The 8th day of Operation Cast Lead finds Israel at a crucial juncture and facing difficult choice. Stop now and hope for a cease-fire that will create the "new security environment" that was the goal of the operation? Or send in the ground forces massed at the border and deliver Hamas another crippling blow that will guarantee the objective of halting the rocket fire into southern Israel?
With some 430 Palestinians killed in Gaza and over 2,000 injured in a week of aerial attacks, many think that enough is more than enough. The Hamas will have learned its lesson and a cease-fire should be called to allow the mediators to move in and find a diplomatic solution. According to the media, the cease-fire now approach is favoured by defense minister Barak who is meanwhile holding off the ground attack to see if Israel can live with an emerging diplomatic formula. He is concerned about massive casulaties to the army which would not justify any diplomatic gains.
As might be expected, the moderate Israeli peace organisation Peace Now, is also against continuing the war. Its website carries this:
"Peace Now is calling up the Israeli government to know when to stop, the message to Hamas has been received loud and clear - now is the time to end all hostilities. Now is the time, Hamas has discovered Israel's determination and military capabilities to respond to rocket attacksNow is the time, Hamas has discovered the depth of an Israeli response We must stop the war now and find a real solution - a political solution! "Those against an immediate cease-fire argue that the Hamas leadership will now emerge from their safe bunkers to proclaim victory and to argue (like Hizbullah in 2006) that they succeeded in deterring the cowardly enemy from entering Gaza. Thus will Hamas gain an important victory. Soon its missiles will be flying into Israel again and we will all be back where we started. PM Olmert is much keener to send in the boots and go for broke. The IDF top brass also wants to go in on the ground. FM Livni too is apparently looking less for a clear diplomatic cease fire and more of a situation in which Hamas will simply be too scared to open fire.
Israel Arabs, many of whom have relatives in Gaza, have no doubt as to where they stand. They want the bombing to stop now. Their anger and frustration has not boiled over into the sort of rioting we saw in October 200 but was sufficient to bring tens of thousands of them out for a massive demonstration today in Sachnin (large Arab town in the Galilee)
The speakers accused the Isaeli leadership of war crimes and demanded an immediate end to the bombings.
Tel Aviv, or more accurately Tel Aviv -Yaffo, has not remained immune to the turbulence of the last week. Last Saturday (the day the bombing campaign started) a "three festivals day" (Xmas. Hanuka and Eid el Adha) in Yaffo, meant to underline the co-existence between the various groups in Yaffo, gradually turned into a political demonstration by the Moslem leadership as the news of the fatalities came in. After the demonstration a few dozen teenagers wearing masks and waving Hamas flags did some damage on Yefet Street. The next day the police questioned the Arab leadership of Yaffo under warning, upsetting the leadership. Meanwhile, there has a been a sharp drop Jewish shoppers entering Yaffo. There are now police units all over Yaffo to ensure that there's no outbreak oif violence. The same is true for communities all over the country where Arabs live. It seems however that both sides have learned some lessons. Police are keeping shows of force to a minimum and most of the Arab protests have been non-violent.
This fictitioius signpost underlines the harsh realities of living in Sderot. Hamas rockets are now reaching as far as Beersheba, almost 40 kilometres from the Gaza border. How much longer will it be before they reach Tel Aviv? And what's the best way of ensuring that they don't?
'Would you keep quiet for 6 years if even one qassam fell here?' (Azrielli Towers in Tel Aviv). It might not be too long before we find out.
If you're interested in getting to know the people of Sderot and of Gaza, I can recommend the Arte project of short films 'Gaza/Sderot - Life in spite of everything' . Many of the people you will see in it (on both sides) have now been forced to leave their homes