By Haaretz Editorial
Yesterday, we wrote here that "Israel should declare a complete cease-fire in the Gaza Strip for a predetermined period, during which it will not engage in any violent actions, neither assassinations nor incursions. Simultaneously, it should call on the Palestinians to hold their fire as well."
What we feared has come to pass – and for the Palestinians, even worse: At least 19 Palestinians were killed yesterday during a sustained Israel Defense Forces artillery attack on the town of Beit Hanun. Of these, 11 were members of a single family, including women and children.
No excuse can justify this atrocity. When artillery batteries aim their shells near a residential neighborhood, such a disaster is inevitable, even if it is unintentional.
Anyone who fired shells in the direction of civilian houses knows very well that he is liable to kill indiscriminately with them.
None of Israel’s responses to this catastrophe – expressions of regret by the prime minister and defense minister, offers of humanitarian assistance to the wounded, the establishment of an inquiry committee headed by Major General Meir Kalifi, cessation of the shelling and the opening of the Rafah border crossing for a day – can paper over Israel’s sole responsibility for this fearsome and senseless killing. Therefore, it is no longer enough to express regret; it is also necessary to draw conclusions.
It has now become conclusively clear that the campaign against the Qassam rocket launchers in Gaza can no longer be entrusted solely to the IDF. The chief of staff, the chief of command, the divisional commander, and the other officers who bear moral and operational responsibility for yesterday’s disaster had failed even before this, during Operation Autumn Clouds, which ostensibly ended on Tuesday. That operation sowed only death and destruction, without bringing an end to the Qassam fire. On the contrary, it only increased it.
Yesterday’s shelling therefore seems, above all, like an act of revenge by the IDF for the continued Qassam fire.
The prime minister, as the person who bears overall responsibility, must order the IDF to halt the fire on Gaza – immediately, in all cases and with every type of weapon.
If Israel does not want to find itself embroiled soon in a new bloodbath, including suicide bombings in its cities, it must launch a dramatic, unequivocal move, as only such a move might prevent the outbreak of a new intifada. Such a move must begin with a total cease-fire, even a unilateral one, in the context of which Israel will commit itself to total restraint for a predetermined period, even if Qassams continue to fall here and there.
Instead of more and more pointless military operations, which will not lead to anything except to kindling more hatred, we must try a completely different path. Instead of military operations with attractive names, we must immediately embark on a diplomatic operation.
The cannons must be replaced with calls for dialogue, the economic boycott must be replaced with an opening of the taps, and the cruel siege of Gaza must be replaced with a supervised opening of the border crossings.
Only in this way can we perhaps change the dangerous atmosphere that now prevails, and even more so following the bloodbath in Beit Hanun. The responsibility for this rests entirely on the prime minister’s shoulders.
© Haaretz (November 9, 2006)