The reaction of the residents of Sderot
Two years of Qassam rocket attacks have left the residents of
Sderot feeling bitter, vulnerable and betrayed. The following
comment by Mayor Eli Moyal typifies the mood (Jerusalem Report
interview, 7 February 2005):-
“If an outsider came to Sderot, it might seem that normal
life is continuing. But inside, abnormal things are happening
to us. I want people to understand what we are going through…..
Here you have a city where kids are dying on their way to school….
even if they get to school, they can’t concentrate on
their studies – they talk constantly about Qassams, Qassams,
Qassams. I also hear kids saying things like “death to
the Arabs”. We didn’t teach them that. We never,
ever taught them to hate….. When little kids draw pictures,
it’s always Qassams and graves….
…. My nightmare is that people will start to leave Sderot,
that people will simply decide that they have had enough. That
will mean that the Government of Israel can’t protect
its own citizens…..”
To the outside world, Hamas and Islamic Jihad claim that the
Qassam attacks are responses to Israeli military operations.
Israel argues that the Palestinian rocket attacks are the reason
why Israel takes military action in Gaza, rather than being
a Palestinian response to Israeli action.
Israeli experts argue that the real motive for the rocket attacks
is the desire of different Palestinian factions to “claim
credit” for Israel’s forthcoming departure from
Gaza. These groups are determined to depict Israel’s withdrawal
as a surrender to their violence. They are also anxious to win
support among radical groups elsewhere in the Arab world, like
Palestinian resentment in ‘Qassam City’,
Many Qassam rocket launches have taken place from Beit Hanoun,
a Palestinian town of 30,000 on the eastern side of the Gaza
strip, which has acquired the name ‘Qassam City’.
According to an in-depth report in the Jerusalem Report (20
September 2004), rocket squads from outside Beit Hanoun often
use the town as a launch pad, and then quickly depart. The residents
of Beit Hanoun are then left to face the retaliation of Israeli
security forces: parts of Beit Hanoun have been reduced to rubble,
and the town has suffered massive damage to property as a result
of Israeli incursions. The rocket squads are widely viewed as
“cowards” and “callous” for bringing
this on the town. Typical quotes:-
Jamil, a resident of Beit Janoun: “The guys who launch
the Qassams don’t care – they come, fire and go
home to sleep. They’re not from here….”
A Palestinian Authority official: “the rich idiots [who
fund Hamas] get excited when they see Qassams being fired at
Israel, and pay up…”
In the words of Jamil, the Qassam war is “blind and haphazard”.
(In a notorious, and related, incident in July 2004, a member
of the Fatah Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade shot dead a 16 year
old Palestinian from Beit Hanoun, Hassan Za’anin, when
he protested at the gunman’s plan to plant a road-side
bomb near his home).
Israel’s military response to the Qassam attacks
Israel invokes its right of self-defence and has in the past
entered the Northern Gaza strip to try to destroy the rocket-making
factories and prevent future rocket attacks. Many Palestinians,
including civilians, have been killed or injured in these operations,
which have resulted in international condemnation.
Israelis spokesmen have maintained that the responsibility
for the civilian casualties lies with the Palestinian groups
who use civilian built-up areas like Beit Hanoun as their rocket
launching area (see above).
Meanwhile, Israeli authorities have tried to reassure the residents
of Sderot that they will protect them. A recent meeting of the
Israeli Cabinet was held in Sderot as a gesture of solidarity.
Cooperation with the Palestinians under Mahmoud Abbas
With the election of Mahmoud Abbas on 9 January, Israeli strategy
has changed. On 20 January 2005 Israel announced that it had
agreed to allow several thousand Palestinian Authority security
personnel to take over responsibility for preventing Qassam
launches from Gaza.
Furthermore, despite a particularly intense Qassam barrage
against Israel on 10 February, the Israel Government instructed
its army to take no action of its own, and instead called on
the Palestinians to intensify their efforts to curb the attacks
(Jerusalem Post, 13 February 2005).
The Qassam attacks and misconceptions about Palestinian
The Palestinians’ Qassam campaign shatters several misconceptions
about Palestinian violence:
Misconception: “The violence is caused
by Israel’s occupation. If only Israel would end the ‘occupation’,
the violence would stop….”
Reality: Israel is preparing to withdraw completely
from the Gaza Strip. Yet the violence emanating from Gaza is
not reducing, but increasing. The groups carrying out the attacks
want to claim credit for ending Israel’s occupation. It
is not Israel’s presence in Gaza which is causing the
violence, but the ending of Israel’s presence in Gaza….
Misconception: “The violence is causing
Israel to moderate its policies….”
Reality: Far from it. The violence has caused
a hardening of attitudes among the Israeli public. And politically,
the rocket attacks from Gaza
are the argument most commonly used by opponents in Israel of
disengagement. The violence could derail the Israeli withdrawal,
rather than bring it about.
Misconception: “Israel and the Palestinians
are involved in a ‘cycle of violence’…”
Reality: The Palestinian attacks are not in
reality a response to Israeli attacks. They are prompted by
internal Palestinian politics, first and foremost. Nor does
Israel automatically retaliate when attacks do occur, as is
clear from events since the election of Mahmoud Abbas. It can
be argued that the events demonstrate not a cycle of violence,
but a pattern of sabotage by Palestinian rejectionist groups
who wish to wreck attempts to improve Israeli-Palestinian relations.
Misconception: “The terrorists are the
result of popular resistance to Israel….”
Reality: The Palestinian groups use Beit Hanoun
cynically, and are resented, even hated by Palestinian residents
there for making their lives such a misery.
Among the tragic victims of the Qassam rockets are Ayala Abukasis
and other Israeli teenagers and children.
But the longer term victims, if the Qassam attacks are not
curbed, could be all who wish to see a brighter future and peaceful
coexistence between the Israeli and Palestinian people.