A bit more than a week ago, people from communities in southern Israel wrote a letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak:
"We, members of 'The Other Voice' from the communities near the Gaza Strip, urge the Government of Israel to stop playing with our lives, and immediately open diplomatic contacts with the Hamas government! We are tired of being sitting ducks in a shooting range serving political interests. Missiles from there and bombing from here do not protect us. This country has tried long enough, over years, the games of war and of brute force. Both sides have paid, and are still paying, a high price of suffering and loss. It's time to talk and strive for long-term understandings which will enable citizens on both sides of the border to live a normal life".
'The Other Voice' is a group of residents of Sderot and Gaza Vicinity communities, who maintain an ongoing contact with residents of the Gaza Strip, and promote neighborly relations and dialogue, in the south and throughout the country.
At the time when this letter was written, there was no escalation cycle going on at the Gaza border, and the issue was not really in the headlines. But there was no need to be much of a prophet to realize that it would get back into the spotlight, sooner rather than later. Especially when you live in that area.
On Thursday last week, Gaza was still not in the news. The headlines dealt mainly with the results of the U.S. elections and their implications for Israeli politics. And a smaller news item told of the collapse of a shopping mall in Accra, capital of Ghana, and of many people being trapped in the rubble, and of the Israeli Defense Forces mounting quick and efficient mobilization to get a rescue mission on its way there within hours, and of three Ghanaians saved by our soldiers from the rubble. Indeed, a model humanitarian act, which could well warm the heart of an Israeli citizen, fill it with joy and pride.
Gaza was not on the news last Thursday - but the Israeli Defense Forces are busy with Gaza every day, headlines or no headlines. At the same time that the IDF rescue mission to Ghana went on the plane, Israeli tanks and bulldozers were crossing the Gaza Strip border fence into the Palestinian side, and above them flew helicopter gunships. There was a lot of shooting and counter-shooting and counter-counter-shooting, and during this shooting the bullets from an Israeli machine gun hit a piece of land east of Khan Younis, where boys were at that time playing football.
The machine gun of a tank, or one mounted on a helicopter? We will probably never know and it does not really matter. The important thing is that one of the bullets hit the head of a thirteen year old boy named Hamid Abu Daqqa, and a few hours later he died of his wounds in hospital.
The office of the IDF Spokesman told inquiring foreign journalists that the soldiers had not deliberately aimed their weapons at the boy. And indeed, It is not likely that any Israeli soldier would consciously and deliberately shoot a boy playing football. But still, the boy is dead and buried.
What did the citizens of Israel have to say about this tragic case? The truth is that most citizens of Israel had simply not heard about it at all. Their mass media forgot to tell them, news editors just did not really feel that a dead Arab boy was news. Then came the harsh surprise. On the day after the boy's funeral some Palestinian faction fired a missile at an IDF jeep which was going about its ordinary business of driving along on the patrol road. Four soldiers were wounded and taken to hospital, and full-page articles in the media described the incident in great detail and also provided medical bulletins on the condition of each one of the soldiers. As is right and proper in a country which cares greatly about soldiers who are sent into battle.
The IDF responded immediately and furiously to the wounding of the four soldiers, and in the massive artillery shelling were killed four civilians while sitting in a mourning tent on the east side of Gaza City, and whose families now are even deeper in mourning. This was reported in the Israeli media tersely and with little detail. Without mentioning, for example, that three of those killed were teenage boys. Certainly no editor in Israel considered it worthwhile to mention the 17-year old Mohammed Hararah, who was not hit by the first shell, but ran to help the wounded when another Israeli shell landed and killed him instantly. That's not really news.
And yesterday there was already a heavy barrage of rockets falling down on the Israeli communities around Gaza and the air raid alarms sounded again and again, and residents ran for cover, and luckily no one was killed. In the media there was much furious talk about the intolerable situation in the communities of the South and of the children growing up in a terrible state of daily anxiety. No one spoke of the conditions under which children grow up in Gaza, and of those who had the day before yesterday witnessed the death of their brothers. Which is not surprising because a country at war rarely spares a thought for the children of the enemy. (Tomorrow night an activist group plans to meet in front of the Prime Minister and hold a candlelight vigil, holding signs with the names of the people killed in Gaza, the names which the media did not publish. It will probably not be popular.)
And this morning on the radio morning news bulletin there was a whole string of senior politicians from all the mainstream parties, and they all said that we must strike a painful blow and teach Hamas a lesson and destroy the terrorist infrastructure and more of the usual clichés. And Minister Avi Dichter, the ex-director of Shabak security service, made use of software terminology "reformat the Gaza Strip." But in the meantime, the same government also continues its intensive media campaign calling upon Israeli citizens to convince their friends and acquaintances abroad to come as tourists to Israel. "Every tourist who comes here spends money, creates jobs and improves the image of Israel in the world," stated the special website opened by the Ministry of Tourism. Is this government going to start a big war in Gaza? To fill the television screens around the world with images of blood and fire and pillars of smoke, and after the war, maybe have a new Goldstone Commission investigate and ask uncomfortable questions? Not so likely.
So what is going to happen? Probably the shooting will continue for some more days, and perhaps some people who are still now living and breathing will already lie in their graves. And then a shaky cease-fire will be set up and life will return to normal and Gaza will disappear from the news pages and we will go back into the confused hubbub of the elections campaign. Like in the previous round on the Gaza border and the one before and probably the next one, too.