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Gaza and the Negev: Setting the stage for the theater of war

This is a post about how Israel prepares for war.

I don’t know if we are going to war. But the awful attack on a school bus by an anti-tank missile fired from Gaza on Thursday, seemed tailor-made to push Israel over the edge. Following weeks of escalation between the IDF and Hamas, the airwaves went into broadcast interruption mode and by the weekend, southern residents went into the shelters, said Israel radio, as the crossfire continued.

In the hours after the bus attack, the surrounding Negev communities felt like a well-designed Israeli stage set for war. There was the press, kicking around the TV vans in sweeping desert dusk. There were the high school kids from nearby kibbutz Mefalsim, eager to talk. They are just a bit younger than the co-ed military police pair, languidly awaiting the opportunity for some desert romance.

Israeli military police officers talk at a checkpoint next to Kibbutz Mefalsim near the Israeli Gaza Border, Thursday March 7 2011. (Photo: Eyal Warshavsky)

The social worker is there too. She is everything Israelis want and need her to be. Inbal Shlosberg is youngish, wearing a cozy sweater in the evening chill. She has a loving smile and clear eyes that gaze evenly into the Channel 2 television camera. Her message is simple. “We’re meturgelim,’ she says. Trained, prepared, rehearsed. “To our great sorrow,” she tells me, repeating what she has just told the country, “we’re ready. We know the drill by heart.” After the attack, she says, young kids will regress. Old people suffer bouts of fear as well.

Israeli media interviews a social worker at a checkpoint next to Kibbutz Mefalsim near the Israeli Gaza Border Thursday March 7 2011. (Photo: Eyal Warshavsky)

The teenagers – Raz, Lior and Dor – explain that it is just impossible to live with the worry of the rockets. Have they had personal experience with rockets? Yes! they chorus. Everyone has a story, or knows someone who does. For example, Lior says, “Two years ago, a qassam fell in a yard right in my neighborhood. Glass broke. There were cracks in the walls.” They are more excited to discuss how they themselves might very nearly have been on the bus that was struck, but for a special class trip of their grade.

They argue about what Israel should do now: “Bomb Gaza! Take down half of Gaza, just erase it off the map!” “No, that’s not a solution!” “Yes it is!” Raz emerges from the fray with analysis: “In theory, the solution is two states for two peoples” – and then he completes the line dutifully: “But it will never happen.” His buddies jibe: “he’s a lefty!” and they all crack up.

Raz then goes on to explain the deeper problem, with a famous Israeli soliloquy: “They sanctify death,” he intones, “and we sanctify life. That’s the problem – we want life, they want death. It’s holy for them.” Before the conversation ends, Dor makes sure to add a “Kahana was right!” for good measure.

The city of Ashkelon too has come under fire from Hamas rockets. Thursday, for the first time, a new missile interception system had its first success. But people seem neither joyous nor fearful – just deadpan, resigned, pushing on.

The Ashkelon central bus station, Thursday March 7, 2011 after the Iron Dome anti-rocket defense system for the first time intercepted rockets fired at Ashkelon. (Photo: Eyal Warshavsky)

Near the desolate bus station stands the felafel shop of Moshe Mashiach. It’s been there “40 years now!” he says proudly. For the price of an axle-grease fried half-portion, Mashiach agrees to give commentary with a shy “why not?” I wonder if he’s been shyly saying “why not?” to curious questioners for forty years as well.

Moshe doesn’t want war, remembering what it did to his business in 2008 – and yet he seems, well, resigned. When he begins “Another war will be terrible, but…” any Israeli knows how that sentence will end: “…but there’s nothing you can do. They only understand force.” Therefore, he believes “there will be a huge war. It’s irreversible and there’s nothing we can do to prevent it.”

Indeed, he tells of the ominous Israeli troop movement all week in Ashkelon. In the media too,  the fear dial has been turned high, drawing the whole country in – a Friday Haaretz headline, for example, warns that the Mossad believes that the next war with Hizbollah will bring 100 missiles a day in Tel Aviv. Yossi Gurvitz provides a fearfully convincing analysis of political leanings toward war.

I do not believe the Israeli people desire war, just as I do not believe this about the Palestinian people. But Mashiach’s “unavoidable,” claim is hard to refute, especially when  all people of the region seem so maddeningly resigned to our immutable fate of war.

After all, the Middle East is moving toward a great political unknown. The familiar cycle of peace talks and failures is gone. Unilateral Palestinian independence is steering Israel toward uncharted diplomatic waters. No one yet knows what forces will be unleashed by the Middle East revolutions. When everything is new and scary, people cling to what they know, hold fast to their well-rehearsed lines, and stick to their roles. Shlosberg the social worker’s soothing words keep reverberating: “we’re ready. We’re meturgalim.” And that’s what scares me.

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    COMMENTS

    1. max

      It takes 2 to make peace and only 1 for war… so the chances for war are higher than for peace. Add to this the current events in the ME (is it too far fetched to speculate that a war in Gaza will benefit Assad?), and the situation seems even grimmer.
      Is there a way out of it, now? Not necessarily, as life isn’t an algebraic world, and not every problem has a solution.
      The context will change, maybe even rapidly in relative terms, but the direction is far from being clear and provides no answer to the question of what to do, now.
      Israel is simply located in a problematic neighborhood – it doesn’t fit there, in the current context.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Ex Israeli

      Max,

      ” Israel is simply located in a problematic neighborhood – it doesn’t fit there, in the current context ”

      If you don’t mind, can I suggest re-arranging the words a little:

      Problematic Israel continues to fit very well in the neighbourhood when the context, currently as well as in the past, is more wars for big money.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Dannecker

      I agree with ex-israeli. If you dont want war, leave Palestinian land

      Reply to Comment
    4. sh

      “If you dont want war, leave Palestinian land” – Dannecker

      Funny, that’s almost exactly what Ehud Barak said to the Israeli nation this morning. “If you don’t want war, move to Finland.”.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Moshe

      “If you dont want war, leave Palestinian land” – Dannecker
      Funny thing about “Palestinian land”, its definition varies depending on who you ask… as westerners we automatically associate settlements with Palestinian land but if you ask many a Palestinian they might tell you their family home in for example Jaffa or other “Israeli” city’s located in Israel “proper” and in no way defined as a settlement is actually Palestinian land. In the Hamas Charter it calls for the liberating of all of Palestine sic. (including Israel proper) by blood and martyrs. Fatah (the PLO) or the ruling party of the PA is no less clear in its desires on all of the land in its founding charter.

      Reply to Comment
    6. eGuard

      “the awful attack … seemed tailor-made to push Israel over the edge”.

      No, going to war is not a passive move, Israel is not ‘being pushed’ (by someone else, yeah right). It is active, whatever the politician says. Especially the same politician who takes that decision. Actively.

      Reply to Comment
    7. aristeides

      Moshe – and how would that Palestinian be wrong?

      Reply to Comment
    8. Sylvia

      What Jew would go to Finland in these days and times? Only he who would rather live his life on his knees than die standing.
      It is ironic that the delegitimization campaign which has bred ferocious and vociferous antisemitism worldwide has only strengthened the Israeli’s determination to hold on to the liberated country.

      Reply to Comment
    9. eGuard

      Sylvia: “… bred ferocious and vociferous antisemitism worldwide”. Well said. Especially in Finland, as we know.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Ex Israeli

      Antisemitism, such a useful word. much better than swiss army knife.
      Oy gevald.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Moshe

      Aristeides- Moshe – and how would that Palestinian be wrong?
      I wasn’t suggesting anything about the Palestinians I was suggesting that most people are naive when they think that the Palestine the Arabs are referring to is anything less then all of Israel and the disputed territory’s.
      I know that thats what they mean I am not fooled by the theatrics of the leaders and the proclamations of the so called heads of state. They have proven that they don’t have a mandate for peace or the ability to make a real and lasting agreement. The fact is we have a better chance of coming to a real agreement with Hamas because at least they are really in charge and have control of the Gaza Strip, whereas the PA has no control of anything.

      Reply to Comment
    12. Moshe

      eGuard- WAR, is most often the result of actions taken by one nation or entity against another nation or entity thereby creating the conditions for war. So drop the turn the other cheek crap and how its an active decision of politicians what about the terrorist killers who fire the missiles and mortars on innocent town and city’s.
      What has been allowed to go on in the South for way too long is criminal and I think that the Israeli Prime Ministers both past and present should be put on trial for crimes against humanity by a peoples court in Israel and then taken out back to be shot, for their horrible sacrificing of (the Gaza area) Israeli citizens in a sick game of Russian Roulette. This is the disgusting behavior of politicians on both sides of the aisles that are more interested in keeping their seats and paychecks, then anything else that goes on.

      Reply to Comment
    13. Moshe (the last comment here) please tone your comment down – I don’t like incitement to violence on my channel. I hope you meant it figuratively and I’m not editing it this time but would appreciate if you would try to avoid this kind of language in the future.

      Reply to Comment