The Gazan in a Bunker Trying to Kill Me

Hamas will sacrifice hundreds of Palestinian citizens for a propaganda victory. Then the world will forget them again - until next time.

Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer
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An Israeli soldier, wounded in rocket strike on June 10, 2014, is rushed to the Soroka Medical Center, Be’er Sheva.
An Israeli soldier, wounded in rocket strike on June 10, 2014, is rushed to the Soroka Medical Center, Be’er Sheva.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer

Deep in a bunker, 90 kilometers from where I write, a man is planning my death. He knows the location of the hidden rocket that is pointed at me, its payload and trajectory, its launch code and how many additional rockets to fire, in order to distract the Iron Dome interceptors and ensure that one deadly warhead makes it through to the sidewalk tables of the cafe where I sit, attempting to shepherd this column to a coherent conclusion. He knows me, that man. He can rely on me not to take shelter and instead to tempt fate in this game of Gazan Roulette, to dare him to make me the first fatal casualty among eight million Israeli targets.

I don’t want to die, but on the other hand I could have the distinction of being the first Israeli to be killed in this little war. Who knows, maybe the only one. Can you imagine the headlines? Two days after the Haaretz Israel Conference on Peace, a writer for Haaretz becomes the only Israeli victim of Operation Protective Edge. Maybe someone will give my obituary the headline “A martyr of war and peace.” Hamas media outlets and the organization’s supporters around the world could portray me as a notorious Israeli warmonger and Jewish supremacist; their success in killing me in the heart of Jerusalem would allow Hamas to proclaim victory and move on to the inevitable cease-fire.

There is something so unsportsmanlike about the Iron Dome missile shield. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a technological marvel. In seconds the system detects multiple rocket launches, assesses the rockets’ type, range and point of impact and, most crucially, whether it has a chance of hitting a built-up area and is thus worth while firing a 100,000-shekel Tamir missile to intercept it. The interception is even more incredible — a needle finding another needle in a haystack traveling at the speed of sound.

Just imagine, at the World Cup final in Estadio Maracana on Sunday, if Germany, with its superior economy and industry, were to replace Manuel Neuer with a bionic goalkeeper: infrared sensors for eyes and a supercomputer for a brain, capable of calculating where each Argentine ball will come from, the exact position to stand in and amount of force needed to block it. I doubt even the corrupt grandees of FIFA would allow Germany’s uber-goalie to take the field. But while Israel remains crap at soccer and can only dream of ever reaching the World Cup, on the modern battlefield it is a bionic Germany.

As a defense correspondent, I covered the later stages of Iron Dome’s development and its initial deployment. I listened to the experts who promised it would never work, that it would bankrupt Israel and that Hamas would soon find the holes in its porous shield. But all the naysayers, many of them respected voices of reason such as the late Haaretz columnist Reuven Pedatzur, have been confounded over the last three years by the system’s obvious success.

I wish I were in Gaza now. I feel a cheat, as a journalist, sitting here in comfort, safe in my Iron Dome bubble. I don’t have a death wish, and I certainly would not relish the irony of being on the receiving end of missiles launched by an army in which I served, first as a conscript and afterward as a reservist for nearly 20 years. I just think it’s our role to bring the story from the other side as well. As simple as that. But I would ask a couple of extra questions at the end of each interview in Gaza.

If I were there, I would ask every Gazan I met what Iron Dome means to them. How does it make them feel, after all the sacrifices and scarce resources spent by Hamas and other organizations to acquire, manufacture and conceal in concrete bunkers thousands of rockets, at a terrible cost to the civilian population from Israeli bombings? To see Israel just draw this magic curtain over its towns and cities and carry on living life, almost as normal, between warning sirens, while they remain under siege, bombarded by the relentless Israeli air strikes, the death toll mounting. I want to ask the man in the bunker trying to kill me if he isn’t frustrated.

I can’t go there. Israeli citizens are not allowed into Gaza now, and haven’t been for the past six years, barred by the Israeli authorities. I tried to get in a few years ago, through the Egyptian crossing at Rafah, and gave up after three days of waiting. Rafah is closed now to all but the most urgent “humanitarian” cases. So I have to make do with imagining their answers. I don’t want to put words in anyone’s mouth. But I assume they would take me to bombed-out houses, the morgues and funeral processions, show me the bodies of children killed by Israeli bombs and remind me of the latest numbers — 86 dead Palestinians (as of Thursday evening), 500 injured, versus a handful of injured Israelis, most of whom were hurt when they fell while running to a shelter.

What would even the score? I’d ask next. What would relieve your frustration? A double-digit Israeli death toll? Would 10 funerals be enough? How about a “prestige” target instead, like a hit on the Knesset, or the nuclear reactor in Dimona? Would you settle for Tel Aviv’s Azrieli Center mall? But without casualties. The images would give Hamas material for its propaganda videos for years to come.

But why should Israel give you any of that, when we have Iron Dome?

I can’t imagine an answer to that question, and there is no coherent conclusion to this column. How can there be, when it is so obvious how this latest round of bloodletting will end. In more despair, frustration and death for Gaza.

The law of averages will at some point allow an incoming rocket to find a hole in the Iron Dome Curtain, and a house or a supermarket in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv or Haifa will take a hit. The bloody score will become even more lopsided after Israel exacts another heavy retribution, but at least it will have suffered a bit and Hamas achieved its victory picture. Egypt or Turkey will broker a cease-fire and a measure of calm will be restored, until the next conflagration in a year or two. Israel will declare its own victory in restoring the status quo by means of its superior air power and technology.

In the meantime, the world will forget Gaza again. The international media will drift away to cover more compelling conflicts. Israelis will put out of their minds the 1.7 million human beings, closed off in their stifling coastal enclave, 90 kilometers from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, who will remain there, hostages to power struggles in Cairo, Ramallah, Ankara, Riyadh and Doha.

The man will emerge from his bunker, to begin rebuilding his destroyed home and thinking of new ways to kill me. What else has he got to do?

An Iron Dome anti-ballistic unit in action: Note the interceptor missile exiting the launcher. Credit: Reuters

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