Tragedy, farce and denial in Kiryat Malachi

The three Israelis killed on Thursday were innocent – but the State of Israel is not.  

Where is the house that got hit with the rocket, I asked the guy behind the counter of a snack bar in Kiryat Malachi on Thursday. Go to the third traffic circle and make a left, he said.  I got to the street, parked my car and started walking toward the satellite dishes, TV truck and the crowd. It’s a poor neighborhood on the edge of a poor town, across the street from open fields. The buildings are old, shabby tenements with dirt for front lawns. After a minute or so of walking and scanning the buildings for signs of a long-range rocket’s impact, which had killed three people, there it was. It took up the left side of the top floor of a five-story building: a giant hole where the front half of the apartment – the balcony and living room – had been a few hours before. A giant, squarish hole surrounded by raw concrete blasted into a mess of jagged angles.

The crowd was of reporters standing around Yuli Edelstein, the minister of public diplomacy and Diaspora affairs. He spoke in earnest, as if from a script. I didn’t pay any attention, I knew what he was saying without having to hear it. Off to the side, an Israeli army spokesman was answering questions, so I asked him the only question I wanted to ask: Why had Israel assassinated Ahmed Jabari, Hamas’ military leader, on Wednesday afternoon when the rocketing had gone down dramatically for at least a day, and when there were reports that the Gazan organizations that had been firing the rockets had agreed to a cease-fire?

The spokesman, Maj. Arye Shalicar, replied:  “There was no reduction in the rocketing.” And the cease-fire? “Rumors.”

But here is Yedioth Ahronoth on Wednesday: “After three days of firing of Qassams and Grads on communities in the south, yesterday was relatively quiet. Two rockets were fired yesterday…” Here is Haaretz on the same day: “Since Monday’s reports of the agreement by Palestinian militant groups in Gaza to hold their fire, there has been relative quiet in the Gaza envelope area, with two rockets hitting the Ashdod area and Hof Ashkelon Regional Council area yesterday… There were no reports of damage or casualties in either attack.” And during the day Wednesday, prior to the 4 p.m. assassination of Jabari, six rockets were fired from Gaza and another four from the direction of Sinai.  There were no injuries or damage.

So Israel did not start “Pillar of Defense” after days of relentless escalation, as its leaders and spokesmen now say, but after a day-and-a-half when things had started to calm down.

And while Jabari had been a terrorist mastermind during the 1990s and again in the second intifada, in the last few years he held Hamas’ fire and restrained that of Islamic Jihad and the other smaller, even more militant Gazan groups. So said Gershon Baskin, a peace activist who was instrumental in freeing Gilad Shalit,  and Haaretz editor-in-chief Aluf Benn, who wrote:

Ahmed Jabari was a subcontractor, in charge of maintaining Israel’s security in Gaza. This title will no doubt sound absurd to anyone who in the past several hours has heard Jabari described as “an arch-terrorist,” “the terror chief of staff” or “our Bin Laden.”

But that was the reality for the past five and a half years. Israel demanded of Hamas that it observe the truce in the south and enforce it on the multiplicity of armed organizations in the Gaza Strip. The man responsible for carrying out this policy was Ahmed Jabari.

These are voices in the wilderness in Israel today. Most everybody seems to be “on message.” I didn’t talk to any of the residents in Kiryat Malachi because “man on the street” interviews seem staged and artificial to me, and after doing thousands of them over the years, and keeping up as I do with the news, I figured I knew pretty much what the residents in Kiryat Malachi would say, too. As the Israeli expression goes, we’ve been in this movie before.

That evening I went to my job as a copy-editor at Haaretz, and towards the end of the night, I edited the story about the three people who’d been killed in that building.

When the siren sounded at about 8:45 A.M. on Thursday in Kiryat Malakhi, Itzik Amsalem’s mother implored him to take cover, but he insisted on photographing the Iron Dome at work. Aharon Smadja, their neighbor in the building, heard them arguing and came into their apartment. Mira Scharf was renting an apartment next door with her family before they were to return to New Delhi, where she and her husband were Chabad emissaries.

I don’t want those Gazan rockets to hurt anybody. But I’m not “rooting” for Israel in this war, either, because I don’t want to go on hurting the Palestinians. The three people who got killed in that building in Kiryat Malachi were innocent – but the State of Israel is not. Finally, it’s the hurt that the State of Israel inflicts on the Palestinians which provided most of the fuel for that monstrous rocket.

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