Remember the Israelis living under a barrage of Hamas rockets

An Israeli policeman holds the remains of a rocket launched from the Gaza Strip towards Sderot, southern Israel, on November 11

Oliver Kamm

The Israeli town of Sderot, near the Gaza border, has a squat, reinforced police station. If you walk into the backyard, you see rows of spent rockets. Thousands of missiles have been launched at Sderot in the past decade, including 800 this year till last week.

As a presidential candidate in 2008, Barack Obama visited the police station. I saw the same scene on a visit to the town last year. To understand why Israeli jets are attacking targets in Gaza, it’s necessary to know that Israeli civilians face a continuous threat that makes normal life impossible. Obama surely recalled Sderot’s fate when he said yesterday: “Israel has every right to expect that it does not have missiles fired into its territory.”

Five days into the conflict, increasing numbers of civilians on both sides are dying. Our correspondent in Gaza City says that ten members of a single family were killed when a house was bombed in error. The fog of war obscures such horrors. It is unlikely that Israel can permanently stop missile attacks from Gaza. But Israel’s Government may be calculating that it can reinforce deterrence. Hezbollah has been reluctant to attack Israel across its northern border since the Israeli attack of 2006.

Will Israel’s tactics have that effect? Don’t ask me. I’m just a pundit. As a profession, we tend to strike positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict regardless of familiarity with it. Many say that the problem is Israeli occupation, but Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005. For my part, I acknowledge the force of the comment made by Tony Blair during that Second Lebanon War. For this to stop, he said (meaning Israeli military action), that has to stop (meaning missile attacks on Israeli civilians).

The Jewish national movement historically has sought pluralism and faced down its own extremists. When there is eventually a Palestinian State alongside a secure Israel, that will accord with the highest Zionist ideals. But it wouldn’t satisfy Hamas, which seeks Israel’s annihilation. There are things that Israel can negotiate, but not that, and it’s frivolous for outsiders to expect otherwise.


Read our editorial, The Gaza Trap

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