Israel declared a unilateral cease-fire. Hamas then declared its own cease-fire. So we have cease, for now at least. But can cease be turned into peace? And what does peace mean?
Firstly, let’s examine what cease, and thus peace, isn’t. It isn’t a continuation of indiscriminate rocket fire, mortar shelling, sniper fire, suicide bombing, kidnapping, stabbing, stoning or any other kind of terror-inducing attack. Neither institutionally directed nor individually initiated. It is not a continued commitment to educate to hate. It is not retaining the singular goal of achieving oblivion for a Jewish state in Israel and the Jewish people as a whole. It is not a continued called for Jihad across the globe. And it is not the acquiescence (acceptance or even welcoming) of Iranian desire to extend a destabilising influence in the region.
Equally, it is not IDF troops in Gaza, it is not F16s and Apache helicopters, it is not tanks and infantry, it is not yanking reservists from their jobs and studies and it is not scores of dead innocent men, women and children – whatever the number may be (recent reports by a Palestinian doctor in Gaza have claimed significant exaggeration of the figures quoted by the Palestinian Government) – it matters not. In short it is not violence and it is not terror. Surely both sides have had more than enough of that to last one hundred lifetimes.
Hamas is well aware of its warfare abilities – or inabilities – to wage a military-based operation against Israel. And even if it was capable it wouldn’t want to. Neither Hamas nor Hezbollah want a traditional conflict. It isn’t in their brief. Their brief is not to invade Israel – and anyone who believes the rhetoric to the contrary is entirely misguided as to the point of their very existence and funding. Their brief is to wage psychological warfare on Israel. To torture Israel. To never let Israel relax and to never let Israel feel at peace.
In following this strategy Hamas has done a brilliant job of creating the vicious cycle of aggression that it needs for its continued existence. No state can turn a blind-eye to constant infringements of security. And yet the international community demands restraint – the very restraint that leads to frustration and fear which in turn are the staple diet of aggression. The exquisite beauty of this strategy is that it also results in exactly the same torture for their own people, thus creating a constant supply of aggrieved and maligned people ready and willing to exact “blind vengeance” – but are they blind to the direction in which they should be aiming their revenge?
Hamas terror is not just aimed at Israel. It is applied with equal brutality to their own people. Already, just a few short days into the cease-fire, countless so-called Israeli collaborators, aka suspected supporters of Fatah or just plain old non-supporters of Hamas, have been tortured and executed in Gaza. A thinly veiled continuation of Hamas’s desire to exert complete and total power over Gaza, to split the Palestinian entity in two, thus ensuring that any platform for co-existence, not matter how fragile, that might have been achieved through Abbas and the West Bank, cannot, and will not, be emulated in Gaza.
Such an atmosphere of fear inevitably alters mindsets and thus decision-making. The suburban populations of middle England, France, Germany etc can comfortably express their abhorrence at the use of violence to solve political issues because they do not live in fear. They do not stare death and destruction in the face on a daily basis. They do not have to build bomb-proof playgrounds for their children and they do not have to clear up the hatred continually hurled into their backyards. I know it was a long time ago, but, the British quickly gave up the policy of appeasement and inaction (the same policy that many would like Israel to adopt) when it became blatantly obvious that Germany wasn’t playing ball and posed a genuine threat to the very fabric of British society. A fair comparison? Militarily, perhaps not – Hamas does not possess Messerschmitts, Junkers Jus and Panzers – it doesn’t need them for their purposes. Emotionally and psychologically, absolutely. At least the threat from Germany was clear, the threat to Israel from Hamas, and the appeasers of the world, is much more pernicious.
However, and I almost feel like I don’t want to write this lest it provides even an ounce of satisfaction to Hamas, their torture, to a certain degree has worked. They have rendered once productive and prosperous areas devoid of life, hope and ambition. They have driven people away from their homes, their schools, their jobs and their families. They have created a population in need of extensive and ongoing psychological health and welfare support – support that will be needed for many years to come.
It is only a temporary victory though. The fear and damage caused in the North before and during the 2nd Lebanon war (Nahariya, for instance, felt the force of more than 700 missile) created a population drain and the inevitable depression of property prices and local business. However, over the last couple of years though, thanks to various initiatives, the population of Nahariya has grown by almost 15% to more than 50,000. The city has a clean and prosperous look to it with access to excellent shopping and leisure facilities – it is really a very pleasant place to live. The same, I hope, will happen with Sderot, Netivot and Eshkol etc. Israel is too small to continually run away. The land is too precious. It isn’t wanted, and it isn’t welcomed, but Israel has learnt to harness the negativity of fear and uncertainty into a positive force that has turned it into one of the most productive and creative nations on earth.
What does cease, and hopefully, peace mean? For the people of the Western Negev it might mean an end to the torture. As with most forms of torture the psychological damage wrought is far worse than the physical damage. And the last eight years of ‘rocket reality’ can only be described as torture – the kind of torture that runs contra to every single moral and legal code in the Western World. The impact on this region and its people is acute in the most chronic of ways. One million people subject to the equivalent of Chinese water torture. The drip, drip, drip effect of Qassams, Grads and mortar shells – never knowing when they will hit, never knowing where they will strike but always knowing they will come, always wondering what will fall out of the sky onto their families, homes and schools.
It might also mean an end to the use of civilians as human shields, as bomb-makers, as mobile explosives, as munitions quartermasters and as helpless pawns fed a diet of death and destruction in the name of Allah. The cycle of death has to be broken, the breeding of generation after generation of people with a tragic tale to tell and a reason to despise has to end. On both sides of the divide.
Peace, come to think of it, peace is not even referring to Israel and Palestine as “sides” – geographical and political entities are meaningless without the context provided by the people within them. And they are just people who, certainly from what is evident within the borders of Israel, want peace – I suspect, I hope, it is the same in Gaza.
So peace should be just about people. Normal people. People with nothing more on their list of priorities than living their lives, raising their families, going to work, providing shelter and food and finding some reward and fulfilment from life. Inevitably it won’t be. Politics and economics will dictate that – lets just hope that whatever “peace” politics and economics allows doesn’t punish the people in whose name it will be instituted too harshly.