Who is a terrorist?
By Gideon Levy
The scenes from Gaza are heartbreaking. Heartbreaking? That's not for certain. The sight of the Aben family from Beit Lahiya mourning its 12-year-old daughter Hadil last week did not stir any particular shock in Israel. Nor did anyone take to the streets and protest over the sight of her wounded mother and little brother lying in shock on the floor of their shanty in Gaza.
On the day Hadil Aben was killed, Yedioth Aharonoth carried a story about Nelly, the dog from Kibbutz Zikim that died of heart failure from the booming noise of the Israeli artillery firing into Gaza.
Instead of expressions of sorrow at the death of children, the upper echelons of the defense establishment came out with a stream of strident statements. The defense minister said that the only thing to do was step up the pressure on the Palestinians. The deputy chief of staff spoke about a possible invasion of Gaza and the head of army operations added, "what we've seen so far are only the previews." The IDF announced it would further reduce the "safety range" that is designed to avoid shells hitting the civilian population.
It was a chilling, united chorus. Israel is dropping thousands of bombs on towns and villages, on the "the launching pads" of the Qassams - another dubious term created by the defense establishment and blindly adopted by the press - and only the Palestinians, whose Qassam rockets haven't killed anyone since the disengagement, are called "terrorists."
Nor was there any substantive debate after a possible slip of the tongue by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, in an interview to the BBC, in which she said that there was a difference between attacking civilians and attacking soldiers. Even though she did not resolutely stand by her own words in an interview with Channel 10, Livni dared to speak the truth: If harming civilians is a measure of terror, then Israel is a terror state. With 18 killed in Gaza alone in 12 days, three of them children, the absence of intent cannot suffice for us. Someone who uses artillery to shell population centers and says with horrific indifference that this is "just a preview," as if it were another reality show on TV, cannot claim that he does not intend to kill children.
Those responsible for such bombings around the world are rightfully considered war criminals. That's terror - just ask Livni. And when it is done in the name of a state, it is much worse than in those cases when the perpetrators are from rogue organizations.
Israel declares it is striving to apply pressure with its cannon on the Palestinian population, so that it will prevent the Qassam fire. That is a hollow argument. No Palestinian leader can promote a cease-fire while dozens of civilians are being hurt. No Palestinian, no matter how peaceable, can prevent with his body the launches from inside Palestinian Authority territory. Could Hadil Aben's parents have done something? What exactly was the crime of these poor people? And how, exactly, will killing their daughter lead to a halt in the Qassams?
The continuing imprisonment of besieged Gaza is precisely the opposite policy that should be applied to serve Israeli interests. The current policy only strengthens support for the Hamas, just like the terror attacks within Israel always strengthen the Israeli right. A nation under siege, its leadership boycotted, will have far more determination and resolve to fight to its last drop of blood. It is impossible to break the spirit of a desperate people. Only a nation that sees a light at the end of its desperation will change its ways.
What would happen if Israel were to turn to the world and call upon it to enlist in the cause of support for the residents of Gaza, to donate and invest money to help them out of their utter poverty? If an Israeli prime minister did such a thing and at the same time called for a meeting with his elected Palestinian counterpart, it would create far more effective and positive pressure than any cannon fire.
If the Palestinians only saw for the first time in their lives that Israel also had their well-being in mind, which is not necessarily bad for Israel, they would have a lot more to lose and they would expel the Qassam launchers themselves. Only the Palestinians can do that, and sowing the seeds of hope is the only way to do so. And if, in the current situation, the artillery fire were to end, and they were to stop the Qassams, would Israel ease the siege, enable freedom of movement from Gaza to the West Bank, allow Palestinians to work in Israel, agree to the construction of a seaport and airport in besieged Gaza? Israel's declarations prove that the answer to all these questions is an unequivocal no. Its current policy and the policies we have seen it adopt lead only to intensification of the violence on the part of the Palestinians.
No Qassam justifies the killing and terror that the shells sow in Gaza. Cannons are meant for war against an army. Using them against a helpless civilian population is supposed to be beyond the realm of the legitimate, without any ifs or buts about it. A state does not shell towns. Period. Just like in the war against crime that is also deadly and endangers state security, no end justifies all the means. Would it ever occur to the Israeli police to evacuate an entire neighborhood from which some murderers came? Would anyone decide to shell such a neighborhood, even if it would mean minimizing the crime coming out of it?
Those who really want to end the Qassam launches from Gaza, should turn Israeli policy upside down. To show restraint in the face of the Qassams, to lift the siege, to immediately meet with the elected Palestinian leadership and call on the world to stop withholding the funds from the Palestinian Authority. Only a free and secure and thriving Gaza will stop launching Qassams. Have we ever tried that?