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Monday, September 03, 2007

Basic self-defense should not be a partisan issue


Throughout Israel's relatively short tenure among the family of nations, its citizens seem to have lived by the old axiom; 'that which doesn't kill me makes me stronger'.  Through wars, terrorist campaigns and Intifadas, Israelis have somehow been able to adapt, persevere and even thrive in the face of unimaginable adversity. 

Yet have these trials and tribulations truly made us stronger as a nation?  As I scanned the news this morning about the latest kassam strikes inside Israel (Update: 6 7 have hit so far as of 11:30AM), one of which landed in the courtyard of a Sderot daycare center, prompting the evacuation of the babies enrolled there, I have to think that the answer to that question is a resounding 'no'.

It doesn't bother me so much anymore that the uninterrupted barrage of rockets that Israel has endured continues to go mostly unreported in the international media.  After all, Israel would do well not to hold its collective breath waiting for the sympathy of the world. 

But what has begun to shock me is the way so many in this tiny country take pride in their ability to thicken their skin and shrug off ever-more-horrifying attacks.

I'm not suggesting mass hysteria or endless hand-wringing.  But sustained, directed outrage on the part of the citizenry - and more importantly, coherent action on the part of its leaders - is not only appropriate, but IMHO, long overdue.

Instead, as Ehud Olmert famously pointed out in a speech he delivered a few years ago to an American audience, we Israelis are tired.  We are tired of fighting... we are tired of defending ourselves... we are tired feeling pain... we are tired of conflict.

If we heard these words from someone lying in a hospital bed, it would be fair to assume that the person had lost his/her will to live.  Sadly, this is the very lesson our enemies take each time we broadcast these sentiments in both word and deed. 

It is like the subtle signal that cancer cells receive when the body's last immunity finally gives way.  Anyone who has ever cared for a loved one in a hospice situation knows what I'm talking about.  When the will to fight is lost and the last defenses fall, the end usually comes with startling speed.

Just as I can understand the families of Israel's captive soldiers when they relentlessly lobby for concessions in order to redeem their loved-ones from captivity at any cost, I can also understand the average Israeli's wish to simply stare blindly into the distance after so many years of war.  I can understand and forgive these urges because we Israelis have always been able to rely on the government to be strong when the nation is too emotionally invested or too weary to fight.

Until now.

Without regard to how one felt/feels about the disengagement from Gaza, from that day until this, we have endured uninterrupted infiltration, terror attacks and rocket strikes from this horrible Gazan entity we helped create with our pragmatic generosity.

Yet somehow, outrage over this unending barrage has been allowed to become a partisan issue.  Instead of the attacks themselves being the issue, the debate continues to be about whether disengagement is responsible for the attacks. 

Whenever I've voiced my anger at the government's feckless response in the face of overt acts of war, I have been answered with such imbecilic logic as "Well, it was far worse when we occupied Gaza"... as if that triumphant statement would somehow shield us from the falling rockets.

What kind of crap is that?!!! What does that have to do with what we should be doing right this very minute???!!!!!!

It's like those idiot rabbis who, instead of responding to the collapse of a wedding hall with calls for national prayer and blood donations for the injured, chose to publicly place the blame for the tragedy on mixed dancing and immodest attire among the celebrants.

Even if it were true (irrelevant), it is so unhelpful as to be offensive in the face of such tragedy. 

In the case of those who would invoke disengagement when confronted with current attacks, it doesn't speak to why we aren't responding in the face of what any other civilized nation would consider a clear casus belli

The Israeli left has somehow turned inaction and pacifism into badges of patriotism... and the Israeli right, in its single-minded devotion to the retention of every square inch of territory, is equally guilty of answering every attack with 'I told you sos' and calls to retain Judea and Samaria. 

Both sides refuse to think globally and simply advocate a response... any response.  And most unbelievable in these troubling times, there are those on both political extremes who continue to encourage teenagers to dodge service and IDF soldiers to refuse orders... all while simultaneously vilifying those from the other end of the political spectrum who do so!

For its part, the government seems to have decided to not get involved.  Being a left-leaning body, the current government has opted to forgo direct response to attacks, and instead has seen fit to issue calls for dismantling of settlements and withdrawal from territory after most attacks... as if this will somehow pacify our attackers.

In fairness, there has been a largely-unreported military response - albeit an ineffectual and rudderless one - which now finds a nearly constant flow of IDF forces in and out of Gaza.  Add to this the occasional air-strike on an empty lot where a kassam crew has recently been, and you have the kind of vague, unfocused military campaign that was the hallmark of last summer's disastrous war in Lebanon. 

The ministerial portfolios may have been shuffled, but the overriding ineptitude and indifference to the security of the country (rather than their power-base) remain the same.

Tragically, I fear it will require a direct hit/attack on a high-value target such as a school, daycare center or mall during peak occupancy before the nation will finally be outraged enough to put aside partisan bickering and demand that the government take decisive action.

What exactly the correct action should be is certainly worthy of lively debate. 

I've made no secret of my wish that Israel would return to a policy of hugely disproportionate retaliation to all acts of aggression.  When this policy held sway, Israel enjoyed not only a period of relative security, but actually received quiet assistance from enemy governments who grew tired of being clobbered each time their soil and/or resources were used by terrorists to stage attacks against the 'Zionist entity'.  But I'm willing to admit that there are other, perhaps more subtle, responses to continued provocation and acts of war.   

However, doing nothing is no longer a viable course of action.  And anyone - right or left - who thinks self defense or inaction are defensible partisan platforms should be required to enroll their children in Sderot's schools and daycare centers for a few months.

    Photo © Jerusalem Post



Posted by David Bogner on September 3, 2007 | Permalink


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I agree with you. I really do. That picture in this morning's Post was a kick in the gut. But the problem is that one of the things you said:

Add to this the occasional air-strike on an empty lot where a kassam crew has recently been ...

isn't the whole story. In the last ten days or so, five Palestinian children were killed by these kind of air-strikes. And it seems that, at least in these cases, they weren't being used as cannon-fodder by terrorists, collecting the used rocket launchers; they were just unlucky enough to be playing in the wrong place.

Can we let that sort of tragedy be part of our response? And if we can't, what should we do?

By temperament, I tend towards your position of hugely disproportionate retaliation to all acts of aggression. But I don't know if I'm willing to accept the inevitable results of that retaliation.

I feel completely stuck.

Posted by: Andy Levy-Stevenson | Sep 3, 2007 1:31:59 PM

"I've made no secret of my wish that Israel would return to a policy of hugely disproportionate retaliation to all acts of aggression."

Yes, yes, a thousand times YES. Enough is enough. Hell, enough was enough a long time ago.

Posted by: RR | Sep 3, 2007 3:02:15 PM

Andy Levy-Stevenson... Your statement "Can we let that sort of tragedy be part of our response?" belays a basic misunderstanding about the realities of war. It is not some perfect, surgical thing that can be carried out as if in an operating room. This is a basic disconnect you share with most of the world, so don't feel too badly. The truth is that in every conflict there are going to be collateral deaths. Lots of them. Hell, when preparing for war it is fully understood that there will even be a certain number of friendly fire casualties among our own forces. These tragic, unintentional deaths do not make the war unjust or unnecessary... they just underline the need to end the war with such brutal finality that the enemy will not soon be tempted to provoke new hostilities with us.

Two very apt quotes from General William Tecumseh Sherman:
1. Every attempt to make war easy and safe will result in humiliation and disaster.

2. War is cruelty. There is no use trying to reform it. The crueler it is, the sooner it will be over.

RR... We need more people who are fed up with what's going on.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Sep 3, 2007 4:03:45 PM

You know, it's 6 years today since I left Israel. Six years already. And I remember 2000, and hope, and my certainty that things would change for the better. And then I could no longer hope, bcs it was clear that there was no real interest from the other side's leaders in peace.

And now, sadly, I am inclined to agree with you. Disproportionate retaliation seems to be the one language that is understood and, frightningly, respected.

Posted by: Lioness | Sep 3, 2007 4:16:07 PM

[My writing prid is forcing me to add that my keyboard has trouble with EE.]

Posted by: Lioness | Sep 3, 2007 4:17:25 PM

Lioness... First of all, I would gladly have fixed your typo if you had only given me the chance. :-)

As to your statement that the enemy seems to understand and even respect a disproportionate response, I would add the following:

On their website, The Islamic Jihad said they had fired nine Kuds-3 rockets as "a present for the start of the new school year." This is a culture that not only doesn't shrink from the death of innocents (including their own), but sees the targeting of non-combatants as a perfectly legitimate way to sap the Israeli public of its will to fight. I'm not suggesting that we target non-combatants, but at the same time, if they carry out acts of war from among their own civilians, I wouldn't lose much sleep over inflicting collateral damage in order to take out their fighters and leaders.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Sep 3, 2007 4:29:33 PM

I don't understand why more Israelis are not up in arms about this. It really boggles my mind.

It goes beyond the pale to accept this behavior. It is a complete abrogation of the responsibility of a government to protect its citizenry.

Posted by: Jack | Sep 3, 2007 5:48:17 PM

I may be out of line here, but it seems to me that "Kadima" is the most colossally misnamed party in the history of politics. Olmert is probably not a bad guy, but he's like a deer in the headlights. Everyone is scared to do anything, & that's why everyone blames each other. What can I say? Your post is absolutely spot-on.

Posted by: psachya | Sep 3, 2007 6:45:04 PM

I wholly agree with you David, but perhaps I have a small part of the explanation for why the disengagement gets into things.

I think we all realize that there cannot be a 'conventional' war against Gaza - there is no organized military apparatus to fight, they have minimal facilities/targets of importance to destroy or capture, and their human capital is for the most part replaced quite quickly.

How, then, can we effect a significant level of security for Sderot/Western Negev residents? Part of the solution may be 'disproportionate responses' - but as I said above, there's only so much the military can do, short of reoccupation or wholesale slaughtering of Gazans. Obviously, occupation is the other solution.

This is where things get tricky. Because setting aside the issues of whether disengagement was a good idea or not, Israeli decision-makers have to weigh the current situation in Sderot against what they expect a reoccupation to entail. It would be a costly operation that would cause a constant attrition of IDF forces... one that has proven time and time again to be extremely unpopular with the Israeli public.

Don't ask me why - I understand that it's a crazy moral calculus people are using - but rockets slamming into day cares but rarely causing casualties is seen as more bearable than a bloody invasion and a constant level of IDF deaths and injuries. This is why comparisons to the reasons for disengagement are brought up; people look at the time since disengagement and say, 'see? fewer casualties!', and use this as further support for the above reasoning. Obviously, these people don't actually LIVE in Sderot and have to deal with daily attacks, nor do they realize the looming strategic implications of a Hamas military organization of increasing size and power that has already shown itself happy to continue cross-border raids in the finest fedayeen tradition.

But their point still stands: Qassams have resulted in what, a dozen deaths in 6 years? An IDF reoccupation in force would result in that many Israeli deaths in as many days. Yes, it's sickening that we expose Sderot's children to danger but hesitate to send our soldiers to do their job. But to some people, this sort of numbers game makes a sort of reluctant sense.

I can only add my hopes to yours that it won't take a high-casualty attack to force Israel's hand on the issue.

Posted by: matlabfreak | Sep 3, 2007 8:13:30 PM

Couldn't agree with you more, Mr. B. (Hopefully my response doesn't shock you.)

In case you don't know-you will have to give up your US citizenship once you've been elected into a political office here. :)

Posted by: jennifer | Sep 3, 2007 9:26:27 PM

Jack... This rant was my mind being boggled.

psachya... I've come to realize that Israeli political parties are just different brands of the same sh*t. They represent only themselves and will do what is best for themselves... even at the expense of the country.

matlabfreak... While I deeply respect you as a first class thinker, your calculus sucks. Big time. You are correct that soldiers dying is not popular with the Israeli public, soldiers are trained to fight... and their job sometimes ends in violent death. Even though my children will have to wear that uniform one day soon I would much rather they died in battle than in school... and that, my friend is where you math leaves the tracks and crashes into the ditch. In normal countries nobody has to risk death... but in this strange place called Israel we pamper our school kids and soil them rotten because we know they might (G-d forbid) meet a violent end in uniform. I am not prepared to begin accepting even on school child's death! That is not part of the equation and not part of the deal any parent can make with his or her maker.

jennifer... Shocked? Maybe surprised is closer to the word I would have chosen. While I've never been able to pigeon hole you politically, I have always placed you somewhere slightly to my left. Maybe sending a boy to sea during a shooting war can nudge a mom to the right just a tad.

Oh, and as far as the whole getting elected thing goes, I'm not nearly cunning and self-interested enough to get elected dog catcher here in Israel, much less as an MK.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Sep 3, 2007 9:44:53 PM

The families of every mk should have to live in Sdorot.

Posted by: Dave | Sep 4, 2007 12:14:28 AM

Just for the record, on defense/security matters, I've always been "right of left". My mild-mannered, Minnesotan demeanor must have fooled you. '-)

As for my second point, in the words of the Bard, "Some men..."

Posted by: jennifer | Sep 4, 2007 12:27:16 AM

David - Perhaps I was being unclear. I personally agree with you wholeheartedly. AFAIK, it has always been a policy of not hesitating to take risks for aims that would seem dubious from a purely 'casualty numbers' point of view: soldiers are killed while searching for the bodies of their comrades (or attempting rescues of captured ones), responses to a string relatively small terrorist attacks results in a better security situation, but at the cost of many military casualties, etc.

The fundamental reason for why this behavior exists - and why it is in fact honorable - is that people are not numbers, or things. True, it may seem crazy for Israel to launch major military operations for objectively small gains: two in Gaza in recent history being Mivtza Keshet v'Anan and Mivtza Y'mei T'shuva. But the obvious point (and, I think, the correct viewpoint) is that it doesn't matter if five or five hundred Israeli civilians are killed by an enemy... it is the job of the IDF to protect them, even if that means additional casualties and (on the diplomatic level) severe international censure.

So, on a personal level, I agree with you completely. I have been itching for the IDF to do something about Gaza for two years. What I was trying to explain was why many voices in Israel are drawing a link between the arguments in favor of disengagement and those in favor of a muted response to continued Qassam fire. Their underlying assumptions - that lives are widgets that can be bartered and traded, weighed out on a balance - is utter nonsense, of course. But if one were to accept that position - if - then it makes far more sense to draw that connection. The arguments for staying out of Gaza (i.e. putting up with a low level of cross-border attacks as the price for not embarking on a costly and unpopular military campaign/occupation), then, will still hold.

Obviously, the people saying this don't live in Sderot, and have completely lost sight of the spirit in which Israel was founded. But in a rather cynical view of the world, where we could somehow weigh one life against another, their viewpoint makes sense.

My girlfriend has an uncle and aunt in Sderot. They have two of the most adorable children I have ever seen - probably something like ages 2 and 5. Every time I see news of another attack, or stories about further near-misses, I'm terrified that something will happen to them, and wish that the cabinet had the balls to do something about it. If I were an IDF soldier, I would gladly risk my life to ensure that the people of Sderot - and all other Israelis - do not have to live in this kind of fear. Unfortunately, a growing proportion of society has missed this rather crucial point.

Posted by: matlabfreak | Sep 4, 2007 3:50:52 AM


"The families of every mk should have to live in Sdorot."

Amir Peretz, who was until recently the Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister, is from Sderot. At one time he was head of Sderot's regional council.

Posted by: Karl Newman | Sep 4, 2007 4:45:51 AM

Your love for the country must be so very deep to continue to live there despite its weakness.

Posted by: jaime | Sep 4, 2007 5:15:47 AM


Video of the Kassam falling next to the school and the reactions of the people as it falls.


Posted by: JoeSettler | Sep 4, 2007 7:59:56 AM

Good post. (Yes, I did just say that.) I particularly liked your left-right fingerpointing analysis. And while I'm not the biggest fan of disproportionate response, I'm much less a fan of nothing at all. And further, it drives me crazy how the country is full of "save money on your OTT Rosh Hashana spending" happy ads and various other narcissistic pursuits while so many remain in bunkers. I'm used to Israelis being in denial about other people's hardships, but this is plain ridiculous.

Posted by: PP | Sep 4, 2007 8:55:49 AM

Dave... I sincerely wonder whether most MK's would value their families over their own power.

Jennifer... I think Joseph Heller's take on that quote from 'Catch-22' is probably more fitting in my case: "Some men are born mediocre, some men achieve mediocrity, and some men, have mediocrity thrust upon them.". :-)

matlabfreak... I appreciate you taking the time to clarify. I'm sorry if I missed your point... just a tad emotional these days. :-)

Karl Newman... Amir Peretz would set his parents on fire in the town square if he thought it would win him sympathy votes for being an orphan.

jaime... With all its warts I still love this place.

JoeSettler... Thanks for posting that. It still doesn't give a true sense of what it must be like to live there, but it is much better than a sterile news article.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Sep 4, 2007 8:57:18 AM

PP... Sorry about that, our comments seem to have passed in the ether. I'm encouraged to hear that a couple of bright peoople I consider to be to the left of me are in at least partial agreement with this post. I need a reality check as much as the next guy. :-) Now I wish I knew what the hell would wake up my fellow Israelis to the reality that is threatening us all!

Posted by: treppenwitz | Sep 4, 2007 9:19:41 AM


That was my point, the Deputy PM and Defense Minister was from there and it did no good.

Posted by: Karl Newman | Sep 4, 2007 9:59:24 AM

At a time when unity is so crucial for our survival, we seem more fragmented than ever.

Posted by: tnspr569 | Sep 4, 2007 4:06:09 PM

I am also terrified at the thought of what it will take to make our do-nothing government do something.

Posted by: Rahel | Sep 4, 2007 6:48:50 PM

You wrote: "Tragically, I fear it will require a direct hit/attack on a high-value target such as a school, daycare center or mall during peak occupancy before the nation will finally be outraged enough to put aside partisan bickering and demand that the government take decisive action."

Unfortunately, your expectation of an appropriate response is not only unlikely, but unfounded. One need look no further than last year's war, as almost 1 in 7 Israelis had to flee their homes from the thousands of missiles that rained down on them. The response was minimalistic, merely wasting tens of millions in artillery as hundreds died, thousands were wounded and shell-shocked into a lifetime of fear and emotional trauma. It accomplishing nothing but collective embarrassment, and all media accounts agree that Hezbollah today is at least as strong, perhaps more so, than before last summer. My friend, even a direct hit on the Azrieli Mall in Tel-Aviv during dinnertime would trigger no effective response - it would simply erase the current line-in-the-sand and replace it with a new one...something that is almost a daily exercise already. Not only is the government paralyzed and emasculated, but so are the people. The lack of grass-roots leadership, the internal bickering among all factions, the fear of being tracked and arrested by a Shabak agent...all these and more contribute mightily to the meekness displayed by the mostly brainwashed nation.

If you want to see the government really rush to act, with passion and righteous indignation, supported by media commentary about "breaking their bones" and "hurting them good," it takes only a few dozen religious kids to sit down on the ground anywhere in the heartland of the country and state that there is some relationship between the land, God, and the Jews. Then, by gosh, you're guaranteed to see serious action!

Posted by: yonah | Sep 4, 2007 8:30:16 PM

Of course Olmert says Israel is tired of defense and war. That’s because the Israelis have refused to win against the Arab aggressors. Israel has instead chosen to stalemate the situation, and that’s fatiguing. Mazel tov on quoting Nitzsche’s line 'that which doesn’t destroy me strengthens me'. Nitzsche was a contemporary and close pal of Richard Wagner who is famously known as an all-around nuclear-powered Jew hater. Nitzsche took strong exception to Wagner’s anti-Jewish caustics.

Posted by: Schvach | Sep 4, 2007 11:51:27 PM

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