Standing at the edge of the world
Michael Totten's most recent post from the Israeli-Gaza border consists of a long interview with an IDF officer in charge of some security duties at the border. Yet it is not the tactical or military problems aspects that stands out as much as anecdotes which illuminate the state of our 21st century world. One telling story involved saving the baby chickens. It illustrates two things: the characteristics of a failed state, of which "Palestine" is an example; and second, the odd fact that on such battlefields you are never at war with everyone: just some of the people and then only part of the time.
"When we left the Gaza Strip we didn't think the terrorism would stop," he said. "We understood that there would no longer be any legitimacy for them to act. A year after they continue to re-arm. The terrorist groups -- Fatah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad -- they did not turn the areas we left into schools, factories, and so on. They became training camps for the terrorist groups." ...
"Is anyone really in charge inside Gaza?" I asked the major. "That is the question," he said. "They have a government, but there is a power struggle among the armed groups." ...
"We have a connection with the Palestinian police and with the army," he said. "For example if we found some charges that they put on their side of the second fence the Palestinian police come to take it or to boom it. In the operations today because of the army, and the pressure, and the militants, there was a fire between us and the Palestinians next to a place where gasoline was stored and also some baby chickens, you know, the little ones. And we talked with the Palestinian police and they brought some trucks in to take them out. We saved them from the RPGs."
He spoke in English now instead of through a translator, and I wasn't sure I understood. "So the Israeli side and the Palestinian side cooperated in the middle of a war to save baby chickens?" I said. "And then started fighting again?"
"Not exactly," he said. "If you see the story as a simple one, yes. But the ones we talked with were not the ones shooting the RPGs. So it's a very complicated story. But we talked with the police and the citizens talk with the army to help them. We told the citizens: Not now. It's dangerous. The militants are firing RPGs.
Totten was surprised at how militarily futile the Gaza militants actually are, despite the fact they loom so large on the world's newspaper headlines. It suggests another thing: that while financial and logistical support from hostile states may not wholly cause terrorism, in operational terms it is very important.
"How many people have been killed by the Qassams?" I said.
"This year?" he said. "Zero."
Zero! No wonder the Israelis who live near Gaza haven't evacuated. Southern Israel at war is not like Northern Israel during Hezbollah's Katyusha war. ....
"I don't mean to dismiss anyone," he said. "Some fights are serious here. But you can't compare them with Hezbollah. Hezbollah has more weapons and uses more guerilla activity. Hamas doesn't have big rockets yet. Yet. The word yet is very important. Hezbollah also is more organized. You shouldn't underestimate anyone. We had some people wounded in the fight here. Some in Gaza fight very good. But we killed hundreds of terrorists since Summer Rain. We had only one soldier killed in friendly fire, and ten to twelve wounded." ...
Lastly, Totten's interview uncovers something that is often forgotten: that the principal victims of terrorism are the people who they dominate. Or put another way, into whose hands they have been delivered. The population whose lives are wasted under the pointless reign of the "freedom fighters" suffer a double indignity. They are at once reduced to abjection and their abjection made the basis for the Western acceptance of the "legitimacy" of terrorism, and hence their oppression. Totten discovered that the security fence was also, in many respects, a Middle Eastern Berlin Wall.
"What would you do," I said, "if you saw somebody from the other side walk up and stand right there?"
"Eh, it depends," he said.
"It depends on what he's doing?" I said.
"If he's just standing there it's not a problem?" I said.
"No, it's a problem," he said. "Because sometimes they come like a citizen and they put charges there. If it's in the day and we see a man, the soldiers come. If someone goes to the fence he has some reason. If we see some people come in the night we have a procedure. We start by shouting to them to go. But if they continue…okay? If it's in the night, well you know, night is night. The thing is to make them understand not to come. Sometimes Palestinians come and want to go into Israel to work. They want to come into Israel not for military action but to come inside for working. But it is very complicated, especially in the night, to know who is the person."
"How many people who come to the fence aren't here to fight?" I said.
"Here is a sad story," he said. "One Palestinian went to the fence with a grenade. Not a militant. He came to the fence and we did not understand it. Because we told him to stop and he dropped it and everything was okay. Sometimes they want to be in the Israeli jail."
"To get out of Gaza?" I said.
"Because maybe the food in the jail is better," he said. "I don't know. It's a few, it's not, you know, all the time."