Monday, December 29, 2008

Random rockets?

So being an Israeli you have to have something of a thick skin, otherwise you spend your entire life with raised bloodpressure from the deluge of offensive and often just plain stupid comments friend and foe alike make about life in this neck of the woods. I could spend my entire life responding to this stuff, but, then I wouldn't have any other life, so mostly I swallow hard, laugh, cringe, roll my eyes or engage in all three, and move on.

The following comment from a usually intelligent pro-Palestinian friend of mine just made me see red though: Random rocket firing at people living safely in bomb-proof shelters does not equate to this crap (referring to Israel's current military operation in Gaza)

Excuse me?!

Random rocket firing is a weapon of pure terror. You never know when and where it will strike, when you're taking your kids to school, making dinner in the evening, driving to work, ploughing a field or shopping for food - you are at risk 24/7 with no warning, other than the brief 15 second alert (if you're lucky) of the Red Dawn "early" warning system. If you're caught in the open, forget it, there is no time to reach shelter, you just lie down on the ground and pray.

Israeli civilians living within rocket range of Gaza have been living with this reality for years, and it just keeps getting worse, as the numbers of rockets fired each week grows, and their range increases.

Israeli roulette is going about your daily life and wondering whether today a rocket will land in an empty lot or score a direct hit on your home while you're asleep in your bed. Whether today is the day that a rocket hits the playground seconds after the kids have gone back to class or whether it will hit in the middle of recess, and it won't just be the tangled wreckage of swings and monkey bars, but the mangled bodies of flesh and blood too.

Because both happen, and the luck that by a miracle most of the time the rockets have missed hitting people doesn't negate the shattered homes, kindergartens, playgrounds, synagogues and shops, the stark reminders that there but for the grace of God go those who live within rocket range of Gaza, the reminders of the really bad days when the rockets hit a crowded Ashkelon mall (I was in Ashkelon that day, I remember it well), or a cluster of mothers and kids outside a kindergarten, or workshop or hapless folks caught walking down the street.

Plenty of Israelis living near Gaza still don't have adequate shelters, there are many older buildings, farm buildings (Israeli refugees from Israel's evacaution of Gaza living in thinwalled trailers for example).

You can't turn every single structure into a rocket proof shelter, you reenforce what you can, say a shielded roof over vulnerable schools, concrete barricades to provide a modicum of protection while waiting for a bus, but it's a physical impossibility to say, cram the whole of Ashkelon's major regional hospital into a shelter or to reenforce every public building and private home.

The hell of a lot of use a shelter is when you are walking in the street, going to school, buying food at the market, waiting for the train, working in your field or driving to hospital.

And a shelter won't save you from a direct hit.

Have you ever lived in a shelter? The shelter in my home is typical, tiny, just enough room for two small camp beds to be squeezed in. Just about adequare for my small family, but if we had more children, no one would even be able to lie down, we'd all have to hunch up on the floor just to fit everyone in. Even sleeping the night like that would be claustrophobic, having to stay in there for days at a time with no sanitary facilities, no windows, just a narrow confined cell like space would drive most families to insanity. And at some point you have to get out to get food, relieve yourself, etc.

Israelis have been more than patient. No one should have to live with the daily threat of rockets, and the civilians of south-west Israel have been living with rockets and mortars for years. Israel pulled out of Gaza, uprooted Israeli civilians living there for decades, pulled out its soldiers, and still, the rockets just kept coming.

The Israeli government has tried non-military methods to put pressure on the Hamas government of Gaza to stop the rocket attacks, but it hasn't made a difference. Israel agreed to a ceasefire which wasn't really a ceasefire - Hamas just reduced (but did not actually stop) the number of rockets fired into Israel each month.

And then the ceasefire ran out and Hamas didn't renew it, instead increasing the rocket fire to dozens. Israelis have had enough, and no government can sit idly by and allow its citizens to be targetted this way, day after day, year after year, while the intensity of the rocket fire only increases and along with their range, casting more and more Israeli civilians in the net of rocket terror.

Unlike the Palestinian rocket launchers who randomly aim their weapons at civilians, the Israeli army is doing its utmost to only strike at military targets in Gaza, pinpointing Hamas and other guerilla groups military infrastracture - training bases, military headquarters, weapons depots, rocket launchers and the like. Most of those killed have been members of Hamas or other armed militias.

And at the end of the day the seemingly random rockets do have a wider strategic purpose for the Palestinian militias: eroding Israel's sovereignty, forcing Israeli to flee, and so weakening Israel, in the hope that eventually this will lead to the ceding of more territory to the Palestinians. Make no mistake, random rocket fire is effective terror, and terror is just another way of fighting a war.

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