Cease fires are likely to be tricky. The first hours are especially problematic. The word does not always get to all the troops. The problem is worse when the organizations agreeing to a cease fire are not well disciplined armies or states, but organizations whose structure is fluid at best.
The first cease fire in this week's war between Hamas and Fatah fell apart. There were attacks on buildings using mortars and rocket propelled grenades, which are the closest these fighters get to weapons of mass destruction. The second cease fire, proclaimed last night, may be holding a bit better, but that will not console the families of the fighters who paid the ultimate price after it was supposed to begin. Only time will tell if the friends or family members of the deceased will take it upon themselves to revenge their deaths, no matter what their ostensible leaders proclaim.
Chaos rather than coherent action is the impression made by film clips and commentary. The Kalashnikov is the weapon of choice. Reports are that they are going for 2,000 Jordanian dinars (US $2,800), which is a bit higher than the $240 price tag that my Google turned up. Demand and supply rule locally. The camel or Toyota that carried it over the Sinai, as well as a few middle-persons have to get something. The weapon's designer, Mikhail Timofeevich Kalashnikov, most likely has missed out on any royalties, but he did well in prizes and commemorations from Soviet authorities.
A lot of the Palestinians photographed with his invention seem to fire it mostly in the air, or aimlessly in one general direction or another. Members of the perhaps 13 separate security forces are wearing uniforms, some of the fighters have headbands or masks that may signal something, but most are without distinctive clothing. Friends, family members may know one another well enough to point their weapons appropriately. Casualties during the spurts of chaotic fighting are not high by international standards, at 6-8 deaths a day including bystanders, and perhaps five or six times that number reported as wounded.
I recall a drill instructor from my own training in the IDF saying that making noise with a poorly aimed weapon is not a way to win a war. Most of the soldiers we see may be brave, but they do not seem to have gotten as far as I in their military training. Maybe noise is better for them than mass bloodshed. It makes a point without doing irreparable harm to the development of Palestinian nationhood.
There is some harm being done. Ahmed Tibi, MD, a fervent Palestinian nationalist and one of the brightest of Israeli Knesset members, expressed embarrassment and profound sadness during an interview on prime time news. The national movement to which he has dedicated his professional life was showing the world, as well as its Israeli adversaries, just how incapable it was of creating a viable democratic state.
Tibi described a situation where the pragmatic nationalists of Fatah (the hitherto most prominent element in the PLO) and the Islamicists of Hamas are fighting over the leadership of the Palestinian people. The war may be most prominently about this, but it also includes violence between extended families, and some degree of settling individual scores. The importance of family loyalties and revenge competes with the discipline of national or religious movements, and raises doubts as to whether the Palestinians are ready to create a national entity.
The war also casts a shadow on six decades of Arab and Muslim unity cobbled together in behalf of Palestine. If the ostensible beneficiaries of the concern are killing more of one another than they are concentrating on the holy target of Israel, the whole effort may be worthless. Israelis have sensed this for some time. Now the message may be going a bit further.
Is the present war good for the Jews?
Not necessarily. On the one hand, better that they target one another than us. On the other hand, at least some of them realize that they can lessen the intra-Palestinian bloodshed by reminding one another of the conflict with Israel. Leaders of both sides are calling on their followers to return to the greater fight against Israel. Somebody fired two rockets toward Israel this morning. If one lands too close to an Israeli, it can cause another IDF attack on Gaza that might solve the conflict among Palestinians, at least for a while.
There are some other unpleasant consequences that can come in our direction. Palestinians and their friends will blame us for the fighting. We are used to being the target of their hyperbole, and will not suffer greatly from it. We do not want a wave a refugees flowing from Palestine to Israel and demanding protection on humanitarian grounds. Ideally we want quiet on the other sides of the barriers. We continue to dream about a credible agreement between us and them. The war makes all of that even further away.
Few of us are wishing success to the Islamists of Hamas who advocate our destruction. Few of us should provide the Fatah with an embrace that they may not deserve, and that would not help them in Palestinian politics.
It is their war.