government of the Palestinians, admits responsibility for most of the attacks. Hamas' Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades bragged on their web site about the "successful pulverization" of the Israeli "settlements" and of having made life unlivable in Sderot and other "settlements" in the western Negev. One such statement (May 16) took joy in the rockets' injuring dozens of Israelis and causing the closing of schools in the "Sderot settlement."
The targets of Hamas rocket fire are not settlements. They are cities in Israel. Hamas makes no secret of its claim that all of Israel is "occupied" and that they are "resisting" an "occupation." What they are really doing is attempting to force an evacuation of southern Israel. They have threatened to escalate their rocket attacks as far inside Israel as they are able to reach. And their reach is steadily increasing.
Hamas has openly declared itself against peace with Israel. It wants no agreement with Israel that will lead to peace, and so, while it may not say so openly, will do whatever it can to prevent a two-state solution. An agreement for a Jewish and a Palestinian state would grant legitimacy to both, which Hamas will never accept. It is thus in the interests of Hamas to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state as long as Israel exists. Why settle for half, when the whole seems within reach? But Hamas needs a way to acquire the whole without taking the blame for the failure of the peace process.
What would be a good strategy for Hamas, if in fact it does not want peace and wants to saddle Israel with the blame? The strategy would be: demand that Israel withdraw, but make it impossible for Israel to withdraw. Call Israel an "occupier," but make it impossible for the occupation to end. This will effectively corner Israel, leaving Israel with no options as the noose tightens around it.
Thus the war of rockets. This war is justified by calling it "resistance to the occupation." But this war began as the result of Israel's ending the occupation of Gaza. It is a classic double bind: Don't withdraw, and you are an occupier. Withdraw, and we will fire rockets deeper into your territory and still call you an occupier.
Hamas feels the pressure on Israel increasing. Hamas has escalated rocket fire from Gaza. It is trying to fortify the West Bank to become another front against Israel. In the north Hezbollah remains as strong as ever, perhaps even stronger and better armed than before last summer's war. And in the background, Iran's nuclear buildup threatens to intensify the pressure past the breaking point.
So why should Hamas negotiate when it can press its advantage and go for the big score? It has Israel right where it wants Israel: in the position of occupier, with world opinion solidly against it. If Hamas gets lucky and hits a fuel tank in Ashkelon or a kindergarten in Sderot and provokes an invasion by the Israeli army, it will score another public relations coup, proving once again the evil intentions of the inveterate occupier.
Hamas does not want Israel to withdraw peacefully from Palestinian territory. If it did, it would heed the pleas of Mahmoud Abbas to stop the rocket fire immediately and establish a truce. Abbas has called the rockets "pointless and needless," saying "they must be stopped in order that we reach a mutual truce between us and Israel in Gaza and the West Bank." Hamas does not want such a truce, and has dismissed Abbas with contempt. And unfortunately, the weight of popular support seems behind Hamas, leaving Abbas with little leverage.
The game Hamas is playing must be exposed, if there is to be any hope of breaking through the impasse and truly working for peace. Blaming Israel for trying to protect its southern cities plays right into the game. Hamas is conducting an open war on Israel, "in the name of resistance." If this were truly about ending the occupation, the occupation would end. But Hamas needs Israel to keep the status of "occupier," so that it can get what it really wants.
Fisher, Matthew. "Hamas Set to Renew Bombings." National Post, May 18, 2007.
Jerusalem Post Staff and Associated Press. "IAF Firing on Kassam Launch Cells in Northern Gaza." Jerusalem Post, May 22, 2007.
Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center. "News of the Israeli-Palestinian Confrontation." Herzliya: Israel Intelligence Heritage and Commemoration Center, May 16, 2007.
Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center. "Update: Hamas Rocket Attacks on Sderot and the Western Negev Continue on the Backdrop of the Extremely Violent Confrontations Between Hamas and Fatah in the Gaza Strip." Herzliya: Israel Intelligence Heritage and Commemoration Center, May 16 and May 18, 2007.
Katz, Yaakov and Rebecca Anna Stoil. "Israel Braces for Rockets on Ashkelon, Beersheba." Jerusalem Post, May 21, 2007.
Kershner, Isabel. "Israel Arrests 33 West Bank Palestinians." New York Times, May 24, 2007.
Rifkin, Marsha. "American Reporters Witness the Sheer Terror of Rockets in Sderot." Israel Insider, May 18, 2007.
Peace with Realism