An ardent British supporter of Israel leaves the country convinced the occupation is destroying the Jewish soulby Melanie Phillips / February 20, 2004 / Leave a comment
In the new order of war, the kind that is now raging in Israel, there are many different front lines. There are the heavily guarded El Al airline check-in desks at airports around the world. There are the Israeli cafés and buses targeted by human bombs. And at the crossing point from Israel into Gaza there is the Erez military camp, under constant attack from mortars or sniper fire.
Gaza is the bunker of the middle east. Large quantities of arms are smuggled through the town of Rafah, which straddles the border with Egypt, along a warren of tunnels. The tunnels are well developed, some equipped with electricity. Mortars, guns and explosives regularly come through; the Israelis say it is a matter of time before bigger armaments follow.
The Israeli army is desperate to locate and destroy these tunnels. But most of them remain invisible. And because they are dug beneath Arab houses, the Israelis sometimes destroy these houses. They insist they only do so if suspected terrorists are based there. They also claim this is legal under the Geneva convention, which says that a private house used for terrorism is no longer immune from attack. But some Arabs, as the Israelis admit, have been intimidated into allowing tunnels to be dug beneath their homes.
“In the past,” said an Israeli military strategist, “we fought in open spaces between military forces. In the new type of war, we have to fight in densely populated urban areas against an enemy that’s invisible, that wears civilian clothes and builds its explosives laboratories inside people’s houses.”
This poses an obvious dilemma. How can one fight such an enemy, which uses civilians as cover, without hitting those civilians? “Our rules of engagement are not to hit innocent civilians,” said the strategist. “Throughout our operations we take the utmost precautions to make sure we don’t hit them. If we know we will hit them, we don’t do it. Hamas knows this and takes advantage of it. For them, the main target is civilians. They put their arms warehouses in the middle of densely populated towns.”
One of the peculiar features about Israel – one I noticed again and again – is that even in the eye of the hurricane, everyone seems to fasten desperately onto any evidence of peace and reconciliation. Yossi, commander of the Erez camp, pointed to the industry park adjoining the…