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The Fern Sidman Commentaries:
July 7th, 2006: "WHEN NOT TO COMPROMISE"

As Israel proceeds with its "Operation Bashan Oaks", originally termed "Operation Summer Rains" offensive into the Gaza Strip, it has been reported by Arutz Sheva that, "many Kassam rockets have been fired northward from Gaza at Ashkelon, Israel’s 5th-largest city, over the past several months. Only a few, however, have reached as far as the industrial zone in southern Ashkelon. In the past week, the situation escalated dramatically when two Kassams hit the heart of the city on consecutive nights. On Tuesday night, a rocket landed in a schoolyard just as parents and children were engaged in registration for next year. The next night, one of two Kassams fired northward sent eight Ashkelon residents into a state of shock."

Spontaneous demonstrations by residents of Ashkelon have been staged in the last few days, with the most recent one at the main Ashkelon entrance junction. According to Arutz Sheva, "Some of the signs at the Ashkelon protest read, 'Stop the Shmassams!' - a reference to a recent remark by Vice Premier Shimon Peres. Peres said that the people of Sderot should not be complaining so strongly about the Kassams attacking their town, and that Israel should categorically inform the Palestinian Authority that, 'Kassams, Shmassams, we’re staying in Sderot no matter what!'"

The protestors also demanded warfare against the terrorists, and not mere protection and reinforcement of shelters.

One of the protestors, Meir Dana-Pecard, told Arutz-7, "The truth is, the people of Ashkelon have not yet woken up to what’s going on. Just like in Sderot - at first no one took it really seriously, and only when it became a nearly daily affair and took on a genuine life-threatening air did people really begin to protest, with the hunger strike and the like. Here as well: people refuse to believe it. Some say, 'What are we, Sderot? They’re only 25,000 people over there, but we’re a real city, with 120,000 people, etc.'"

"Only when the rockets hit Tel Aviv will this country really wake up," Dana-Pecard concluded pessimistically.

Arutz Sheva also reported that, "On Thursday, the first day of the IDF’s Operation Bashan Oaks - a major ground offensive into Gaza - none of the eight Kassams fired at Israel hit Ashkelon. They landed, instead, in Kfar Aza, Sderot, and near Kibbutz Zikim south of Ashkelon, not far from the electric plant."

Friday’s toll: At least seven Kassams have been fired since late last night, with at least five landing in Israel. Among them were two that hit populated areas in the city of Sderot, sending three people to Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon with shrapnel wounds. Four people were reported suffering from shock.

Earlier today, a rocket hit Kibbutz Saad, causing a number of shock victims and damage to two cars. Another rocket landed near Sderot, damaging a gas station, and yet another one landed between Kibbutz Zikim and Ashkelon.

One Sderot resident, Kineret Rosenfeld, reflects the attitude of many of her neighbors when she says that Prime Minister Olmert and the government acted "maliciously" by waiting for the rockets to hit Ashkelon before responding. "I say this with sorrow, but there is a form of a caste system here," Rosenfeld told Arutz-7’s Hebrew newsmagazine. "The settlers are Class D citizens, who 'shouldn’t be living there anyway and if they get killed it’s their own fault'; then come the residents of Sderot, who are Class C, then Ashkelon people who are Class B, and then perhaps the residents of the Tel Aviv area are Class A. Decisions as to whether and how to take military action are made, unfortunately, based on this."

On the military front in Gaza, Arutz Sheva reports that, "IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz said this morning that close to 40 armed Arabs have thus far been killed 'while trying to attack our soldiers.'" Two more were killed since then. Most of them were killed in aerial attacks and exchanges of fire. Hamas Authority sources report that 26 have been killed and 80 have been wounded.

Defense Minister Amir Peretz, publicly addressing soldiers outside Gaza today, said, "Our actions have national and international legitimization. We sought every way to avoid a conflict, and now it is a question of 'no choice.' … Our soldiers are fighting under the strictest ethical codes; no other army has such codes."

"The Palestinians are clearly acting and shooting from within civilian-populated areas, and are even using the population," Peretz added. "They hold their Kassam rockets with one hand, and their children with the other hand."

Soldiers continue to encounter heavy pockets of resistance, including anti-tank rocket and automatic weapons fire. On Friday morning, one missile missed its target and hit an Arab house instead.

In Thursday’s fighting, day one of IDF Operation Bashan Oaks, a Givati Brigade soldier was killed and two were wounded. St.-Sgt. Yehuda Bassal, 21, from Moshav Yinon near Kiryat Malachi, was killed by bullet fire to his head when he was covering for other soldiers in a house in the town of El-Atatra, just south of the former Jewish community of Dugit. It appears that he was shot by an Arab sniper; the possibility of errant friendly fire has apparently been ruled out.

Southern District Commander Gen. Yoav Galant said that the purpose of the IDF operation is not to conquer the area, but rather to put an end to Kassam attacks and other terrorism, and to "create the proper conditions for the release of [kidnapped soldier] Gilad Shalit… Our modus operandi is one of raids, and not of conquest."

Hamas has demanded the release of 1000 Palestinian prisoners being held in Israeli prisons in exchange for the release of Cpl. Gilad Shalit.

Arutz Sheva reported that, "Noam Shalit, Gilad’s soft-spoken father, spoke with a spokesman for Hamas terror group Izaddin El Kassam this morning. The conversation was facilitated by the Arab-Jewish Voice of Peace radio station in Jerusalem. Shalit asked that his son not be harmed, and said, "I repeat what I said yesterday, which is just that there’s no reason for any further suffering, and we could end this today." He said yesterday that the abductors should allow a third-party such as the Red Cross to meet with his son."

The Hamas spokesman, Abu Abeida, responded in Arabic, "We have submitted our demands, and Israel can respond and negotiate with us...What does Israel demand?" Noam Shalit said, "I am not a spokesman for the government of Israel."

It has also been reported by Arutz Sheva that, "Public Security Minister Avi Dichter released a statement on Friday during an event in Tel Aviv’s David Intercontinental Hotel, stating 'if Israel is required to release prisoners to obtain the release of the hostage soldier, it will do so. We did it in the past.'
The message is the first by a senior cabinet minister signaling that a deal may be in the works towards the release of Corporal Gilad Shalit who was taken hostage during a terror attack in Kerem Shalom on 25 June. He is being held in southern Gaza according to military intelligence reports."

Meanwhile, Hamas has not issued any information about the condition of Cpl. Gilad Shalit and there has been no evidence presented of signs of life. Thus far, the International Red Cross has not taken action to garner concrete information or evidence of Cpl. Shalit’s condition.

According to Arutz Sheva, "The Victims of Arab Terror organization has written to the International Red Cross, demanding to know why it has not been more forceful in demanding to see the kidnapped soldier. 'Israel always agrees to allow the Red Cross to see imprisoned terrorists,'" VAT head Shifra Hoffman told Arutz-7. "We have not received a single sign of life from Gilad Shalit. Why is the Red Cross not making similar demands to see this soldier, who is suffering in captivity?"

Arutz-7 contacted the Gaza office of the International Red Cross, and asked Gaza sub-delegation chief Georgis Georgantas this question. Georgantas said that Shalit is being held in an undisclosed place by elements who have not been clearly specified. The Red Cross had therefore made it clear to "various interlocutors," Georgantas said, that "we are ready to visit the soldier."

Asked if the precise wording of the request could be seen, Georgantas said that it had been delivered orally.

Georgantas refused to explain why the Red Cross does not contact the Hamas government directly.

The events of the past week deserve closer examination. Thus far, we do not even know whether Cpl. Shalit is alive or dead. We are conducting a military operation in the Gaza that portends a high casualty rate amongst Israeli soldiers. We are conducting a war in which our main objective is to avoid Palestinian civilian casualties or death, while many of the attacks directed at Israeli soldiers are emanating from the Palestinian civilian population. The unceasing and unremitting Kassam rocket attacks continue, with the inclusion of major Israeli population centers, such as the city of Ashkelon, as their main targets.

Representatives of the government of Israel are hinting at a future release of Palestinian terrorists now imprisoned in Israeli jails. The question remains, what is the exact purpose of this offensive in Gaza? If the objective is to liberate Cpl. Shalit from his captors and to destroy the Hamas infrastructure, then why is this war being fought "on eggshells" and with a litany of restrictions?

Who is Israel more afraid of, Hamas retributions or world opinion? We would suspect, based on the history of international relations in Israel, that it is the tidal wave of denunciations from Washington, the European Union and the entire world that causes major anxiety amongst Israeli officials.

If an Israeli offensive in Gaza is to have any effect and achieve even a modicum of success, it must be fought like all wars. The enemy is not an "innocent" civilian population, rather they are enemy combatants. Hamas is not just a small terrorist organization that operates on the fringes of the constituency that it represents. Hamas is a democratically elected government that received an overwhelming mandate of support from its voters. While it is not an official governmental body, it must be treated as such. A soldier of the army of Israel was taken captive by an enemy army. His whereabouts and his condition are not known to us. Outrageous demands of a prisoner release by Israel are being made by Hamas. These demands cannot be recognized or even considered. History has proven that when Palestinian terrorists were released by Israel, they went forth and committed other terrorist acts directed at Israeli civilians and soldiers.

The rules of war must be applicable in this latest Gaza offensive. We must enter this conflict with the goal of securing the release of Cpl. Shalit and of vanquishing the enemy from our midst. There is a time for war and a time for peace. A time to compromise and a time to remain vigilant and unyielding. The enemy that we engage in battle is one that has no respect for the rules of war and has no respect for the sanctity of life. It is a ruthless, brutal enemy that is propelled by a religious and nationalist conviction and it possesses a blood lust that we have yet to comprehend.

This is a war that must be fought with great strength, patience and resolve. Our victory or defeat will depend not only on military might or lack thereof, but it will depend on our moral courage and conviction. It will depend on our relegating our fear of world opinion to the bottom of the trash heap. The results of our endeavors will depend on our fear and trust in the Almighty G-d of Israel, who enters into war with us. We must prevail upon the Almighty G-d of Israel for His Heavenly assistance and we must commit ourselves to dedicating ourselves to walking in His ways and following His commandments.

The Torah tells is in Parshas Ki Teitze, in the book of Deuteronomy, "Ki Teitze L’Milchama al Oyvecha", when you will go out to war against your enemies. It is often asked why this verse sounds redundant. Isn’t it clear, that when our nation goes out to war, it is obviously against our enemies, because one does not go out to war against their friends or allies. The verse specifically states, "against you enemies" because Hashem wanted us to remember that these people are our enemies, to remind us not to have compassion against those who would brazenly murder servants of the Almighty. Hashem reminds us that we cannot forget who are enemies are and to treat them accordingly.

We must cry out to the Almighty in our prayers and ask for the strength to overcome our fears and for His hand to do battle against our enemies. We must remember the words of King David who said (Psalms 144), "Hashem is my Rock who trains my hands for battle, my fingers for war. My Benefactor, my Fortress, my Stronghold, my own Rescuer, my Shield in Whom I take refuge."

May it be the will of the Almighty that we sanctify His holy name and emerge victorious over our enemies.

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