By Ira Sharkansky
Letter from Israel 

Escalation full speed ahead


Things have escalated in the south to the point where the IDF is now pursuing an “operation.” The Hebrew word touches more buttons than the official English translation, “Protective edge.” Alternative translations that might touch different buttons, are “Strong rock” “Impregnable rock,” or “Impregnable fortress.” 

In IDF parlance, a named operation is less than a war, but more than a limited response to a limited attack.

Yesterday saw more than 80 missiles fired toward Israel. As usual, the vast majority landed on empty land. IDF responses--more than 50 and still counting--are better targeted and more destructive.

One attack on a building that included both Hamas facilities and family housing came only after a telephone call from an Israeli officer, urging an immediate departure from the site.

That says something about IDF intelligence, accessing the cell phone of innocent civilians living alongside a military target.

Let’s see how much credit the humanists of the world bestow on Israel.

Predictions are that this will continue for a while. Hamas is threatening destruction throughout Israel. The IDF has issued a limited call up of reserves, and the unit responsible for civil defense has cancelled all large gatherings and kids’ summer camps within 40 km of  Gaza. It has opened civil defense shelters, and urged people close to Gaza not to venture more than a 15 second run from protection. Ben Gurion University in Beer Sheva and Sapir College in Sderot have canceled classes and exams scheduled for the next few days. Hospitals are moving patients to more secure locations.

Israeli homes built since the first Gulf War have “strong rooms” in each apartment, with protective walls and ceilings, fortified doors and steel shutters that can be lowered in front of the window. Most buildings built between the 1960’s and the 1990s have a common shelter the basement.

Over the normal course of events, those shelters become store rooms for old furniture, and now is one of the times when civil defense officials are calling on us to clean out the junk and equip them with fresh drinking water.

This will also lessen the media attention devoted to what had been in the headlines. 

Police and judicial authorities are moving through their routines against the Jewish barbarians who kidnapped, beat, and burned an Arab youth who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

People should take another look at the video that went viral, seeming to show a young man beaten to near death by personnel of Israel’s Border Police. A day and a half later the same young man, a Palestinian American visiting for the summer, appeared on TV walking normally and with some bruises on his face. He claimed innocence. He was only watching a demonstration until attacked by police. 

The police story is that he had wrapped his face and head in a kaffiyeh like accomplished stone throwers and fire bombers, and was mixing it up with the others.

He may have been roughed up when taken into custody, but nothing like what was portrayed in the video. Most likely that was fabricated by Palestinians seeing another way to make Israel look bad by dressing up as Border Policemen and pretending to beat savagely a friend portrayed as their victim. 

Remember the earlier video showing two Palestinians being shot to death, but managing to fall to the ground with their arms extended in a way to assure that they wouldn’t be hurt while on camera.

Also pushed into the background is the story of the Netanyahu family furniture. Beginning to get scandal headlines was Bibi or Sara ordering of new furniture for the official residence, at public expense, having it delivered to their private residence on the coast, and moving some old stuff from the coast to the official residence in Jerusalem.

All that broke before the kidnapping of three yeshiva students, and it will take some journalistic digging to get it back in the headlines.

There are either fewer commotions by the Arabs of Jerusalem and elsewhere in Israel, or they have been moved off the front page by Gaza. Yet we went to bed Monday night under the sound of helicopters, and the next shift was up there when we woke Tuesday morning.

The Israel police are moving against Arabs of Israel, arresting those filmed throwing stones and fire bombs in East Jerusalem and Arab towns in the Galilee and Negev. The police are also arresting Jews led to rock throwing and other vandalism by calls to “kill Arabs.”

Also suffering will be the dramatic announcement of Avigdor Lieberman that he is undoing the alliance between his party, Israel our Home, and Likud. It has become not much more than a “so what?” in comparison with the noise from the south.

We’ve been in this theater several times, perhaps once every two or three years. Performances are as predictable as disaster alerts, rain, wind, destruction, and cleanup during hurricane season along the US East Coast.

Analysts are saying that this uptick comes as a Hamas act of desperation, seeking to attain some stature in the face of Egypt’s onslaught against its Muslim Brotherhood parent, the failure to gain traction from a unity agreement with Fatah, a lack of shekels to pay its bloated bureaucracy and security units, the chaos that has taken the place of international Muslim unity, and uppity rivals in Gaza who demand even more extreme actions against Israel.

Note the use of shekels in the previous paragraph. Palestine operates on Israeli currency.

While there are some urging the government to destroy Hamas, that isn’t in the cards. Given the ascendance of aggressive Islam, and countless young people aspiring to die as martyrs, the most to be done is enough damage to buy some months or years of relative quiet.

Barack Obama and John Kerry are already saying that Israel has a right to defend itself, but urging all sides to be calm and seek peace.

What comes next will depend on the language not made public adopted by the inner cabinet along with the heads of the IDF and other security services, the responses of Hamas and other missile firers to each day’s IDF activity, the onset of international pressure against what is sure to be called Israeli overreaction, and the efforts of Israeli moderates and leftists to press for limitations in destruction and carnage.

Every Palestinian with a smartphone will be supplying stuff to the professional journalists seeking their own opportunities in Gaza. One can hope that items of great drama will have a larger ingredient of reality than fabrication.

Ira Sharkansky is a professor (Emeritus) of the Department of Political Science, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.


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