.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Gaza, 1955

In 1955, way before Fatah and Arafat and "occupation," Palestinian Arabs staged a series of terrorist raids from Gaza into Israel proper. Israel hit back, briefly but strongly.

Notice from this account in Time magazine how many parallels there are to today.Isr (Notice also that Time refers to the PalArab refugees as "Palestinian Arabs," not "Palestinians.")
The Gaza strip is a geographic absurdity perpetuated by hate and pride. Ever since Israel's warriors swept south in 1948 to the Negeb desert, Gaza has stood as a defiant outpost in which Egyptian soldiers held out against Zion to the day of armistice. All around the 5-by-25-mile sand strip, a stealthy border war has since been waged, and blood spilled almost nightly.

To the young Israeli farmers who labor, gun in hand, in nearby desert settlements, the Gaza strip is an intolerable threat to their lives and lands. To the Egyptians patrolling its long salient of indefensible dunes, it remains a symbol of Arab defiance against unconfessed defeat. Behind the 20-inch-wide furrow that passes for its frontier, 219,000 Arab refugees squat in sandy squalor, existing only on U.N. charity and staring balefully across the border at the slopes now green with Israeli corn.

The incident that touched off last week's Gaza flare-up might have happened any day. Israeli soldiers, their command cars stacked with small arms, sped on routine border patrol close to an Egyptian command post. Suddenly there was shooting. Caught in the open without cover, the Israelis, guns blazing, crossed the border and took the command post. When they retired, they left three Egyptians dead.

As usual in such cases, the U.N. mediator, Canada's Major General Edson L. M. Burns, respected as much for his toughness as for his patience, tried to get both sides together: the familiar rhythm in these flare-ups is violence met with violence and followed by quiet. But this time the rhythm was broken. Small groups of Arab raiders carried the fight deep into Israel. Known as Al Fedayeen (Self-Sacrificers), the sneaker-shod guerrillas are recruited from Palestinian Arab refugees, and are thus adventurers without a country who know Israel's landscape because it was once their own. Most of them are followers of the former Mufti of Jerusalem, who used to recruit men to fight both the British and the Jews. The Mufti has been living in exile in Cairo.

The Self-Sacrificers fanned out across Israel, mined roads, shot up army trucks, dynamited the Voice of Israel's radio tower, just 15 miles south of Tel Aviv. From the cover of citrus groves, they shot down four farmers. Two Yemenite Jews fell, attacked from behind as they bent over irrigation pipes. Another was killed by a burst of Sten-gun fire through the open door of a pumping station. A Jewish newcomer from Iraq was caught as he cycled home from work in a nearby orchard. Tracks showed that he had been dragged off his bicycle, stood up against a wall and shot. A grandfather was cut down as he walked, lantern in hand, with his family; his wife, daughter, son-in-law and grandson were wounded.

This was something new in the border warfare, and its will-o'-the-wisp character unnerved many Israelis. In the Negeb communities, 50,000 farmers stood guard at their doorways. Troop patrols raced along roads from Dan to Beersheba. After one ambush, soldiers grabbed a wounded Self-Sacrificer trying to get back to Gaza, and learned that he had set out on patrol from the headquarters of his organization at Khan Yunis (Inn of Jonah), southwest of Gaza.

That night Israel struck back in reprisal. A strong armed force drove into Gaza. Arabs playing tricktrack and drinking a late cup of coffee at a cafe in the border village of Beni Sawil watched in silent horror as an entire company of Israeli halftracks rumbled through the streets. But the Israelis ignored them and made for their objective, the big concrete police fortress of Khan Yunis, one of the old "Taggart forts" built by the British. The Israelis were convinced that it was headquarters of Al Fedayeen. The raid was brief and bloody. The Egyptian commander reported 35 killed. The Israelis said they lost one man.

The Israelis sent a message to General Burns answering that they were now ready to accept his ceasefire. But before peace could be restored, two Israeli Meteors overtook two Egyptian Vampire jets as they swooped low over Israeli settlements north of Gaza. One of the Egyptian jets exploded in the air; both crashed well inside Israeli territory. All that farmers found of one pilot was his hair, ripped in one wiglike piece from his skull.

Underlying these skirmishes, and giving them special urgency, was an uncertainty on each side as to the intent of the other. The Israelis feared that Lieut. Colonel Nasser's military junta, anxious to distract attention from its failures in the Sudan (see below), might have decided to stir its people against Israel. Egyptians feared that the big vote for extremist parties in Israel's July elections reflected a popular demand for a more vigorous border policy. At this point, the U.S., the U.N. and Britain all got into the act. General Burns called for a special session of the U.N. Security Council. The U.S. Ambassador to Egypt, West Pointer Henry Byroade, telephoned Washington that he was convinced of Egyptian good faith in wanting a ceasefire, and asked that Washington so inform the Israelis. Assistant Secretary of State George V. Allen telephoned Premier Moshe Sharett in Tel Aviv, and his message helped reassure the Israelis. Both sides agreed to talk ceasefire.

At week's end the continuing sound of gunfire was heard along the Gaza strip, in the way that constitutes normal relationships on the furrowed border. But there was hope now that only steadfast hostility, not open war, was the prospect once more.
Israelis making the desert bloom while Arabs sit and stew? Check.
Palestinian Arabs targeting and murdering Jewish civilians? Check.
Israel avoiding civilians and aiming for a military target? Check.
The world considering only occasional cross-border skirmishes to be a normal part of a "cease-fire"? Check.
The terrorists being led by a man who had no interest in ever accepting Israel? Check.