Alexa

Vulnerable Israeli homefront rethinks withdrawals

 Relatives and friends of Irit Sheetrit, killed after a rocket fired by Palestinian militants in Gaza hit Ashdod Monday night, react during her funera...
 Relatives and friends of Irit Sheetrit, killed after a rocket fired by Palestinian militants in Gaza hit Ashdod Monday night, stand around her body d...
 Relatives of Irit Sheetrit, killed after a rocket fired by Palestinian militants in Gaza hit Ashdod Monday night, mourn over her body during her fune...
 An Israeli mourner reacts during the funeral of Irit Sheetrit, killed after a rocket fired by Palestinian militants in Gaza hit Ashdod Monday night, ...

MIDEAST ISRAEL PALESTINIANS

Relatives and friends of Irit Sheetrit, killed after a rocket fired by Palestinian militants in Gaza hit Ashdod Monday night, react during her funera...

MIDEAST ISRAEL PALESTINIANS

Relatives and friends of Irit Sheetrit, killed after a rocket fired by Palestinian militants in Gaza hit Ashdod Monday night, stand around her body d...

MIDEAST ISRAEL PALESTINIANS

Relatives of Irit Sheetrit, killed after a rocket fired by Palestinian militants in Gaza hit Ashdod Monday night, mourn over her body during her fune...

MIDEAST ISRAEL PALESTINIANS

An Israeli mourner reacts during the funeral of Irit Sheetrit, killed after a rocket fired by Palestinian militants in Gaza hit Ashdod Monday night, ...

As Arab rockets reach ever deeper into Israel, they may be weakening what for years has been a cornerstone of Mideast peace efforts _ an exchange of land for peace.
Israeli hard-liners have long warned that any territories Israel vacates will be used to attack it. They can now point to the Hamas missile that slammed into a bus stop in this port city Monday, killing a 39-year-old woman. It was fired from the Gaza Strip, which Israel gave up in 2005 and is now ruled by Hamas militants who reject the very existence of the Jewish state.
Even in the midst of the war, many Israelis still argue that a peace deal with the Palestinians, which would require a withdrawal from virtually all the West Bank, is Israel's only real security guarantee.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, in defending the Gaza offensive in a speech to parliament Monday, said Israel remains committed to the idea of a Palestinian state alongside it.
Yet the missile that hit Ashdod, a city of 200,000 people, drove home a grim new reality for Alin Ben-Yosef, 32, who fled to Tel Aviv for the night with her two young daughters after Ashdod was struck.
"Tel Aviv is the safest place we have," said Ben-Yosef, who works at a clothing store. "But it is starting to feel as if there are no safe places anymore."
At least one-tenth of the country's 7 million citizens and some of its largest cities are now in range of Gaza missiles, and millions more live within reach of Hezbollah rockets from Lebanon.
This has implications for the West Bank, where U.S.-led diplomacy long focused on a withdrawal that would make way for a Palestinian state at peace with Israel.
Israeli opponents of this strategy argue that such a peace would be too fragile to survive, and would bring Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and the nation's international airport within rocket range.
Orna Levy, 41, runs a jewelry store in Ashdod. She said she supported the withdrawal from Gaza and used to favor trading the West Bank for peace, even though she has a brother living in a Jewish settlement there.
"If we give them the West Bank too, who knows what will happen," she said.
Cities under missiles are nothing new to Israelis. Tel Aviv, the metropolitan heartland, was bombarded by Saddam Hussein's rockets in the 1991 Gulf War. Haifa, the third biggest city, was hit by Hezbollah in its 2006 war with Israel, and after Hamas took over Gaza, rocket fire at nearby towns promptly increased.
Israeli historian Michael Oren, a Georgetown University professor and fellow at the Shalem Center think tank in Jerusalem, said the events of recent days, and especially the international criticism of Israel's response, are likely to "compound Israelis' reluctance" to support further withdrawals.
"This has become a recurring nightmare for Israelis and has made them reluctant to give up strategically vital territory," Oren said.
But Shaul Arieli, a former military colonel and peace negotiator, said the current violence did not mean an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank was dead. Israel's mistake in Gaza was to withdraw unilaterally instead of reaching an agreement with the Palestinians, he said, adding that the missiles from Gaza began long before Israel withdrew.
"Israel has to leave the West Bank in an agreement with someone who recognizes it," Arieli said.
Meanwhile, Israel is developing an anti-missile system called "Iron Dome," but completion is years away. The near daily rocket fire has made life unbearable and ultimately sparked the devastating Israeli offensive that began Saturday. Gaza officials say that more than 370 people have been killed in airstrikes, most of them Hamas operatives but at least 60 of them civilians, according to the U.N.
Four Israelis have died in rocket fire since the strikes began and rockets have hit farther than ever before.
Tuesday found Israelis who never thought they would be living under rocket fire preparing bomb shelters and scrambling for cover at the sound of warning sirens.
In Ashdod, Israel's fifth largest city, onlookers came to inspect the wreckage _ the bus stop pocked with shrapnel, a nearby swing set destroyed and a tree uprooted.
Staring at the debris was Gabi Aronov, a 25-year-old factory worker, who was sent reeling in his apartment from the force of the blast. He said the Gaza withdrawal had brought his enemies closer to his doorstep.
"If we give them any more, they will eat us alive," he said.
School was canceled in large swaths of southern Israel on Tuesday, many businesses shut and traffic thinned. Newspapers and TV stations displayed color-coded maps informing Israelis that they had 15, 30 or 45 seconds to reach cover after the siren goes off. In Ashdod malls, directions to the nearest shelters were posted.
Israeli hard-liners maintain that every withdrawal brings Israel's enemies closer: They say the Oslo accords negotiated in the Norwegian capital in the 1990s turned parts of the West Bank into breeding grounds for suicide bombers; the 2000 pullback from south Lebanon brought Hezbollah closer to Israel.
In 2006 Hezbollah rockets reached Hadera, a city 27 miles north of Tel Aviv, and Israeli intelligence believes the Lebanese militia now has rockets that can reach 125 miles, far beyond Tel Aviv _ meaning the vast majority of Israelis are in range.
"The historical lesson of Oslo, of Lebanon and of Gaza proves that with every concession, every territory we leave is used for attacks against us," said Yaakov Amidror, a former general now with the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
___
Matti Friedman reported from Jerusalem.


Updated : 2021-04-14 07:56 GMT+08:00