Barrages of Islamist terrorist rockets pounding Israel are unacceptable and unconscionable. The current status quo is unsustainable. A government that fails to protect its citizens from the daily trauma of rocket fire is a failing government that lacks legitimacy. But we know how damaging an Israeli incursion into Gaza will be, to thousands of Palestinian civilians and to Gaza’s infrastructure, let alone to Israel’s reputation and diplomatic standing. Therefore, the progressive, humane approach must be to advocate a total 12-hour blockade of Gaza every time rockets are fired—and a gradual pushing back of the Israel-Gaza border, every time rockets are fired, so that each Kassam launched loses Palestinians some control of territory they currently hold.
We are in the land of unhappy tradeoffs and perverse balances. Martin Luther King’s doctrines do not always apply. Sometimes, you have to push an ugly non-violent solution aggressively to avert the worse, violent option. My call for real blockades not porous, arbitrary ones, is predicated on two assumptions, starting with the notion that a country has no moral responsibility to provide services to its neighbor, especially when the reigning government of the neighbor has a charter demanding the country’s destruction. I am no international law expert but my understanding is that Israel no longer formally occupies Gaza. Moreover, any moral hold Gazans might have had over Israelis has long been buried in the debris of trashed hothouses, sabotaged border patrols, fallen Kassams, and the hopes for a change Palestinians themselves destroyed after 2005. The second assumption is that collective non-violent punishment of civilians is less bad than the unintended “collateral damage”—meaning death and destruction—that results even when civilians are not targeted purposefully, and most especially when terrorists hide among the civilians. Israel should make it clear that from now on, every rocket barrage leads to a 12-hour shutdown, meaning closed borders, no electricity, no exceptions.
Similarly, following traditional rules of warfare whereby a more powerful neighbor often seizes territory in armed conflict to punish its aggressive neighbor, Israeli bulldozers should push back their fence into Gaza territory by a designated length for each rocket barrage. Palestinians care deeply about their land. Seeing a gradual contraction, barrage by barrage, with retaliation systematic, consistent, unabating, will send a new message out: that the rockets must stop and they come with a high price tag for Palestinian society.
When Israel withdrew from Gaza, Israel’s leaders promised Israel’s citizens there would be zero tolerance for Kassams. But like a substitute teacher losing control of the class, Israel’s leaders rarely followed through and let the situation fester. Now, with Israel’s leaders lacking credibility among Palestinians and Israelis, they need to set up a seemingly automatic and draconian reaction to restore order in the lives of a million Israelis and deterrence regarding a population that is led by a group that is hostile to Zionism, Judaism, and the Jewish State.
Even though Gaza is not a democracy, the Palestinian people can pressure their leaders. If Palestinians start feeling real pain and demanding that their own people help alleviate their suffering, we might get some stability. And stability, with first a calm border, and then a gradually open border, is the first step toward some kind of agreement and a two-state solution which this kind of repeated rocket violence following Israel’s dramatic Gaza disengagement endangers daily.