Fight­ing fire with fire and stay­ing power

Jerusalem Post - - OBSERVATIONS - • By LIAT COLLINS (Amir Cohen/Reuters)

It’s the picture of in­no­cence. Young peo­ple fly­ing kites, feel­ing the free­dom of the soar­ing wings high in the sky. But many of the kites were at­tached to in­cen­di­ary de­vices to set prop­erty and fields on fire. The Pales­tini­ans equipped with wire cut­ters try­ing to cross the fence didn’t want to re­trieve their kites. They wanted some­thing else en­tirely. The slo­gan of the protests that started on March 30 was “The Grand March of Re­turn.”

The 40,000 Pales­tini­ans who gath­ered at the border on May 14 were brought there by Ha­mas, an or­ga­ni­za­tion whose stated goal is the de­struc­tion of Is­rael. It has worked tire­lessly dig­ging terror tun­nels, stock­pil­ing rock­ets and di­vert­ing funds that should have been spent on al­le­vi­at­ing poverty all with the aim of hurt­ing Is­rael. Snatch­ing sol­diers, dead or alive, is a supreme goal. Storm­ing a nearby kib­butz would give it bonus points.

The events of May 14 in which some 60 Pales­tini­ans were killed by Is­raeli sol­diers, 52 of them Ha­mas mem­bers ac­cord­ing to the ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion, gave them the PR vic­tory they had been seek­ing all along. Blood, and plenty of it. Ha­mas, a lo­cal spinoff of the Mus­lim Broth­er­hood, doesn’t care whose blood is spilled, that of the Jews and other “in­fi­dels” or that of its own mem­bers.

And that is the tragedy of the Pales­tini­ans: They have been ex­ploited by their own peo­ple for 70 years. This is war. Not just phys­i­cal com­bat, but psy­cho­log­i­cal war­fare. Is­rael can win the phys­i­cal bat­tle; the pro­pa­ganda war is much harder.

Is­raelis point out that had Ha­mas not placed the pro­test­ers along the border, with their burn­ing tires and in­cen­di­ary kites, they would not have been shot. It’s the clas­sic case of if Ha­mas were to lay down its arms there would be peace, if Is­rael were to lay down its weapons the coun­try would be de­stroyed.

What do Is­raelis think of the fact that most of the wounded Pales­tini­ans were shot in their legs, a Bri­tish jour­nal­ist asked me in a ra­dio in­ter­view this week. I re­al­ized that what­ever I an­swered would sound cal­lous. Most Is­raelis pre­fer that there weren’t such ri­ots in the first place, but if even a mob of 200 out of the 40,000 looks like it is go­ing to storm across the border and into nearby com­mu­ni­ties, we are happy that there are sol­diers coura­geously putting their lives on the line to stop them. The ac­cu­sa­tion of a “dis­pro­por­tion­ate re­sponse” is im­moral when you con­sider what it re­ally means: That the world ex­pects – de­mands, al­most – that Is­raeli sol­diers or civil­ians be killed.

If most pro­test­ers have been shot in the legs it’s a good sign, I tried to ex­plain. It shows that far from car­ry­ing out an in­dis­crim­i­nate mas­sacre, the sol­diers are car­ry­ing out or­ders to do ev­ery­thing to keep the po­ten­tial in­fil­tra­tors away from the fence with­out killing them.

The bloody protests of May 14 can be con­sid­ered a Pales­tinian suc­cess. They brought the spot­light back onto the world’s only “per­pet­ual refugees,” fos­tered their sta­tus as vic­tims, and came close to ru­in­ing a party the other side of the border. From be­ing part of the event mark­ing the 70th an­niver­sary of the “Nakba,” the “catas­tro­phe” of Is­rael’s cre­ation, the Gaza demon­stra­tions were repack­aged as “the em­bassy ri­ots.”

For a long time, Amer­i­can pres­i­dents and other world lead­ers were afraid to re­lo­cate their coun­tries’ em­bassies to Jerusalem, rec­og­niz­ing it as Is­rael’s cap­i­tal, for fear of a wave of terror. Love him or hate him, Don­ald Trump didn’t give in to the threats. Dire pre­dic­tions spoke of bloody ri­ots in the Mus­lim world, in places like Indonesia.

Well, what hap­pened in Indonesia this week was heart­break­ing. Among the atroc­i­ties that some­how didn’t man­age to cre­ate in­ter­na­tional out­rage were the ISIS-in­spired sui­cide at­tacks car­ried out dur­ing Sun­day ser­vices at three churches in Surabaya, Indonesia’s sec­ond-largest city. Reuters, cit­ing lo­cal of­fi­cials, re­ported at least 13 dead and 40 wounded. There was also a string of Is­lamist at­tacks on po­lice and se­cu­rity forces.

The per­pe­tra­tors of the church at­tacks, whose vic­tims re­port­edly in­cluded a woman who got en­gaged the pre­vi­ous day, were fam­i­lies who ap­par­ently had re­turned to Indonesia from Syria af­ter the col­lapse of ISIS. An at­tack in Surabaya on May 14 was car­ried out by a fam­ily of five on two mo­tor­bikes who blew them­selves up at the en­trance to the po­lice head­quar­ters. The eight-year-old daugh­ter of the ter­ror­ists sur­vived and was found wan­der­ing around in a daze. She too was a vic­tim.

What type of fam­ily goes on an out­ing to blow up churches and po­lice sta­tions? The type that is fired up by the ji­hadist cult of mar­tyr­dom. The type, which like Ha­mas, pushes women and chil­dren into the front lines as can­non fod­der and hu­man can­non­balls.

The string of In­done­sian at­tacks, like the at­tacks that left 15 dead in Afghanistan this week, or even the ax at­tack by a man in Paris for which ISIS took credit last week­end, have noth­ing to do with the em­bassy open­ing. They are part of global ji­had.

Ha­mas in­ten­tions are clear from their targets. They have ap­pro­pri­ated Leo Rosten’s clas­sic def­i­ni­tion of the Yid­dish word “chutz­pah”: “That qual­ity en­shrined in a man who, hav­ing killed his mother and fa­ther, throws him­self on the mercy of the court be­cause he is an or­phan.”

“Peace­ful pro­test­ers” for the third time this month van­dal­ized and set fire to the Pales­tinian side of the Kerem Shalom cross­ing through which hun­dreds of trucks a day pass from Is­rael to Gaza car­ry­ing es­sen­tial sup­plies and hu­man­i­tar­ian aid; they also set fire to a pipe­line car­ry­ing gas and fuel, and de­stroyed con­veyor belts used to bring in con­struc­tion ma­te­rial and an­i­mal feed. How shrill and how empty are their cries of “hu­man­i­tar­ian dis­as­ter”!

The UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, of course, held an emer­gency ses­sion on the Gaza cri­sis. But the UN is part of the prob­lem. For seven decades, the Pales­tini­ans have re­jected pos­si­ble peace agree­ments and launched war af­ter war. For five gen­er­a­tions, they have been made de­pen­dent on UNRWA, the UN agency uniquely ded­i­cated to Pales­tinian “refugees.” Not only has the Pales­tinian lead­er­ship failed its own pop­u­la­tion but so has the UN and its re­lief agency.

It doesn’t take much to imag­ine what would have hap­pened had the thou­sands of pro­test­ers tried to storm Gaza’s other border, the one it shares with Egypt. And although Turkey hu­mil­i­ated and sent Is­rael’s am­bas­sador home, it is hard to be­lieve that had thou­sands of pro­test­ers tried to breach its border with Syria, for ex­am­ple, they would have been wel­comed with small cups of cof­fee and Turk­ish de­light. IS­RAEL HAD split-screen syn­drome this week. Mul­ti­ple images dom­i­nated pub­lic awareness: There was the hugely pop­u­lar em­bassy open­ing; the Jerusalem Day cel­e­bra­tions on the 51st an­niver­sary of the re­u­ni­fi­ca­tion of the cap­i­tal; the Pales­tinian at­tacks, and, lastly, the Euro­vi­sion mania that swept the coun­try af­ter Is­rael’s Netta Barzi­lai won the song con­test on May 12.

Netta has tal­ent and a win­ning per­son­al­ity. She also has luck. Had the con­test taken place days af­ter the Pales­tinian ri­ots ended with such a high death toll and not be­fore it, it’s un­likely she would have gar­nered the nec­es­sary votes.

The singer’s im­pact was such that even Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu im­i­tated her chicken-like arm move­ments as he walked into the Sun­day cab­i­net meet­ing.

“Thank you so much for choos­ing difference,” she told the mil­lions watch­ing her ac­cept the Euro­vi­sion tro­phy.

“We have a rea­son to be happy, don’t let any­body put your fire out – no­body will put our fire out,” Netta told the thou­sands who greeted her in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square on her re­turn from Lis­bon.

Pales­tini­ans in Gaza can launch in­cen­di­ary kites and carry out ar­son at­tacks, but their fires are no match for the Is­raeli en­thu­si­asm for life.

AN IDF sol­dier runs in a field near Kib­butz Me­fal­sim, which was set on fire by Pales­tini­ans in Gaza on May 14.

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