©Asher Intrater, July 2006
As I write, Israel has finished its second full day (Friday July 7) of military action in northern Gaza. On this day, 12 Kasam rockets were fired into Israel – a reduced number, but still representing active Hamas or Jihad resistance. No Israelis have been killed by those Kasams, and only one soldier has been killed in the fighting, Sergeant Yehuda Basal, and that apparently by crossfire from one of our soldiers, not from the Palestinians.
Israel reported 40 armed terrorists killed in the action; the Palestinians reported over 60.
Today also marks the 20th anniversary of fall and capture in Lebanon of Israel parachuter Ron Arad, who is still missing. It is also the one-year anniversary of the terror bombing in the subway station in London in which 52 people were killed by Al Qaida associates.
Just a few minutes ago, Hamas sent an announcement through a Yahoo.com email address to senior Israeli news correspondents, stating that the hostage, Corporal Gilad Shalit, is alive and in good condition. They continued their demand for the release of prisoners, citing the 400 prisoners that were exchanged for Israeli hostage Colonel Tannenbaum in Lebanon two years ago.
Prime Minister Olmert has remained firm that he will not bargain with the kidnappers. The majority of Israelis agree with him despite a certain minority (including Gilad's father understandably) who do favor prisoner exchange.
Earlier this week, Israel managed to capture and jail 64 (sixty four!) Hamas political leaders from the West Bank. They are still being held under charges of belonging to a terrorist organization. Ironically, they also represent the majority of the Palestinian parliament.
Israel also managed to capture in Ramallah the three kidnappers and murderers of Eliyahu Asheri. They had been hiding in the Palestinian police headquarters in Ramallah. An Israeli SWAT team of Duvdavani and Duchaphit forces surrounded the building before dawn and forced them to surrender (under threats of knocking down the building).
Israel also succeeded in capturing a suicide terrorist who had left Jenin and was heading for Israel to blow himself up. Army and police forces set up blockades on the Shomron highway 65, until they located him in an orange Palestinian commuter van with other civilians. The man was arrested and the bomb detonated.
In the current Israeli military offensive, the objectives are: 1. To stop the launching of the Kasam missiles, 2. To stop the production of the Kasams, 3. To find and destroy other tunnels going under the border, 4. To encounter and kill armed terrorists, and 5. To put pressure on Hamas to release Gilad. At this point there is not an apparent possibility of a military action to rescue him. Last week Israel had bombed infrastructure installations, such as bridges, electric plants, and government offices, also to put pressure on Hamas.
All this amounts to an intense and complex psychological warfare between the Israelis and the Palestinians. I called our friend "S," one of the few evangelists left in Gaza, to get his perspective on the situation from the Palestinian view. "S" and two other Arab evangelists, "F" and "W," work discipling a group of about 20 MBB's (Moslem background believers). Currently there is only one evangelical church in all Gaza, numbering about 120 in attendance at their weekly service.
"S" believes that God wants to use the current conflict to open up core issues in the hearts of Palestinians and Israelis that go back even to the conflict between Ishmael and Isaac. The Palestinians feel "honored" that they were able to capture an Israeli soldier. They normally feel so abused and defeated, that despite their much heavier losses now, the fact that they were able to "get something," has given them a good feeling. "S" feels that the Palestinians are motivated more by a need for honor than out of simply hatred for Israel.
He asked us to pray for the government leaders, both Arab and Israeli, to be used by God to deal with the spiritual issues. He cited Jordan King Abdallah as calling for "zero tolerance" in the Arab nations for terror, and PM Olmert's experience with Arabs from his term as mayor of Jerusalem. "S" sees Islam as a counterfeit cure for the root of rejection and jealousy found in the Arab peoples.
He also said that the Gazans do realize that Israel is responding with a certain degree of restraint, and making an effort not to kill innocent civilians. The Arabs need to deal with "self criticism," analyzing their own mistakes, instead of just blaming Israel. They see that Israelis are very open to criticism within our own society.
"S" remarks remind me of our dilemma in Israel. We need to show restraint in a "proportionate" military response, and yet do enough damage to put pressure on Hamas. Israeli military correspondent Alex Fishman wryly remarked, "We're showing enough force to encourage more terrorism and not enough to be a deterrent." (We have cultivated "self criticism" to the point of being an art form. It's virtually our national sport.)
U. N. General Secretary Kofi Anan warned Israel not to make "collective" punishment on the Palestinian people because of the hostage. However, that is illogical, because the kidnapping was sanctioned by Hamas, which is the elected and ruling party of the Palestinian government. On the other hand, the issue of "proportionate" use of force is a relevant one; we must take into account the degree of real threat and damage incurred by the Kasam missiles, terror bombings, and kidnappings.
On the one hand, actual Israeli losses have been relatively small. On the other hand, Israelis feel that since we had withdrawn our settlers and military forces completely from Gaza, and made a clear boundary between us, the Kasam rockets and the kidnapping were tantamount to acts of war. The crisis was escalated this week as two "dual" rocket Kasams, with increased range of 12 kilometers, hit Ashkelon - its 110,000 residents representing a much larger population brought into danger.