TO DIE WITH THE PHILISTINES?
THE MOST famous words ever spoken in Gaza were the last words of Samson
(Judges, 16, 30): "Let me die with the Philistines!"
According to the Biblical story, Samson took hold of the central pillars
of the Philistine temple and brought down the whole building upon the
Lords of the Philistines, the people of Gaza and himself. The teller of
the story sums it all up: "So the dead which he slew at his death were
more than they which he slew in his life."
A story of suffering, destruction and death. It may be about to repeat
itself now, only with the roles reversed: the temple may be brought down
by the Palestinians (who took their name from the Philistines), and
among the dead will be the Lords of Israel.
WiLL GAZA turn into a Palestinian Massada (the place where, a thousand
years later, Jewish defenders chose mass suicide rather then fall into
the hands of the Romans)?
The people of Gaza are worried. The Hamas fighters are preparing for
action. The chiefs of the Israeli army are both worried and preparing
For months now, the political and military leaders of Israel have been
discussing the "big operation": a massive invasion of the Gaza Strip in
order to put an end to the launching of rockets into Israel.
The army chiefs, who are usually raring to go into battle, are not eager
this time. Not at all. They want to avoid it at almost any cost. But
they are fatalistic. Everything now depends on blind chance. For
example, if tomorrow a Qassam rocket falls on a house in Sderot and
kills a whole family, there will be such an outcry in Israel that the
government may feel compelled to give the order, even against its better
For every Israeli military or political planner, the Gaza strip is a
nightmare. It is about 40 km long and 10 km wide. In this 360 square
kilometers of parched desert, hardly twice the area of Washington DC,
there are crowded 1.5 million human beings, almost all of them
destitute, who have nothing to lose, headed by a militant religious
movement. (It might be remembered that in the 1948 war, the Jewish
community in Palestine amounted to less than 650 thousand people.)
For months now, the Hamas leadership in Gaza has been accumulating
weapons, which are smuggled into the Strip through the many tunnels
under its border with Egypt (as we smuggled weapons into the country on
the eve of the 1948 war). True, they have got no artillery or tanks, but
they now possess very effective anti-tank weapons.
According to the estimate of our military, an invasion of the Gaza Strip
may cost the lives of a hundred Israeli soldiers and thousands of
Palestinian fighters and civilians. The Israeli army will deploy tanks
and armored bulldozers, and the world will see terrible pictures - the
same kind of pictures that our army tried to suppress and that caused a
world-wide outcry against the "Jenin Massacre" during the 2002
"Defensive Shield" operation.
Nobody can know how this operation will develop. Perhaps the Palestinian
resistance will collapse after all, and the predictions of numerous
Israeli casualties will be proved false. But it is also possible that
Gaza will turn into a Palestinian Massada, a kind of mini-Stalingrad.
This week, in one of the "routine" incursions by the Israeli army, an
RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) penetrated one of the renowned
Israeli-produced Merkava Mark-3 tanks, and it was a miracle that the
four crew members were not killed. In a big, bloody battle, such
miracles cannot be relied on.
The nightmare does not end there. No doubt, the Israeli army will
overcome the resistance, whatever the price on both sides, perhaps by
demolishing whole neighborhoods and massive slaughter. But what then?
If the army leaves the strip quickly, the situation will revert to what
it was before and the launching of the Qassam rockets will be resumed
(if it stops at all). That would mean that the whole operation will have
been in vain. If the army remains there - what alternative would it
have? - it will be compelled to take on the full responsibility of an
occupation regime: feeding the population, running the social services,
establishing security. All this in a situation of a vigorous and ongoing
guerilla war, which will turn the lives of both occupier and occupied
For an occupier, Gaza has always been problematic. The Israeli army has
left it three times already, and each time the joy was great. "Gaza -
goodbye and good riddance!" was always a popular slogan. When Israel
made peace with the Egyptians, they adamantly refused to accept Gaza
back at all.
It is no accident that both intifadas started in Gaza. (The first,
exactly 20 years ago this week, broke out when an Israeli truck collided
with two cars full of Palestinian workers, which Palestinians took to be
a deliberate Israeli reprisal. The second exploded after Ariel Sharon's
provocative visit to the Temple Mount, when Israeli policemen shot and
killed outraged Muslim protesters.)
The Hamas movement itself, which is today celebrating its 20th
anniversary, was born - also no accident - in Gaza.
No wonder that our army chiefs shrink back from re-conquering the Gaza
Strip. They do not relish the idea of playing the role of the Lords of
the Philistines in the story of the Palestinian Samson.
THE PROBLEM is that nobody knows how to undo the Gordian knot left
behind by Ariel Sharon, that master-weaver of such knots.
Sharon initiated the "Separation Plan" - one of the worst follies in the
annals of this state, which are so rich with follies.
As will be remembered, Sharon dismantled the settlements and evacuated
the Strip without a dialogue with the Palestinians and without turning
the territory over to the Palestinian Authority. He did not leave the
inhabitants of the Strip any possibility of leading a normal life, but
turned the territory into a giant prison. All connections with the
outside world were cut - the Israeli navy cut the sea lanes, the border
with Egypt was effectively sealed, the airport remained destroyed, the
building of a harbor was prevented by force. The promised "safe passage"
between the Strip and the West Bank was hermetically sealed, all
crossings in and out of the Strip remained under total Israeli control,
to be opened and closed arbitrarily. The employment of tens of thousands
of Gazan workers in Israel, on which the livelihood of almost the entire
Strip depended, was terminated.
The next chapter was inevitable: Hamas took military control over the
Strip, without the helpless politicians in Ramallah being able to
intervene. From the Strip, Qassam rockets and mortar shells were
launched at the neighboring Israeli towns and villages, without the
Israeli army being able to stop them. One of the most powerful armies in
the world, with the most sophisticated weapons, is unable to counter one
of the most primitive weapons on earth.
Thus a vicious circle was set up: the Israelis choke the people in the
Strip, Gazan fighters bombard the Israeli town Sderot, the Israeli army
reacts by killing Palestinian fighters and civilians, the people from
Gaza launch mortars at the kibbutzim, the army carries out incursions
and kills Palestinian fighters daily and nightly, Hamas brings in more
effective anti-tank weapons - and no end in sight.
AN ORDINARY Israeli has no idea of what is happening in the Gaza Strip.
The disconnection is absolute. No Israeli can enter the Strip, almost no
Palestinian can get out.
This is the way most Israelis see things: We left Gaza. We dismantled
all the settlements there, in spite of the fact that this caused us a
profound national crisis. And what happens? The Palestinians just keep
shooting at us from inside the strip and turn life in Sderot into hell.
We have no alternative but to turn their lives, too, into hell, in order
to get them to stop.
This week I heard a report from one of the most credible individuals in
Gaza - Dr. Eyad Sarraj - a well-known psychiatrist, peace and human
rights activist. Here are some of the things he told a small circle of
Israeli peace activists:
Israel blocks all imports into the strip, except for a short list of
about half a dozen basic articles. 900 trucks used to be employed daily
for the imports and exports of the Gaza Strip, now their number is
reduced to 15. For example, no soap is allowed in.
Local water is undrinkable. Israel does not let in bottled water. Nor
does Israel allow the importation of water pumps. The price of water
filters has gone up from $40 to $250, there are no spare parts at all
for filters. Only the well-to-do can still afford them. However,
chlorine is let in.
There is no import of cement. When there is a hole in the ceiling, it
cannot be repaired. The building site for the children's hospital stands
silent. There are no spare parts of any kind. A medical instrument that
goes out of order cannot be repaired. Not even incubators for babies or
The severely sick cannot reach hospital - neither in Israel, nor in
Egypt or Jordan. The few permits issued are often delivered after a
deadly delay. In many instances, patients are condemned to death.
Students cannot reach their universities abroad. Foreign citizens who
happened to be visiting Gaza cannot get out if they have a Palestinian
ID. Palestinians who have contracts to work abroad are not allowed to
leave. Some Palestinians were allowed to pass through Israel on the way
to Egypt, but were not allowed in by the Egyptian authorities and had to
return to Gaza.
Practically all enterprises have been closed and their workers thrown
onto the street for lack of raw materials. For example, the Coca Cola
factory has closed down. After 60 years of occupation - first by the
Egyptians and than the Israelis - almost nothing is produced in the
Strip, except oranges, strawberries, tomatoes and the like.
Prices in the Gaza Strip have risen sky-high - fivefold and even
tenfold. Life is now more expensive in Gaza than in Tel-Aviv. The black
market is flourishing.
How do people exist? The members of extended families help each other.
Well-to-do people support their relatives. UNRWA brings in the most
basic foodstuffs and distributes them to the refugees, who are the
majority of the inhabitants.
IS THERE another way out besides a massive invasion? Of course there is.
But it requires imagination, boldness and a readiness to act contrary to
An immediate cease-fire can be achieved. According to all the
indications, Hamas, too, is ready for it, provided that it is general:
both sides must stop all military actions, including "targeted
liquidations" and the launching of Qassams and mortar shells. The
crossings must be opened for free movement of goods in both directions.
The passage between the Strip and the West Bank must be opened, as well
as the border between the Strip and Egypt.
Such a calming of the situation may encourage the two competing
Palestinian governments - Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza - to
start a new dialogue, under the auspices of Egypt or Saudi Arabia, in
order to heal the rift and set up a unified Palestinian national
leadership that will have the authority to sign peace agreements.
In place of the cry "Let me die with the Philistines", let us take the
words of Dylan Thomas: "And death shall have no dominion!"