Within 48 hours of the enactment of the latest Middle East ceasefire, both Palestinian factions that signed on the dotted line violated the agreement by firing Qassam rockets into civilian areas, with the explicit goal of killing as many innocent Israelis as possible.
What didn’t happen in response to this flagrant breach is most significant. The United Nations didn’t convene an emergency session. The inaction was hardly surprising, though. The UN has never done so in reaction to attacks by Palestinian terrorists.
But when Israel had attempted earlier this month to prevent terrorists from firing rockets into its sovereign territory, the international outrage machine ginned up. All but seven members of the United Nations’ General Assembly voted to condemn Israel for its military incursion into Gaza.
Even more disappointing—though no less surprising—is what Israel didn’t do. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert rejected a military response in the hours after the agreement went into effect, instead urging “restraint.” By the next day, Olmert was groveling. In exchange for Palestinians living up to the deal they had already ratified, Olmert offered prisoner releases and a reduction of the checkpoints that thwart terrorists.
Why the bizarre extension of an olive branch to terrorists? Most likely, Olmert is too afraid of the international outrage machine to do what he had been doing, off and on, for the past several months with military action in Gaza.
The criticism Olmert apparently feared is the buzzword that was being recycled from Israel’s summer war with Hezbollah: “overreaction.”
To what was Israel “overreacting?” Hamas, using the tactic that Hezbollah licensed from it this summer, continues indiscriminately launching rockets into civilian areas.
Israel’s now-ceased military action was far from an “overreaction.” It was, in fact, a delayed reaction. Rockets have been raining down in southern Israel for years now, and only this summer did the Israel Defense Forces finally execute a sustained response.
For over five years, the residents of Sderot, a small development town of 26,000 in the Negev desert near the Gaza border, have been subjected to a constant barrage of Qassam rockets fired by Hamas, or the democratically elected government of the Palestinians. More than 3,000 rockets have hit Sderot and the roughly 45 smaller communities in the area.
Though former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his successor, Ehud Olmert, both had promised a strong response to attacks against civilians launched from Gaza, Hamas had suffered little more than the occasional military strike against its terrorists following a particularly “successful” Qassam. (One such response came after a Qassam exploded meters from the personal residence of Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz, who lives in Sderot.)
The IDF waited until late this June to attack Hamas aggressively and provide the response promised by both Sharon and Olmert. But that was actually triggered by the kidnapping of 19-year-old soldier Gilad Shalit—even though rocket firings into Sderot had become unrelenting starting several weeks earlier.
While the Israeli campaign against Hezbollah failed to achieve any of its stated objectives, the IDF scored significant success with its actions in Gaza this summer. But shortly after the rate of rocket attacks fell to just a few per week, military activities largely halted. Not surprisingly, Hamas redoubled its efforts, and Qassam rockets again became a daily reality in Sderot and surrounding communities.
Perhaps to divert attention from the failure to defeat Hezbollah this summer, Olmert pledged his determination to degrade Hamas’ ability to launch rockets at innocent civilians. But that crumbled in the face of mounting international outcry. Never mind that the democratically elected government of the Palestinians continues targeting civilians with impunity, with help from the al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, which is under the control of “moderate” President Mahmoud Abbas.
As bad as things are in Sderot right now—one woman was killed this month, and another person is near death as of this writing—none of this is new.
To appreciate just how much a daily fact of life Qassams have become, Sderot’s school playground has four above-ground, concrete bomb shelters. The rectangular tunnels sit on each corner of the relatively small playground. So many are needed so close together because there is typically just 10-15 seconds warning, if any, before a Qassam hits.
Qassams have hit all around the school. Remnants of several rockets can be seen in the street in front of the school. Shrapnel is lodged in the sidewalk railing meters from the playground. Shrapnel is even on the playground itself.
The residents of Sderot are both bitter and angry. Even with the recent military actions, they feel forgotten. Actually, they have been.
This June, Vice Premier and former Prime Minister Shimon Peres brushed off mounting concern about a surge in attacks with the quip, “Qassams shmassams.” Echoing that theme, an Israel Defense Force spokesman described Qassam rockets to this columnist in July as “dumb firecrackers.”
Thing is, these “dumb firecrackers” kill people. Here is the Associated Press account of one Qassam attack in September 2004:
“The blast blew out the windows of a house, showered a minibus with shrapnel and killed two children of Ethiopian descent. Dorit Benesay, 2, and Yuval Abeva, 4, were playing under an olive tree outside Yuval’s grandmother’s house when the rocket struck, emergency workers and neighbors said.
“‘After the rocket fell, a man, maybe 20 years old, took the boy in his arms. He was in shock. He ran with the boy, he didn’t know what to do,’ said Zina Shurov, 48, a neighbor. ‘I saw the boy, he had no legs.’”
Even with the ceasefire, Hamas has no plans to stop, and the international outrage machine won’t ask it to. The Islamic terrorists are merely fulfilling a promise made this June: “We have decided to turn Sderot into a ghost town. We won’t stop firing the rockets until they all leave.”
It is because of people like Rabbi David Fendel that Hamas won’t get its wish anytime soon. Rabbi Fendel believes that the simple act of staying put is his best way to fight terrorism. In fact, he’s even doing more. With a new yeshiva (religious school) and community center under construction, Rabbi Fendel is working to make Sderot stronger.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, has visited Sderot and calls Rabbi Fendel “a real hero in the war on terror.” He explains, “Rabbi Fendel is not only helping Sderot, but he has taken the kind of firm stand that the Israeli government needs to in order to defeat the likes of Hamas and Hezbollah.”