I have lost count of the wars and lesser operations experienced here over the course of 33 years. For some of them I was in uniform and armed, and sent to a combat zone. I never fired anything stronger than a lecture on public policy to the troops doing the actual fighting. On other occasions there were attack helicopters circling above our neighborhood of French Hill, waiting for an assignment that would take them to a target 5-10 kilometers to the north or south.
This time the action is 60 kilometers southwest of here, but neighbors 200 meters away have been restless. No attack helicopters above us, but there have been police helicopters probing with spotlights. Border police units have been on the road to Isaweea. Thick black smoke probably came from burning tires, and explosions that sounded like stun grenades marked a confrontation with marchers protesting what was happening in Gaza.
The Border Police is a quasi-military force. Wags say that its troops remain in cages, fed on raw meat, and let out only to wreck havoc on whoever they are told to wreck havoc upon.
Some years ago, the Lecture Corp sent me to a base of the Border Police, with instructions to talk with a group of trainees about the advantages of restraint. (Excessive violence does not look good on CNN.) The audience resembled what we know about the people attracted to the unit: Druze and Beduin, as well as Jews from poor towns and urban neighborhoods. I might have been the only Ashkenazi in a hall with more than 100 people. When I finished my presentation, one trainee said, "Professor (I'm not sure the title was meant as a complement), you should know that we like to hurt people."
So far the IDF has been fighting entirely from the sky. Palestinian reports have reached 300 dead and 1,000 injured. The targets have been installations of the Hamas forces and government, workshops and university laboratories used to fashion missiles, tunnels used to smuggle material from Egypt, and a mosque said to be a center of militant activity. There are hundreds of tanks and artillery pieces, along with ground troops lining the borders with Gaza. Either they are amassed as psychological warfare, or are meant to do what the missiles and bombs cannot accomplish.
Commentators are clucking their tongues about disproportionate force.
A columnist for The Guardian has put all the onus on Israel for what the people of Gaza have suffered from 1948 to the present. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/dec/27/israelandthepalestinians-terrorism
". . . the death and fear that Gaza's gunmen and rocket teams and bombers have inflicted upon Israel have been returned 10, 20, 30 times over once again. . . . Something to be ranked with Deir Yassin. With the Sabra and Shatila massacres. Something, at last, that Israel's foes can say looks like an atrocity."
Not to be outdone, Ha'aretz columnist Gideon Levy wrote a piece headlined, "The neighborhood bully strikes again."
"Within the span of a few hours on a Saturday afternoon, the IDF sowed death and destruction on a scale that the Qassam rockets never approached in all their years, and Operation "Cast Lead" is only in its infancy. . . . Once again, Israel's violent responses, even if there is justification for them, exceed all proportion and cross every red line of humaneness, morality, international law and wisdom."
One popular web site records 55 percent support among those answering a question about the operation, 14 percent opposed, and 31 percent skeptical about its results.
Hamas has responded with its own rockets, but at much less frequency than during the two days prior to IDF's operation. The air strikes and constant patrols of manned and unmanned planes may be foiling the routines of setting up and firing the rockets. Some of the strikes have destroyed stockpiles of the missiles, and the teams sent to fire them.
The shrapnel for one rocket killed an Israeli who stood in the entrance to his building after hearing a siren, contrary to the advice provided time and again by army personnel. Ten or so other civilians have been injured, and more sent to hospitals in shock.
The rumble of international powers has been subdued, perhaps reflecting a frustration at the stubborn refusal of Hamas to recognize Israel, or to stop firing at civilian targets. Most casualties have been young male fighters, and a stray rocket has not yet produced large numbers of dead women and children for the TV cameras.
We have heard the first signs of Hamas calling "uncle." Someone speaking for the organization asked the Norwegian government to pursue a cease fire. The public utterances from Hamas leaders, seemingly recorded from deep underground, are for the people of Gaza to remain steadfast until death.
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Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Dept of Political Science
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem