Have you ever gone through the sad experience, when your old, beloved neighborhood is deteriorating? Neighbors become unfriendly, your house is frequently burglarized, your kids are harassed, and the police are worthless. What do you do then? Most people, those who can afford it, just leave.
Somehow, the recent eruption of violence in the southern part of Israel and in Gaza reminded me that we, Israelis, live in a bad neighborhood indeed. Except that we are not going to move out. And when there is no rule of law, and the City Council (U.N., for the sake of analogy) always rules against you, and you still insist on clinging to your home and defending your family, then you have to carry a big stick and once in a while use it.
This neighborhood was hostile from day one. The fact that we returned to the place where our forefathers had lived 2,000 years before didn’t help us much, because it has since been occupied by Arabs who came in later. The conflict over the neighborhood never stopped, sometimes escalating into war, but whenever there was a chance to compromise, we said yes, while our neighbors said no.
Since the 1937 Peel Commission, which proposed the partition of Palestine between Arabs and Jews, to the 2000 Camp David summit where then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak proposed the most generous offer only to be rejected by Yasser Arafat, we were willing to compromise. Our neighbors, on the other hand, tried to kick us out by force. They failed miserably, while we stayed, persevered, and against all odds we have even prospered.
Well, to be honest, not all our neighbors have been the same. Some of them, living in adjacent neighborhoods — Egypt, Jordan — have reconciled with us. In 2002 the Arab League, once committed to the destruction of Israel, made an interesting proposal to settle the conflict, which, quite frankly, we have dismissed.
Even some of the Palestinians who have reluctantly been sharing with us the same neighborhood, came to the conclusion that in order to give their children some hope, it was better to settle for less than to lose all. This is how the Oslo process came into being. However, those Palestinian neighbors who were willing to settle with us were marginalized by those like Hamas who had vowed to fight until we go away.
So today we are forced again to defend ourselves, and in this savage neighborhood, you better go after the one who causes you most of the troubles. In the past, it was Sheik Ahmed Yassin, founder of Hamas, who was eliminated by Israel in March 2004. His successor, Abded Aziz Rantisi, followed him a month later, and then came Salah Shehadeh and Ibrahim Makadma, heads of the military arm of Hamas, and others, all killed by Israel. The recent one is Ahmed Jabari, chief of the Hamas terrorist operations, who had masterminded the kidnapping of the IDF soldier, Gilad Shalit, and who has been terrorizing the citizens of southern Israel with Kassam rockets. With superb intelligence and airpower capabilities, this arch-terrorist was taken out at the outset of operation Pillar of Cloud.
Just to show you what kind of neighbors we have, Jabari’s son is married to the daughter of Salah Shehadeh (a successor of Hamas founder Yassin), and one of Jabari’s three wives is Yassin’s daughter.
You don’t do business so easily with such neighbors.
With the other neighbors, however, we have to be very careful.
First of all, we should go out of our way not to harm people who are not involved with terrorism, so that we don’t turn them into bitter enemies as well.
Secondly, we should remember that our peace with Egypt is a strategic asset, and therefore, at the right moment, when we have achieved our limited goal in this operation — restoring relative peace in our south — we should welcome an Egyptian mediation for a ceasefire.
Last but not least, we should remember our Palestinian neighbors in the West Bank. Difficult as they are, they are still committed to a two-state solution, namely, sharing the neighborhood, and settling for 22 percent of what was once Palestine. If we lose them, then we are left with the others only.
In the meantime, with all of today’s grim mood, a bit of comic relief came from Damascus. The Syrian regime, which in the last months has been mercilessly butchering its own people, condemned the “barbaric Israeli crime in Gaza.” Even Israel’s worst enemies in this neighborhood will get a good laugh out of that.
Uri Dromi is a columnist based in Jerusalem.