The international outrage machine is ginned up again, and all but seven members of the U.N. General Assembly recently voted to condemn Israel for its military incursion into Gaza. The buzzword — recycled from Israel’s summer war with Hezbollah — is “overreaction.”
To what is Israel “overreacting?” Hamas, using the tactic that Hezbollah licensed from it this summer, is indiscriminately launching rockets into civilian areas, hoping to kill as many innocents as possible.
Israel’s current military action is far from an overreaction. It is, 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 (IDF) finally execute a sustained response.
For more than 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 strike. (One such response came after a Qassam exploded meters from the personal residence of Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz, who lives in Sderot.)
The military waited until late this June to attack Hamas aggressively and provide the response promised by both Mr. Sharon and Mr. 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 several weeks earlier.
While the Israeli campaign against Hezbollah failed to achieve any of its stated objectives, the military 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 ceased. Not surprisingly, Hamas redoubled its efforts, and Qassam rockets again became a daily reality in Sderot and surrounding communities.
Perhaps to divert attention from its failure to defeat Hezbollah this summer, Israel seems determined to degrade Hamas’ ability to launch rockets at innocent civilians. But that apparent determination could crumble in the face of mounting international outcry. Never mind that the democratically elected government of the Palestinians is able to target civilians with impunity.
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 it. Shrapnel is lodged in the sidewalk railing meters from the playground. Shrapnel is even on the playground itself.
Not surprisingly, the residents of Sderot are both bitter and angry. Even with the recent military actions, they feel forgotten. Actually, they have been forgotten.
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 IDF 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.