Published on
Haaretz (Israel)

Gaza: The Breakthrough That Did Not Happen

Amira Hass

For an entire day, the Israel Defense Forces raised the level of hysteria in Israel by announcing they were preparing for the possibility that thousands of Gazans would try to break through the checkpoints. It is easy now for the army to say that the breakthrough did not occur only because of the warnings that Hamas would be held responsible for the blood that would be shed. But anyone who is attentive to the Palestinians as an occupied people rather than as "an intelligence objective" (which openly provided the information that women and children would demonstrate against the siege on Monday), was aware they did not have a plan to topple the barriers at the Erez and Karni crossing points.

The well-publicized army preparations had a racist subtext: Look how Hamas is prepared to send children and women to absorb the bullets. In other words, Hamas is indifferent to people's lives and can also set them in motion like pawns. But even the youngsters who two days ago threw stones at the Erez checkpoint walls, thus putting themselves in danger of being shot at and hit by the IDF, and who were arrested, did not do so because someone had "sent" them. In contrast to Israel, the Palestinians do not have compulsory military service. Everyone who puts himself in danger of dying in what appears to him and his society as the national struggle against the occupation, does so not because "the state" obliges him to do so and sends him but rather because that is what he chooses to do.

A young man from Beit Hanoun told me on the eve of the "breakthrough" that wasn't: "We know the army will shoot to kill, and that is why no one will take the risk." Only on Saturday, his relative, Mohammed Za'anin, aged 22, and two of his friends had been killed by an IDF missile. The IDF, of course, claimed they had been armed. An independent examination revealed that the three friends from their high school days - one a student, another a policeman and the third a bank employee - had gone out to smoke a narghile together and to prepare a late lunch for themselves and some friends in a hut in the shade of a field, about 1.2 km from the border.

It is not only the events of Monday that prove the hysteria was premature. Day after day, the checkpoints in the heart of the occupied West Bank prove that the Palestinians are forgoing, meanwhile, the option of a popular unarmed struggle against the siege. They wait in their masses for their turn to cross over, obediently - but with controlled and growing anger. They do not remove the hundreds of roadblocks that the IDF has set up between the villages and at the exits to the roads. That is because they are not suicidal. The Palestinians do not need warnings or reports to know the Israeli soldiers shoot the unarmed as well, and they also kill women and children.

The correct question is not whether and how the Palestinians are prepared to be killed but rather to what extent we Israelis are prepared to kill. The question is, if and when the Palestinians decide to claim their right to freedom of movement and to break through checkpoints en masse, will the order be to shoot at them with guns? First at their legs and then at their heads? Women, elderly people and babies? Or perhaps with cannons? And how many soldiers will not obey the order? Two, three or hundreds? Is there a quorum for the number of people who can be killed in one go, at the road blocks, that will extricate Israeli society from its indifference and its denial? Five or six? Hundreds of dead?

-- Amira Hass

© Copyright 2008 Haaretz

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