Stop rockets by seizing Palestinian territory


Targeted actions depriving Gaza of territory in response to attacks will put a specific price tag on each rocket and terror attack.

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 8-30-11

My cousin Adele Raemer lives on Kibbutz Nirim in the Western Negev. It is an idealistic community in an idyllic setting. Over the years, the kibbutzniks have created a lush, intimate oasis that is as warm communally as it is hot meteorologically. Unfortunately, their beautiful lives are interrupted far too often by sirens and explosions as rockets bombard them from neighboring Gaza.

To let people in Israel and throughout the world know what it’s like to live from warning to warning, from safe house sprint to safe house sprint, Adele recently started the Facebook group “Life on the border with Gaza – things people may not know (but should).” This apolitical on-line diary paints a picture of the courage involved in living an ordinary life under extraordinary circumstances, when “everyone” is suffering from some form of post-traumatic stress, when kids go back to wetting their beds, dogs are “frightened to death” by strange noises, and adults are living on edge. This diary portrays the Israeli refusal to be defeated. It puts a human face on the callous decision of Gaza’s Hamas rulers to turn their fiefdom into a launching pad for Islamist terror. And it details, warning by warning, missile by missile, stress by stress, a massive failure on the part of the Israeli government – handcuffed as it is by the international community.

A government’s primary mission is to protect its citizens. When tens of thousands of those citizens endure barrages from hostile neighbors, the government must act. Fearing international condemnation for the simple act of defending its citizens, Israel’s government has decided to build shelters in most schools and many homes within rocket range. This limits physical casualties but ignores the psychological toll. It is the reaction of the “galut Jew” – the oppressed accommodator, not the proud, independent Israeli fighter.

I hate war. I don’t wish to see unnecessary bloodshed. But residents of the Western Negev, including Sderot, have suffered too much. Barack Obama himself said, in Sderot on July 23, 2008: “I don’t think any country would find it acceptable to have missiles raining down on the heads of their citizens. The first job of any nation state is to protect its citizens…. If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I’m going to do everything in my power to stop that. And I would expect Israelis to do the same thing.”

Israel’s leaders should quote Obama’s rationale to Obama, the UN and the Palestinians, restating the implicit deal Israel made when it withdrew from Gaza in August 2006. If, five years ago, Israel returned territorial control to the Palestinians in the hope for peace or at least quiet, it now needs to deprive Palestinians of some of that territory every time Palestinians break the peace. Every rocket launched from Gaza should bring two reactions. First, Israel should close the border completely for 24 hours, with no supplies or services, including electricity, emanating from Israel. And second, the IDF should push the border fence back into Gaza, seizing a pre-determined amount of territory each time. If the rocket fire intensifies, Israel should take back the evacuated settlements, one by one.

To the inevitable charges of “collective punishment,” and the absurd claim that “militants” beyond Hamas’s control are responsible, Israel’s leaders – after quoting Barack Obama – should reply, “Hamas is claiming to be responsible for Gaza, so it must take responsibility for Gaza. These are the rules of war: when aggressors from one territory attack their neighbor, the neighbor has the right to respond in self-defense. Traditionally, the currency in these matters has been land. Israel is returning to that traditional calculus. If the people of Gaza are unhappy about it, they should pressure their rulers.

And if there is quiet for six months, Israel will begin withdrawing again, proving that it has no territorial designs on Gaza, only a desire for peace.”

Given its failure to respond clearly for years, Israel should not employ this strategy immediately. The renewed rocket attacks and terrorist crimes of the past two weeks are attempts to provoke an Israeli reaction that will trigger world condemnation, thus easing the Palestinians’ unilateral declaration of independence. The international community has made it clear, especially in the corrupted UN, that Israel is the only country in the world that lacks the right of self-defense. Preferring Jews who are defenseless or dead to Jews who defend themselves, the world will probably reject this new Israeli doctrine. So Israel should devote time this month to preparing the legal rationale, finalizing military plans, and quietly conveying to the Palestinians, the Americans and the international community that the new response will go into effect in October.

Too many Palestinian radicals have made it clear over the years that they are willing to sacrifice Palestinians lives to terrorize Israelis. But the Palestinian outrage when Israel built the security fence proves how precious every inch of land is to Palestinians. Targeted actions depriving Gaza of territory in response to Palestinians targeting of the Western Negev will put a specific price tag on each rocket and terror attack, making Palestinians responsible for their actions. The heroic inhabitants of the Western Negev know the cost of each Palestinian rocket attack. It is time for Palestinians to pay a steep price too for these aggressions – or better yet, end them.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Research Fellow in Jerusalem. The author of Why I Am a Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today, his most recent book is The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction.


Ode to a secular kibbutz Zionist – and secular kibbutz Zionism

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 12-4-08

Laurie Levy died suddenly last month at 54. Born in England, he had lived on Kibbutz Nirim in the Western Negev since 1974. His passing is not only a tragedy for all of us lucky enough to have known him, but it highlights the dying out of the kibbutz aliya and the dwindling phenomenon of non-religious aliya from Western democracies.

Flipping through Laurie’s photo albums at the shiva, I saw so many images familiar to those of us lucky enough (and, er, old enough) to have lived in Israel in the 1970s and early ’80s. In one faded no-longer-so-colorful photo after another, Laurie is beaming, looking tanned and strong while invariably hugging a beautiful woman. This proper London boy is tasting freedom kibbutz-style.

True, the 1970s was a decade of rebellion throughout the West, when the mostly elite revolution of the 1960s became a mass phenomenon. Still, the Israeli taste of freedom had its own unique flavor, especially on kibbutz. Israel was still a halutzic, pioneering country, barely 25 years old. The Yom Kippur War had illustrated its fragility and the entire Jewish world’s vulnerability less than 30 years after the Nazi slaughter ended. The kibbutz ideal, while never as popular as Diaspora Zionists believed, still gripped the public’s imagination.

The kibbutz ethos of communitarianism, self-sacrifice, Spartanism and an all-hands-on-deck, fluid, cooperative eclecticism attracted thousands of suburban Jewish youth. Working and hanging out on kibbutz in a young, strikingly small but charmingly dynamic country rendered many of our angst-ridden questions about meaning in life moot.

KIBBUTZIM WERE filled with characters straight out of a Zionist novel. New Jewish superheroes, they were as intellectual as anyone we knew back home, but tragically adept on the battlefields and wondrously competent in the growing fields they preferred. These bronzed, muscular, modern macho cowboys could have ridden desks like our fathers did, but chose to ride tractors instead.

These ideological farmers were also impressively well-rounded, modern Renaissance men and women. One might be an archeology enthusiast, one might be an amateur musician – with time to practice – and one might be a budding biblical scholar, loving the land and learning about it while living on it and tilling it. Kibbutz life had its frustrations, limitations, perpetual controversies and sometimes draining workload. Still, many kibbutzniks seemed to express themselves more fully and diversely than the overworked, stressed-out super-specialists we knew and were aspiring to become back home.

Most of us nevertheless moved on, although many of us still share the fantasy and warm nostalgia for those Wild West-like days. Some, like Laurie, made living on kibbutz their life’s work. Laurie was lucky, he chose well. His kibbutz, Nirim, has not only survived, it still derives much of its income from agriculture. Laurie – who had an impressive entrepreneurial streak, too – worked in various kibbutz businesses as Nirim, and Israel, evolved. But well into his 50s, his first love remained the fields. Our serious but oh-so-bourgeois consciousness about overexposure to the sun forced him to stop working shirtless, wear a floppy hat and even use sunscreen, but he never let the dangers of too much sun or falling Kassams keep him from his crops.

WESTERN ALIYA has always been small, and the minority who went to and stayed on kibbutz even smaller. Yet, just as the kibbutzim had an outsized impact on Israel’s self-image and public identity, these capitalist suburbanites-turned-collectivist-farmers starred in the broader Zionist narrative.

Although the admirable recent jump in Western aliya has been mostly an Orthodox phenomenon, secular olim like Laurie are a blessing to the Jewish homeland and their original home communities. The confusion people like Laurie trigger among many Israelis is healthy for Israel. Even secular Israelis can better understand religious olim; moving to Israel simply fulfills another religious obligation. But in a country that spends too much collective energy worshiping Western materialism, voluntary refugees from centers like London provide Israelis with a much-needed kick in the Zionist adrenals. These idealists prove there is more to life than the next promotion or purchase. That the move is voluntary forces Israelis to recognize their own country’s appeal.

These secular olim are also important living links between Israel and the many Jews – unlike religious Jews – who are growing distant from Judaism and Zionism. The wonderful life Laurie built for himself with a great, loving wife (full disclosure – my first cousin), four children, dozens of friends and hundreds of kibbutznik neighbors illustrated Israel at its finest – and most normal. Olim encourage friends and relatives from the Diaspora to visit more frequently. Even more important, people think about Israel more intensely and maturely thanks to these lifelong emissaries.

During crises, these human connections bring home the poignancy of Israel’s plight. These past few years, having close friends or relatives right on the Gaza border sensitized all of us in Laurie’s extended family to the evils of Hamas’s assault on peaceful Israelis just living their lives in territory internationally recognized as Israel’s, within the historic pre-1967 Green Line.

Fortunately, this constructive, important secular aliya, while diminished, has not disappeared. We have already started seeing something of a birthright bounce – some birthright israel returnees parlaying their free 10-day trips into lifelong Israel adventures. The Jewish Agency’s investment in the Masa program, subsidizing 20-somethings who study, intern or work in Israel for at least six months, should also help. But until we make Israel, Zionism and peoplehood relevant to more young Diaspora Jews, we won’t have enough people following Laurie’s example, wherein a combination of noble Zionist motives and personal impulses propelled him toward the fun, meaningful and worthwhile life he lived so grandly but, alas, all too briefly.

The writer is professor of history at McGill University and the author of Why I Am a Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today.