By Frida Ghitis, January 28, 2008.
There was a time — a rather short-lived moment in the history of the Middle
East — when the people of Gaza thought life would get better, and the people of
Israel’s town of Sderot thought they, too, would stop living in hell. “We
thought we would live in peace,” one Israeli woman in Sderot told me.
That moment of dashed hopes came in the summer of 2005, when Israeli
forces removed all the Jews in Gaza. With Gaza free of Israelis, Palestinians
there would have full autonomy — a step toward nationhood — and Israelis
could live without constant attacks. The optimists, as it turned out, were
tragically wrong. Life has become even worse for people on both sides, with
events in the last few days highlighting the need to find a solution to the
dangerous Gaza predicament.
The Palestinian rocket attacks did not stop after the 2005 withdrawal. And
when the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, took control of Gaza seven
months ago, rocket and mortar attacks became far worse, keeping with Hamas’
charter directive to destroy Israel. Gaza suffered international sanctions, made
more intense by Israeli border controls. Living standards began plummeting.
Nightmare for Sderot
While news about the suffering of Gazans fills the airwaves, there is a peculiar
disinterest in the nightmare that is life for the people of Sderot and its vicinity.
Every day, every few hours, the sirens wail their warning, giving terrified
parents and children less than 15 seconds to take cover.
The rockets are deliberately aimed at civilians. They fall on schools and
streets and day care centers. A recent study shows 56 percent of Sderot
residents have had their home hit by a rocket or shrapnel. More than 90 percent
say their street or an adjacent one has been hit, and almost 50 percent know
someone who was killed in such an attack.
Every response by Israel draws international condemnation. Other countries
have reacted to attacks against their population by pulverizing their opponents.
Israel targeted militant leaders and tried economic sanctions. A recent cut in
fuel supplies prompted Gaza to shut its power plant, even while Israel continued
to provide, as it always does, almost 75 percent of Gaza’s electricity needs.
Israeli President Shimon Peres noted, “We have no interest in seeing
Gaza’s residents suffer. They are not our enemies,” but added, “they must
demand that Hamas stop firing on Israel.”
Hamas, as other extremist groups, knows how to produce public relations
coups from their people’s suffering. News reports about the recent events make
a cursory reference to the attacks against Israel, preferring to portray Israel as
the ruthless aggressor. Not everyone buys this, however.
The Palestinian Authority’s information minister Riad al-Maliki said Hamas and
its “insistence on creating an Islamic Republic,” were at the heart of the
problem. He accused Hamas of failing to take responsibility for the deteriorating
situation. Another PA official said Hamas is exploiting the situation to rally
support in the Arab world and beyond. That tactic is working, but not
The European Commissioner for Justice, Freedom and Security, Franco Frattini,
rejected claims by Israeli critics that the border closure is a war crime. (Firing
rockets at civilians, as Hamas does, is a war crime.) Frattini declared, “Israel is
justified in its concerns,” adding that, “For too long Europe has put too much
blame on Israel.”
Even the manager of the Arab network Al-Arabiyah, criticized Hamas for
creating this crisis, a sign that Saudi Arabia is growing increasingly irritated
Then came last week’s toppling of the border wall between Gaza and Egypt.
Hamas spent months cutting into the wall, according to The London Times,
preparing for this moment.
Some in Israel say it’s time to cut all ties with Gaza. Let Egypt become the
conduit for Gaza trade and aid. No other country is asked to support and supply
an enemy sworn to its destruction. Others say leaving the Egyptian border open
will allow Iran-backed Hamas to arm, as Hezbollah in Lebanon, leading
ultimately to a much more violent confrontation.
Egypt wants as little as possible to do with Gaza, fearful of Hamas, an
outgrowth of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.
The cause of Gaza’s suffering is Hamas. The only way to end the suffering in
Gaza and in Sderot is to stop Palestinian attacks from Gaza into Israel. Handing
a propaganda victory to Hamas, as the world has done, makes that goal more
The nonviolent way to a solution is to persuade the Palestinians to remove
Hamas from power or to pressure it to change its ways. Every other alternative
spells more suffering ahead for Palestinians and Israelis.