Today Rafah, Tomorrow Jenin

It is easy to criticize the scenes in Rafah as inhumane Palestinian cruelty. But the hard truth is even harder to digest - what we are seeing is the inevitable result of years of abuse of a helpless population.

The 13 soldiers who died in the Gaza Strip were not pointless victims because their sacrifice points the way to a withdrawal from the territory. Israel will prove yet again what it has known for a long time - the only language it really understands is the language of force. Withdrawals come only when so much blood is shed that the country's majority is persuaded that the country has no choice but to pull out.

But the public consensus which is now, very belatedly, materializing in favor of an immediate withdrawal from the Gaza Strip also breeds illusions. Withdrawal from Gaza will not solve anything between ourselves and the Palestinians. Such a partial pull out, done for the wrong reasons, will not reduce tensions.

On the contrary, what happened last week in Gaza - a process which our commentators have called "Lebanization" - will spread very quickly to the rest of the territories. Only then, as in Lebanon, will we pull out. Lebanon in the past, and Gaza today, were and are struggles against Israel's occupation by any means at the residents' disposal. Rafah today is Jenin tomorrow.

Once again, we are back to "Gaza First" - a David against Goliath guerrilla war against occupation that will, sooner or later, be brought to the rest of the territories. We should have withdrawn long ago from the Gaza Strip and the rest of the territories, first and foremost because our behavior there is despicable.

Amnesty International, the globally respected organization that ordinarily refrains from sharply worded reports, will in two days release an unprecedented, caustic attack on house demolitions and land ruination in the territories - some of these acts are to be defined as war crimes.

The UN Relief and Works Agency on Friday released information about the extent of the destruction in Gaza - in the past ten days, Israel has destroyed about a hundred houses, and left more than a thousand people homeless. All told, the UN agency concludes, Israel has demolished the homes of 17,594 people in the Gaza Strip during the present intifada. Destruction on this scale can only brew hatred, and a desire to wage more war.

The pictures of local residents waving body parts and metal are images of "animal" hatred that did not materialize out of nowhere; the feelings they represent took shape over 37 years during which the Isreal Defense Forces also perpetrated acts of cruelty. In Palestinian eyes, the demolition of a house in the al-Bureij refugee camp which held a woman, Noha Makadamah, who was nine months pregnant, and who was killed in plain view of her husband Shukri and their ten children, was an "animal" act.

The same can be said of how Mohammed Matar viewed the one ton bomb which was dropped with the aim of killing Salah Shehadeh. The bomb killed his daughter, daughter-in-law and four grandchildren, and injured Matar and four of his children.

It is easy to dismiss the explosion of vindictive impulses, as was evidenced by the flaunting of body remains in Rafah and elsewhere, as evidence of the Palestinians' inhumane cruelty. But the hard truth is harder to digest, and it is this - what we are seeing is the inevitable result of years of abuse of a helpless population.

Those who are humiliated at road-blocks, the ill and the wounded, the pregnant women who are unable to reach hospitals, the unemployed and those who are imprisoned in their homes and villages, the children who watched the demolition of their homes and the trampling of their parents' dignity - they all blowing up in our faces, waving body and APC parts. Whoever is repulsed, justifiably, by their actions should keep what caused them in mind.

It has suddenly become trendy to support withdrawal from Gaza. Both the left and the right declare that we have "nothing to find there," as though the question "what might we find there" is the sole issue. What is being blithely ignored is the welfare of a million and a half residents who themselves have "nothing to find there."

A no less important question which should guide us is what are we doing to them. In terms of this question, Gaza and the West Bank are one and the same.