Wednesday, November 22, 2006


Yaakov Yaakobov was buried in Sderot on Wednesday. He was the victim of a Qassam rocket fired from Gaza on Tuesday. More rockets fell on Sderot on Wednesday; one fell adjacent to a pre-school building just as classes began. No one was injured in that blast.

Israel radio ran interviews during the day on Wednesday with Sderot residents, officials, and youngsters. Most called for a return to “Shigra” (Heb. Normalcy). But there was no Shigra on the horizon. The rockets fall on a daily basis. This scenario is quite similar to the one Hezbollah used over the summer, except Hamas has much more limited means, for the time being. The Qassam rocket has a much smaller range, but carries a hand-grenade sized wallop; the warhead can pierce the poured concrete roofs of most of Sderot’s buildings.

A Tuesday evening report on Israel Television painted a bleak picture of the town. “We close up at noon,” one woman said, locking the doors to her shop. “Then we go home and wait for the attacks.” Another shopkeeper said, “The town is dead.”

When the media flocked to the north of Israel during the War in Lebanon II, the world’s attention turned to the plight of the Jews stranded in bomb shelters or fleeing for safety. The incursion of the Israeli army into Lebanon was actually the big headline, the one that made the news. The bombing of the Israelis in their towns and villages was a sidebar.

Wednesday Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made serious war-like statements. The press was full of speculation that Israel may have to re-occupy Gaza as the only way to stop the Qassam rocket attacks. Minister of Defense Amir Peretz is reportedly ready to support such a move, although he has also been talking about a cease-fire and dialogue with Hamas.

The news of Yaakov Yaakobov’s death was a small blurb in most newspapers outside of Israel, somewhere back on page five or farther. Not much to write about. U.N. Sec General Kofi Anan recently took the U.N. to task, saying that the focus on investigating the Israeli artillery shell that fell in Gaza’s Beit Hanoun neighborhood may be putting too much stress on the Israeli Palestinian issue when places like Darfur go nearly unnoticed.

The tragedy of Darfur makes Gaza look like Cooney Island. Islamic Fundamentalists are slaughtering Africans who don’t recognize Allah and Islam. Millions are dead, or dying. Those fleeing the region are put in squalid tent camps ravaged by disease. When it comes to Darfur the UN is too busy to investigate, or get actively involved.

The Middle East is another issue. More TV cameras, more reporters, more history blows the conflict out of proportion. Everyone knows that the Israelis are sensitive to public opinion and humanitarian needs, and are easier to deal with than Africa’s religious fanatics, corrupt government officials, and endless relief organizations, all living well off of the trouble.

On Wednesday Lebanon began three days of mourning for 34-year old Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel who was gunned down in his car as he was driven through a Christian suburb of Beirut on Tuesday. A car banged into the rear of Gemayel’s Kia sedan. Three masked men with silenced automatic weapons jumped out of their car and sprayed Gemayel with bullets. His driver, who was uninjured, drove him to the hospital, but it was too late. Gemayel was the sixth anti-Syrian politician to be killed in nearly two years.

Gemayel comes from a very influential Lebanese family. His grandfather started the Phalange party, an ultra-right wing group of Maronite Christians. While small, the Phalange could field a surprisingly large number of soldiers, and were an integral and bloody part of the civil war that raged in Lebanon in the 1970’s.

Pierre Gemayel is the second in his family to be assassinated. In the 1980’s his late uncle Bashir was killed while speaking to a group of followers in a meeting hall. A bomb exploded in the building, which collapsed, killing Bashir. At the time Bashir was in talks with Israel’s then Minister of Defense Ariel Sharon. Reportedly, Israel was supplying Bashir Gemayel and his followers with arms in an attempt to help Bashir take control of Lebanon from the pro-Syrian government.

According to reports at the time Bashir had agreed to sign a peace agreement with Israel should he come to power. What happened instead was yet another war in Lebanon. Israel invaded and drove the PLO and Yassir Arafat to Tunis. It was never clear who was responsible for Bashir Gemayel’s death; rival Lebanese, the PLO, or the Syrians. Syria has long considered Lebanon part of Greater Syria.

Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt blamed Syria for Gemayel's assassination and said he expected more killings aimed at undermining parliament's ruling majority. Syria was reportedly behind the roadside bombing death of anti-Syrian politician Hariri, and is suspected in the death of the other four Lebanese as well.

It was widely reported that the death of Pierre Gemayel postponed a planned Hezbollah march. Hezbollah is trying to peacefully overthrow the government of moderate PM Siniora. Many suspect that Hezbollah may have been the triggermen for the Syrian ordered assassination.

Others however see the hand of Iran in the equation. Lately Syria and Iran have been meeting to discuss a mutual defense pact. It seems clear to most analysts that Syria has fallen under the Iranian’s malevolent influence.

Israeli political analysts are stumped, however, by the U.S. about-face in dealing with Syria and Iran. Since the exit of former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, the U.S. policy seems to be aimed at talking to Syria and Iran. Israelis understand this approach but have difficulty believing the Americans actually think Iran and Syria will keep any promises they make during talks.

One analyst wondered if U.S. President George W. Bush isn’t so malleable that as soon as Rumsfeld was gone the President was ready to adopt any other idea put to him. The same analyst wondered if President Bush ever really had an agenda, like his famed “Axis of Evil,” or if he was merely talking tough to get votes. Now that the elections didn’t go his way, the analysts speculate that President Bush is looking for some new policy to get back in the public favor. Another analyst wondered if President Bush wasn’t just being expedient rather than ideologically committed, as Britain’s Tony Blair seems to be.

If and when Israel re-enters Gaza the press will turn up in droves, the headlines will blare as loud as Israel’s artillery, the world’s attention will turn back to Gaza, relieving many politicians around the world, and officials in many organizations, of the necessity of dealing with the problems they are supposed to solve, problems that exist in abundance outside of the Middle East.

A new set of negotiators is soon due in the Middle East, led by former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker. The Jerusalem Post ran a story on Wednesday detailing Mr. Baker’s tough policy against Israel during his previous term in office. Mr. Baker advised withholding arms shipments, military aid and other things, to pressure Israel into peace talks that went nowhere. It was Mr. Bakers reported belief that Israeli obdurance was the core of the Israel-Palestinian problem, and that problem was the key to peace in the Middle East.

Israel made peace with Egypt, and then Jordan and made headway with the Palestinians, Mr. Baker seemed to have been correct. However, the problems never did go away. Maybe this time Mr. Baker will have more success.

As before he’ll start twisting Israel’s arm, which is far easier than grabbing hold of Hezbollah, or Syria, or Hamas, or Iran. But like the problems in Darfur, a new Baker-led initiative may only serve as a red herring for the real problems in the world, like poverty, aids, rampant disease, brutal tribal warfare, slaughter of millions of innocents on a truly mass-murder scale.

But the world has a fascination with the Middle East. Hassidim in Jerusalem are a lot more photogenic than starving African children with bloated bellies sitting on dirt in the hot sun their bodies a feeding ground for swarms of fat flies.

It seems that as long as the media is in the hands of the three monotheistic religions based on the Bible, the Middle East will be the focus of the decision-making, powerful, Western world’s interest.

Israel is good on TV, especially if the shot is of a Jew with a gun in his hand, or driving a tank, or clearing a bunker. Must be that illustrious star-quality that made so many men and women of Jewish descent Hollywood idols.

But right about now most Israelis and Jews would wish for what that mother in Sderot wished for: Shigra.