UK paperback


Say it with artillery

Last year I commented on a curious lull, a lull that was untroubled by Israeli violence but was “shaken” by Palestinian violence. Now, it appears, truces can learn something from lulls. “Hamas breaks truce with rockets,” says the BBC. The New York Times reports in similar fashion:

Hamas fired at least 15 Qassam rockets from Gaza into Israel today, ending a tattered 15-month truce with Israel, a day after seven Palestinians were killed on a Gaza beach by an Israeli shell.

The carefully balanced construction of the NYT’s sentence only serves to highlight the strange choice of language. You might wonder how a “truce” can calmly survive killings by one side, but be shattered by rocket-launches by the other side a mere day later . . .

According to these media accounts, the “truce” was unperturbed by the deaths of four adults and three children, blown up by an Israeli shell on a Gaza beach, and the wounding of 20 others, but was “broken” or “ended” by Hamas rockets and mortars, which are not reported to have caused any damage at all.

Hamas has said that it will now continue to fire rockets into what it calls “the Zionist entity”, a nasty term of Unspeak characterized by a dark sort of fastidiousness. The implication is that it no longer considers itself bound by its ceasefire agreement. One might with reason wonder, however, whether the truce was Hamas’s to break, or whether it no longer existed after the previous day. One response might be to say, well, the Palestinian deaths were not a truce-breaking incident because they were an unfortunate accident. According to the BBC, Israeli officer Major General Yoav Galant offered just such an excuse:

“This may have been an accident which caused an artillery shell to fall off course, or an older unexploded shell which went off, or perhaps an explosive device which was tinkered with,” he said.

The third possibility is interesting: presumably the people doing the “tinkering” were Palestinians themselves. Silly them: everyone knows that you shouldn’t tinker with explosive devices. But even if we accept the plain vanilla “accident” excuse, does that keep the “truce” intact? Or might one think that shelling an alleged rocket position 400 yards from a beach runs an obvious risk of hitting some people on that beach, a risk that some might find unacceptable, and so to do it anyway is to accept and indeed intend whatever deaths may result?

General Aviv Kochavi explained to the NYT that artillery “is not the best solution” to stop people firing rockets into Israel from Gaza. So why use it? Because:

[It] has three effects. It can stop or distract the launching teams, it pushes them into more populated and distant areas for firing, which makes it harder for the rockets to hit Israel. “And third, the message we are trying to convey, you can call it deterrence, but it’s, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, there is an equivalence here: So long as you shoot Qassams at us, we’ll shoot artillery at you.'”

So, artillery is not “the best solution” in a military sense. But it conveys a useful “message”. The idea that bombs make good words is one that Kochavi shares with numerous other people in other places, some of whom are happy to call what they do “terrorism”.

The word “truce” comes from the Old English for “truth”.

hit parade

    guardian articles

    older posts