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Old City of Jerusalem
photo by Rhonda Spivak

Netanya-where I was during the 2014 Israel-Hamas fighting
photo by Rhonda Spivak

Editor's Report: Will this latest round of violence buy a few years or a few months of quiet from Gaza ?

by Rhonda Spivak, May 25, 2021

Watching the latest scenes of Israel being bombarded by rocket fire from Hamas in Gaza made me remember the summer of 2014, when the previous Israel-Hamas war took place. I was in Israel in Netanya then and when war broke out, I sat listening to the pounding sounds of rockets landing  nearby and the sounds of the Iron Dome rocket defense system  intercepting the rockets—and sometimes I was never sure which of the two sounds I was hearing. My apartment was on the fourth floor of the building  and  there was a small bomb shelter on my floor, which had been built in 1971, and had a steep ladder that went down to the main floor of the building. To be honest, I was not really sure how well this shelter would have stood up if it sustained a direct rocket attack. I had more confidence in the larger main floor bomb shelter, but it would take me much longer to get there, such that I never used it. I have memories of debating with myself whether I should go to sleep wearing my runners, such that if a siren went off in the middle of the night, I wouldn’t have to spend needless time doing up my shoelaces. When I went to the town square, I  also  recall that  I would try not to walk near any windows of buildings, in the event that a missile would hit and shatter glass on me. 
One of the reasons Hamas decided to initiate this most recent 11 days of  of rocket fire  on Israel now has to do with the aborted Palestinian elections which PA President  Mahmoud Abbas cancelled for fear that Hamas would win and take over the West Bank. Since then, Hamas has wanted to outshine  Abbas’s Fatah faction and be considered to be the real leaders of the Palestinians , as well as the protectorate of Jerusalem, leaving Abbas increasingly irrelevant. Another reason is that Hamas thought that Israel would be slow to respond  given the fact that Israel has not been able to form a stable government, with Netanyahu failing to form a coalition (Israel has had four elections in the past two years with a possible fifth one taking place in the near future.)
There is no country in the world that would not respond with force to thousands of rockets being lobbied on its cities, forcing its citizens into bomb shelters, and leading to the virtual  shutting down of its airport. Israel needed to restore its deterrent power, so that Hamas won't begin launching rockets again any time soon in a next round. A top general of the IDF has said that this Gaza conflict will be a success if Israel degrades the capabilities of  Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad such that there will be at least 5 years of quiet.
While some IDF generals think the truce will last 5 years,  other analysts think it seems unlikely to last even five months.
According to the Jerusalem Post, former United States Middle East Envoy Dennis Ross  has “urged the international community to link humanitarian aid to Hamas demilitarization. And even then, he said, a mechanism would be needed to ensure that humanitarian assistance to Gaza was not diverted to Hamas for the reconstruction of its rocket arsenal."
Further, Ross has suggested that after calm has been restored, the normalization process should be used  to break the stalemate between Israelis and Palestinians.  As Ross has written, “The United Arab Emirates offered a model when it made full normalization with Israel conditional on Israel not annexing the territory in the West Bank allotted to it in President Trump’s 2020 peace plan—which would have permitted Israel to annex roughly 30% of the West Bank. The Biden administration should take the Emirates’ model and flexibly apply it.
"For example, the White House should go discreetly to the Saudis and Israelis and propose a menu of normalizing options and responses: Saudi Arabia opens a commercial trade office in Tel Aviv and Israel stops settlement building to the east of the security barrier or on 92% of the West Bank. This would not produce two states but would preserve it as an option—and its possibility would be used to require and broker a parallel move toward Israel by the Palestinian Authority.”

I wonder if the Biden administration will follow Ross’s suggestion above.  I guess time will tell.

In considering Israel's response to Hamas's rockets, it's worth noting that Prime Minister Netanyahu stated on May 18, “I'm sure that all of our enemies around us see the price we are exacting for the aggression against us, and I am certain that they will have absorbed that lesson.” That was a message to Hezbollah in Lebanon to not initiate a conflict with Israel. Unfortunately, on May 25, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah called for a "new equation," saying any violation of Jerusalem would lead to a regional war and would result in "Israel's destruction."
The latest conflict in Gaza has shown that Hamas does not care about the lives of  the Gazans whom it rules. It sent rockets into Israel, knowing that it had not built bomb shelters for its people, such that it was more likely there would be civilian deaths when Israel naturally responded.  Hamas  wanted the world to see images of  Israel  causing damage in Gaza  with its air strikes, so that Israel could be condemned internationally—in fact, Hamas managed to create the illusion around the world that Israel was the aggressor that had initiated the fighting.  Hamas also launched its salvo of rockets while hiding behind civilians. Don’t get me wrong, I very much regret the loss of life of  civilians on the Palestinian side not just on the Israeli side-every life lost is a tragedy. At the same time, it is not surprising that Israel took measures to try to  restored her deterrent power. (Note that during the fighting, some 230 Palestinians died, and the IDF says at least 160 of those were targeted terrorists, meaning approx. 60 of the dead are civilians. Some of them were no doubt killed by Hamas’s own rockets as one third of the missiles fired landed inside Gaza.)
In the recent round of violence, Hamas had a couple of notable successes. As  Arab affairs analyst Shimrit Meir indicated in an Israeli television interview on May 18,  Hamas  sees itself as having unified Palestinians from the river to the sea against  Israel. "It sees itself as the trigger that has unified the ‘Palestinians of 1948’ — Palestinian citizens of Israel — together with Gaza, the West Bank, and Jerusalem, into a single entity, protesting as one, acting as one.” Additionally, fighting on the part of Hamas led to the opening of new fronts in the conflict — the firing of rockets from Lebanon; even a few missiles from Syria.
A survey cited by Channel 12 Israeli television conducted by Direct Polls on Thursday May 20, the same day a ceasefire was announced,  found  that a majority of Israelis did not believe Israel should negotiate a ceasefire as of then. The poll found  that 72% said “the operation should continue,” with only 24% say “we should agree” to a ceasefire.  The survey showed that Israelis wanted to keep on degrading Hamas’s capabilities, such that it would buy them more "quiet" before the inevitable next round.
I do not know how much “quiet “Israel will have bought herself as a result of defanging Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in this latest round of violence but I hope will be years—although as long as Hamas has its arsenal of rockets (and it still has many rockets/missiles left)  it will only be a matter of time until they fire them into Israel. Further, if it turns out that the  Israeli Supreme Court determines that  Palestinian families are to be evicted in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem, will  Hamas break the truce or at the very least promote violence in Jerusalem. Will Israeli Arabs and Arabs in East Jerusalem or the West Bank riot? It seems possible. (And will Hezbollah fire rockets on Israel based on what Nasrallah just said on May 25?)
On a final note the White House has announced that the  United States is committed to marshal international support for Gaza reconstruction efforts. It says it will do this in full partnership with the Palestinian Authority - not Hamas - in a manner that does not permit Hamas to simply restock its military arsenal.
 Somehow, however, I think Hamas will find a way to restock its military arsenal.
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.