Friday, July 15, 2005

Today's violence in Gaza

Earlier today, a wave of violence rocked Gaza. First, Palestinian Hamas militants launched over a dozen rockets into Israel on Thursday night, killing a 22 year old Israeli woman named Dana Glakowitz who was just sitting on her porch when a volley of rockets came in. Then on Friday, the Israeli air force launched targeted attacks against Hamas, killing six of them. Then, Palestinian prime minister Mahmoud Abbas ordered the Palestinian police to use force to rein in Hamas, and Hamas retaliated by engaging Palestinian police in open gunfights on the street, and torching police stations, armored personnel carriers, and other police vehicles. Here are links to more details on this from CTV and Haaretz.

What a waste! And, what impeccably poor timing: with the Israeli/Palestinian ceasefire now in tatters, the upcoming Israeli withdrawal from Gaza is seeming less likely.

In my personal opinion, this whole unnecessary wave of violence was caused by two ignorant and trigger-happy bunches of thugs, one on each side of the dispute:

Trigger-happy thug group #1: Hamas

Hamas started this whole mess by firing rockets into Israel in violation of the ceasefire agreement they signed a few months ago.

Hamas seems to have no concept of how parliamentary democracy in Israel works. They do not realize that Ariel Sharon is trying to push through a plan to unilaterally withdraw Israeli settlers and troops from Gaza this summer, something that would benefit the Palestinians immensely. Sharon faces an uphill battle, including opposition for his plan from within his own party, and violent resistance from Israeli settlers. And, by launching rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza, Hamas is providing fuel to those arguing against Sharon's withdrawal plan.

Hamas also does not seem to realize how tenuous Sharon's position is. No matter how little they like Sharon, there are other Israeli leaders (Benjamin Netanyahu, etc.) who they would like even less, and with every terrorist attack, Hamas undermines Sharon and bolsters more extreme-minded Israeli leaders like Netanyahu.

Launching a missile attack on Israel on a normal day is bad enough. But, launching it a few weeks before Israel's planned pullout from Gaza borders on insane. Why would Hamas want to hurt the Palestinian cause like this? Are they really that stupid?

Likewise, Hamas did not do the Palestinian cause any favors by openly attacking the Palestinian police forces - men who were directed by the freely elected leader of the Palestinian people to crack down on Hamas. This only serves to undermine the Palestinian Authority government and delay any possible Palestinian independent state.

The Palestinian people should be asking themselves today, "with friends like these idiots, who needs enemies?"

Trigger-happy thug group #2: the Israeli army

A very valid question for the Israeli army's leadership is this: are they serious about allowing and encouraging the Palestinians to provide security in their own territory? Are they serious about wanting peace? Because, if the answer is yes, they should not have been so quick to retaliate for the rocket attacks. Instead, they should have allowed the Palestinian security forces to handle the situation, and provided intelligence support as needed.

The fact that today the Palestinian security forces did stand up to Hamas is a positive sign that they are willing to take steps against those who violate ceasefire agreements. If they were given the opportunity, perhaps they would have moved against the Hamas missile-men themselves. But, they were not given that opportunity: Israel retaliated quickly, and in doing so undermined the Palestinian Authority.

Perhaps the lesson that should be learned here is that better communication and cooperation can solve many ills. If terrorist attacks harm the interests of both Israelis and Palestinians, would it not be beneficial for the Israelis to provide intelligence information to the Palestinians - let the Palestinians know what is going on and let them act on the information.

Let's consider this scenario: Palestinian militants launch missiles on Israel in violation of the ceasefire. Israeli radar picks up the source of the missiles and Israeli drones see the militants launching the rockets. The Israeli commander picks up the phone to his Palestinian counterpart, and the Palestinian security forces move in and handle the situation. If this scenario had happened today, most of this unnecessary violence would not have taken place and the ceasefire agreement would still be intact.

Of course, to enable this scenario, Israeli military leaders need to start treating their Palestinian counterparts as their partners, and not their enemies. If there is to be lasting peace in Israel and the occupied territories, the Palestinians will need to be able to provide their own security, and by undermining the Palestinians in this effort, the Israeli military is hurting their own interests.