Israelis learned about the latest Gaza ceasefire following a two-day, 500-rocket barrage from the likes of Hamas and Al Jazeera. Only later did the Israeli media inform the country that our cabinet had agreed to this cessation of hostilities. None of the top national leaders–including the prime minister, defense ministry or any other member of the Security Cabinet–bothered to offer even a rudimentary explanation for the move in order to at least try to sooth the raw emotions of some 800,000 Israelis who just spent a frightful 48-hours huddled in bomb shelters.
What Israelis did hear via a communique from certain government ministers was that the cabinet was divided on accepting the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire, and that at least four cabinet members had voted against it. This contradicted a government leak, most likely from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself, that acceptance of the ceasefire had been unanimous.
The lack of unity, the confusion and disinformation, the efforts to blame one another for the pathetic outcome of this latest “round of combat,” as we call it here, was the final straw for the battered residents of southern Israel, who for the past eight months have suffered from flaming kites burning their fields, sporadic rocket fire targeting their towns, and a constant state of alert that means their children often can’t even go to school.
For these and many other Israelis, accepting the ceasefire was an act of cowardice, a clear-cut capitulation to the few thousand Hamas and Islamic Jihad thugs who terrorize Israel whenever they please.
Maj.-Gen. Amiram Levin (ret.), a former deputy director of the Mossad, went so far as to say that Israel has raised a white flag. But the one who expressed best what many Israelis are today feeling was Sharon Gal, a former Member of Knesset with the Yisrael Beiteinu party and a popular right-wing radio show host. Gal is typically shunned by the mainstream media in Israel, but this time his impassioned speech in which he labeled the members of Netanyahu’s cabinet as a gang of spineless pushovers (the Hebrew word is smartoot, which literally means a floor rag which everyone walks over) was echoed on all the major television and radio stations.
“Listen to me, dear cabinet members,” he said. “If you spineless pushovers can’t make a difficult decision, go home. You spoke like Rambo for weeks. From every podium you have threatened harsh and decisive measures … but in the end you squabble with one another and leave the children of southern Israel to wet their beds at night … why in the world should Jewish children have to go to bed in fear?”
Gal then turned his wrath toward his former party head, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman: “This defense minister, this toy Rambo, is like a mouse … I’ll never forget [his promise]: ‘Mark my words, if I become defense minister, [Hamas leader Ismail] Haniyeh will be dead within 48 hours,’ he said. You are an absolute nothing. Haniyeh is alive, and you sit there quietly.”
Gal was voicing the frustration of many Israelis, including Netanyahu’s own constituents, many of whom now vow to never again vote for him. This anger, even among Likud voters, was most visible in the rocket-battered southern town of Sderot, where hundreds of residents responded to the ceasefire announcement by blocking the main road through town with burning tires and shouting “Our blood is not cheap” and “We are not second-class citizens.” This morning, more demonstrators blocked the road leading to the Kissufim crossing to prevent the delivery of goods to Gaza, and high school students in the south protested the government’s decision by staying home, despite the military giving the all-clear to return to class.
Israelis from across the political map are now protesting against what they perceive as a weak and indecisive government whose promises to stop Hamas attacks have time and again proved to be empty. Minister of Construction Yoav Galant, a member of the cabinet, has tried to placate the public by insisting that the matter is not yet finished, and that a decisive blow against Hamas will still come. But no one’s buying it.