There has been some unpleasantness close to the border with Gaza. Rocket and mortar attacks have increased, as have Israeli retaliations. Or maybe Israeli retaliations have brought an increase in rocket and mortar attacks. Israeli officials claim the former; Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza claim the latter, perhaps in an effort to claim--contrary to reality--that Palestinians are united against a common enemy. Those who follow Wikileaks may have noticed that the West Bank leadership urged Israel to mount a severe attack against Gaza, but the Americans were not supposed to publicize that detail.
One of this week's rockets fell close to a kindergarten just as the children were arriving. A young woman was scratched by flying pieces of metal, and the children required calming.
These rockets cannot be aimed with any precision. Many of them never make it out of Gaza, and they may do more damage to Palestinians than to Israelis. If this one fell a few meters in the wrong direction, it could have brought about the deaths of hundreds, if not thousands of Gazans, more destruction, and the bouncing of rubble still left over from 2009.
Israeli politicians, including several noted for their moderation, have warned that persistent rocket and mortar attacks can bring an operation on the order of those three weeks.
Commentators are saying that neither Hamas nor Israel want an escalation. Israelis officials are saying that Hamas may not have fired these rockets, but it acquires responsibility by tolerating their firing by groups even more militant.
Perhaps it comes in response to the failure of Israel and Palestinians to keep even the pretense of moving to serious negotiations, and the lessening of American involvement.
This rational explanation fits the Palestinian narrative that it is Israel who is responsible for the breakdown of negotiations and the risk of violence. However, that is an explanation offered by the Fatah allies of Mahmoud Abbas, who Hamas and other Gazan groups attack for even approaching negotiations with the Zionists.
Rationality may have nothing to do with the increase in attacks. They reflect the numerous factions within the Palestinian community, the intensity of those who are light years away from accommodating themselves to Jews or Israel, and their tendency to fight among themselves when they are not fighting against Israel. Or they may result from simple mechanisms of organizational competition. In order to remain prominent in the cacophony of Palestine, each gang requires a purpose and a forceful leader. Action attracts financial support and recruits willing to sacrifice themselves for the group's view of Palestinian destiny.
So far we are within a familiar ritual. We see Israeli police and military personnel picking up the remnants of shells against the background of empty fields or housing, street scenes, and onlookers; craters created in Gaza, ambulances racing to pick up the wounded, and masses of Gazans walking to a cemetery behind a body rocking from side to side on a stretcher; pledges to destroy Israel by a rifle waving masked man who claims credit for recent attacks and pledges further destruction until Israel disappears; announcements of Israel's protest to the United Nations and Palestinian protests to the same organization, with their emphasis on the Human Rights Commission; threats of escalation from Israelis and Palestinians.
We may be some distance from the exhaustion of the Israel's patience, but it is never easy to predict the movement from ongoing absorption of attacks to implementing a plan of massive retaliation. The decision may come from the pressure brought about by a continued rain of several rockets per day, or more quickly from one rocket that falls on a school, kindergarten, or shopping center.
Proportionality is the theme of Israeli security only to the point when the government decides on something else.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem