Sderot as Stalingrad, Hamas as Blind Samson

Ever wonder why, if more than 2,000 Qassam rockets struck Israel last year alone, the UN Security Council has never managed to pass a single resolution against the fire?

Ever notice that one reason the Palestinians cannot seem to pass a UN resolution condemning Israel, is the fact that they cannot stop themselves from firing Qassams?

Ever occur to you that the longer the siege against the civilian population of Sderot continues, the more the Palestinians are seen more as aggressors and less as victims?

In the iconography of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, symbols can be surprisingly interchangeable. David and Goliath, for starters. Or, for example, the question of which side can lay claim to the symbolism of Stalingrad, and which side is as ephemeral and disassociated from concrete reality as Brigadoon.

Consider the question of Stalingrad. When Israel launched Operation Defensive Shield in March, 2002 - the largest military operation in the West Bank since the 1967 Six Day War and a response to the killings of 130 Israelis in suicide attacks that month alone - Yasser Arafat compared the Jenin refugee camp to besieged, bombarded and demolished World War II Stalingrad.

Veteran Israeli leftier-than-thou Uri Avnery was among the first to have invoked the Stalingrad theme, writing with something approaching Socialist Realism in an April 16, 2002 article entitled "Immortal heroes of Jenin" in the British Guardian newspaper. According to Avnery, in ordering the operation, then-prime minister Ariel Sharon and his defense minister Shaul Mofaz "created the foundations of the Palestinian nation and the Palestinian state."

"When the international media cannot be kept out any more and the pictures of horror are published, two possible versions may emerge: Jenin as a story of massacre, a second Sabra and Shatila; and Jenin, the Palestinian Stalingrad, a story of immortal heroism. The second will surely prevail."

In the end, of course, other narratives would emerge, and, in fact prevail. One was this: The Palestinian hunger to tell the world that a massacre had taken place resulted in an extraordinary cry of wolf.

On April 7, senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat suggested to CNN that some 500 Palestinians had been killed in the camp. Five days later, when the fighting stopped, PA Secretary Ahmed Abdel Rahman told UPI that the number was in the thousands, hinting, along with other Palestinian figures, that Israel had snatched bodies, buried Palestinians in mass graves and under the rubble of ruined buildings, and otherwise conducted on a scale compatible with genocide.

A subsequent UN investigation determined that 52 Palestinians had been killed in the fighting, most of them armed members of Palestinian militias and militant groups. A total of 23 Israeli soldiers were killed in the fighting.

If there was an element of Stalingrad in the Battle of Jenin, which Avnery described as "a battle of defense that will be enshrined forever in the hearts of all Arabs" it may have been this: it spelled the beginning of an end. It was not to be the imminent end of suicide terrorism, rather of the world's capacity to stomach the Palestinian celebration of victimhood without the slightest inclination to take responsibility either for one's own actions or for one's own fate.

Perhaps as a result, Avnery has shifted gears of late, redirecting his metaphor. If Israel ultimately orders a long-shelved broad military offensive in Gaza, Avnery wrote in December it is "possible that Gaza will turn into a Palestinian Masada, a kind of mini-Stalingrad."

But the question of Sderot, a city ravaged and besieged for more than seven years by unremitting attacks of randomly aimed Qassam rockets and mortar shells, suggests a re-evaluation of Avnery's recycled observation.

The Second World War battle, said to have been the bloodiest in human history, was intended by the Germans to have been a crucial strategic and symbolic victory over their Soviet enemies to the east. Instead, to come to be viewed by many as the turning point in the war, a battle in which the Germans came to be trapped by their own advances, and the point at which a serially successful Nazi military began its decline.

There are lessons in this for the Palestinian people. One of them is surely this: the fact of the Qassam fire has turned Sderot into a version of Stalingrad. Despite the bumbling, insensitivity, and mishandling of Israel's government, or in some sense, because of them, the world is beginning to view the conflict as complex, and the people of Sderot as true victims of brutality against civilians.

The Qassams, and the recent suicide bombing for which Hamas took responsibility, have acted to delegitimize the Palestinians as a people capable of governing an independent state and willing to do what is necessary to take responsibility for the welfare of its own citizens and for non-combatants on the Israeli side of the border.

The perceived message of the Qassam is not "End the imprisonment of Gaza." The perceived message of the Qassam is: We will drive you out of Sderot, and from Ashkelon after that, and out of all of the leftist kibbutzim that line the Israeli-Palestinian border, all of the kibbutzim that were one of the strongest, most forthright voices in favor of the establishment of a Palestinian state. Land for peace is dead. Israel is dead. It's only a matter of time. We can wait 100 years, or 500.

The perceived result of the Qassam is close to the remarks of Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abu Gheit, who said the rockets had prompted Israel to impose "collective punishment" on Gaza. Moreover, the BBC reported, Abu Gheit dismissed Hamas's self-styled resistance as a "laughable caricature" which harmed the perpetrator more than the enemy.

At this point, thousands and thousands and thousands of unguided, explosive-tipped resistance later, what is left of Palestine? Nothing much more than a hopeless, jobless, futureless, misled - in every sense - Brigadoon in the sand. It has gone with astonishing speed, and due to the disastrous, yes, suicidal moves of the Palestinians themselves, from inevitable reality to fogbound myth.

From a situation in which the world respected Palestinian aspirations and accorded honor to Palestinian institutions, the world, at this point, is willing to sit by and let Palestinians literally freeze and starve without lifting so much as a finger to vote for a UN resolution.

Perhaps, in the end, the symbol most apt for a Hamas-led Gaza is the Hebrew named Samson, eyeless in Gaza, dragging down what's left of what the people there have built over the years.

Leave it to Uri Avnery to suggest the corollary - that in their throes of agony, the Palestinians will take the Jews with them to the grave.

"According to the Biblical story, Samson took hold of the central pillars of the Philistine temple and brought down the whole building upon the lords of the Philistines, the people of Gaza, and himself. The teller of the story sums it all up: 'So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life.'

"A story of suffering, destruction, and death. It may be about to repeat itself now, only with the roles reversed: the temple may be brought down by the Palestinians (who took their name from the Philistines), and among the dead will be the lords of Israel."

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