Illusions and Delusions of Combat

In Jabalya refugee camp, one of the residents says people believe 20-40 Israeli soldiers were killed by Palestinian fighters resisting the IDF incursion. Hamas spread this story.

In Jabalya refugee camp, one of the residents says people believe 20-40 Israeli soldiers were killed by Palestinian fighters resisting the IDF incursion. Hamas spread this story.

For those who believe the tall tale, it is easier to bear the hard results of the two-week military offensive, which has yet to end. More than 100 Palestinians are dead and over 400 injured. Around 40 percent of the casualties are children. About 80 homes have been destroyed, agricultural land has been devastated - the exact amount remains to be assessed - 38,000 children have been unable to get to school, neighborhoods are under siege, streets are singed black.

All this is accompanied by the constant, violent, omnipotent and all-present buzz of fire-spitting helicopters, drones, tanks, shells, armored vehicles, machine gun fire, sniper fire, open and hidden military positions, the hoarse sound of speakers calling on people to immediately get out of their homes.

The very macho and televised show of armed men roaming the alleyways or masked men firing Qassam rockets from under the nose of tanks and helicopters serve to help those who prefer to delude themselves into thinking of this as resistance, combat and defense.

Thus, it is forgotten that the main image here is an amazing show of resilience and endurance by 180,000 people in the northern Gaza Strip who are living under almost constant fire, threatened by death at any moment and in any place - at home, in the street, at school, at the grocery store, in the field or on the balcony.

"Combat" is also the conventional term used by the IDF and journalists to describe what is happening. We in Israel do not have to invent casualties on the other side - it is enough to blur and hide the circumstances in which the many Palestinian civilians were killed and injured.

Who remembers that eight children under the age of 17 were killed on September 30 when a tank shell was fired from a school into a crowded street? Firing a shell from a range of several meters has become commonplace, legitimate and very combat-like, as those firing the shells are Israelis protected in their tanks and the targets are Palestinians in their naked concrete homes.

For a common person, the term "combat" might conjure images of some kind of reciprocity on the battlefield, rivals facing off against each other, armed with instruments of destruction.

But today in Jabalya, as in Rafah in May, as during nearly all of the past four years, there are usually two unilateral and completely disproportionate types of "combat" that do not engage in battle.

The IDF's decisive military and technical superiority does not allow for reciprocity. Each side can mainly strike against civilians and boast to its home population that it is engaged in combat. Each side, with its own weapons, counts on intimidating and deterring the civilian population.

As with every operation to wipe out the Qassams, the IDF expresses satisfaction with the results achieved and with the debate generated in the frightened society. That is, until the next Qassam is fired and until the next operation to wipe out the Qassams.

And Hamas loves to talk about massive numbers of fearful Israelis fleeing the country and to inflate the damage to the Israeli economy. The term "combat" has a positive, very manly connotation, of course. It is associated with bravery, supreme effort and readiness for personal sacrifice.

The IDF does all it can to protect the lives of every soldier and to minimize the dangers soldiers are exposed to. Thus, the soldiers do not leave their armored vehicles. Thus, they take control of houses only under the cover of firepower from around and above, leaving family members in the homes as hostages. Thus, they also open fire as a precautionary measure against a girl carrying a school bag.

But the dozens of soldiers who were indeed killed in battle during the past four years, the potential danger each soldier faces and the common concern for their well-being - all contribute to the Israeli illusion that the IDF is engaged in combat all of the time.

For the Palestinians, the situation is the opposite. Their armed men take few precautions. Perhaps it is because they believe that the Israeli missiles, bullets and shells will eventually hit them in any case. There are some who have proved themselves in hand-to-hand combat to be no less well trained or skilled than Israeli soldiers. But the IDF seeks to minimize such opportunities.

The fact that so many Palestinians are prepared to die contributes to the illusion that they are always "in a state of combat." But the huge gap between their strength and Israel's military power turns them mainly into suicide bombers and allows those who dispatch them to fantasize about additional ways to infiltrate into Israeli population centers.

And the pictures of the Qassams being fired at Sderot serve to reinforce the general understanding in Israel that our army is waging a war. When have pictures been broadcast of an Israeli tank firing a shell at a Palestinian civilian neighborhood?

Thus, the government of Israel and the commanders of Palestinian armed cells have a common interest: to convince their respective constituencies that what is happening in the northern Gaza Strip is "combat."

The militant Palestinians are gaining political strength in the Gaza Strip and the Israeli government is again successful in making most of the Israeli public forget about the occupation.