Tel Aviv Diary: Israel Reaches a Fork in the Road on Gaza

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Light streaks and trails are seen as rockets are launched from Gaza towards Israel before a 72-hour cease fire was due to expire August 13, 2014. Amir Cohen/Reuters

Tel Aviv—We are reaching the end of first day of a five-day ceasefire, a day in which no negotiations have taken place.

I just returned from one of the oddest demonstrations I can remember, in support of the Israeli communities situated close to the Gaza Strip, communities that have been subjected to what is euphemistically called "a drizzle" of rocket fire from Gaza for the last 13 years.

The rally, held in the center of Tel Aviv at Rabin Square, was organized by the residents of the south, with the help of the Tel Aviv municipality. What was odd was that neither the speakers, nor the attendees, were really clear about why they were there or what they wanted to occur.

Let me be more precise. Everyone did know what they want. Everyone wants peace and security in the communities around Gaza. Everyone wants an end to the current status quo (where it was OK to have an occasional barrage of missiles fired at southern kibbutzim and cities.) However, putting into words what must be done to achieve these imperative changes seemed to escape everyone I spoke to among the demonstrators.

Batya and Yonatan were typical of those who came from the south to the rally. Both life-long member of Kibbutz K'far Hadarom on the Gaza border, and people whose political views (in normal times) would be considered "left of center," I asked them what they wanted to happen now. Did they want a broader ground attack?

At first they said – No. They believe the only way to solve our situation is through political negotiations. They felt strongly that the government was not doing enough in that area. Yonatan said he had been against a ground action, until the discovery of the tunnels (which he was totally unaware of before this operation). After which, he believed there was no choice.

I shared a conversation with Batya that I had had earlier today with someone who considered herself a lifelong leftist. I asked if she thought the views of leftists had changed. Batya thought definitively that leftists views had been changed by the war. She said it was important to her and her friends to make sure we were doing all we could to achieve a political solution, (something she did not think was the case).

However, she continued, some of the members of the Israeli left have  begun to realize there might be no other choice but to use force. Yonatan was more skeptical about the use of force. He believes that if only 10 percent of the Gaza population truly wishes us harm and we could wipe out that 10 percent, maybe using force would work. Sadly, he said, after all of our bitter experiences it has become clear that if we kill one Hamas fighter three come to replace him. Therefore, he feels we must find a political solution.

The same was the case with everyone I encountered at the rally. Everyone I spoke to believed that something has to change. One particular vivacious young woman from Kibbutz Ein Hasholsha was holding up a banner that read: "A red alert is not a notice on the TV." (Alluding to the fact that throughout Operation Protective Edge, most of the country saw notices on their TV screens when sirens were sounded in any part of the country – but 85 percent of those TV notices were alerts for missile alerts in the communities of the south).  

I asked her what she thought should be done. She answered frankly she had no idea. She is not in a position of power, but she felt those in power should do something. So I asked her, “What if they do not know what do to do?” She answered, “Then they should resign.”

A man named Hayim from the southern Kibbutz Kissufim was holding up a banner attacking Prime Minister Netanyahu for not doing more. I asked Hayim if he supports a full ground assault on Gaza. He also responded: No. Hayim said he was a member of the Kibbutz community guard. A few months ago they were informed their services were no longer needed. Given the current situation and the recent revelations, Hayim questions how our government could possibly be doing enough if they chose to lower the level of preparedness on the Gaza border just a few months ago?  

The responses were the same throughout the rally – whether I spoke to people from the South or from Tel Aviv. Most of the supportive crowd, numbering approximately 20,000, shared the same dilemmas– Knowing things can not go on as they have been... but having no idea what should be done to achieve change. There was just a resounding consensus that the South must not be forgotten.

The rally in Rabin Square this evening reflects the state of mind of the people of Israel tonight –People are confused. They believe that what has been cannot continue, though they fear it will. Israelis are united in a way we has not been in decades. Israelis believe that they  have true enemies, but remain divided as ever, about finding the right resolution to their  problems.

Political historian Marc Schulman is the editor of historycentral.com. An archive of his recent daily reports from Tel-Aviv can be found here. He is also a columnist for the Times of Israel.

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