Meanwhile in Palestine


CAIRO—The invasion of Jabaliya, a refugee camp in northern Gaza and essentially a city of 100,000 Palestinians, has the makings of a tragedy.

Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon has said last week’s invasion into the Gaza Strip is intended to halt the firing of the Palestinians’ most sophisticated weapon, the Qassam rocket. A Qassam landed on the Jewish town of Sderot last week, killing two young children. They were the third and fourth fatalities from the projectile, which is coarsely constructed from steel tubing and fueled by a mixture of alcohol, sugar, fertilizer, and fat.

The invading Israelis, using troops, tanks, armored personal carriers, and helicopter gunships, have killed 80 Palestinians in less than a week, over a third of them civilians. “We are not leaving Gaza under the shadow of Qassam rockets,” Sharon said this week. The mayor of Sderot, Eli Moyal, in late September called for the “wiping out” of the Gaza town of Beit Hanoun to stop the rocket attacks. “If this had happened to the Americans, Russians, or French”—referring to a rocket attack that damaged some buildings—”Beit Hanoun would have been erased long ago.”

The violence couldn’t come at a worse time for those it threatens. The Bush administration long ago lost what little interest it had in the conflict, and the Kerry campaign has tended to keep quiet as well; neither candidate mentioned the crisis in last week’s presidential debate, and Jim Lehrer, the moderator, didn’t ask. Journalists have complained of trouble getting into Jabaliya to report on the fighting. Getting the news noticed, over the din of wars in Iraq and Sudan, is a separate, difficult task.

American politicians from across the ideological spectrum have embraced Israel’s prescription for ending the conflict: For every threat, there is a forceful solution. The Qassam invasion—called “Days of Penitence” by the Israelis—fits into a now familiar logic that includes destroying homes because they either hide militants or their relatives, and olive trees because they provide camouflage. It’s unclear where this logic leads.

“In prison it’s not the inmates who are afraid, and in the cemeteries the dead have no more fear in their heart,” one resident of Gaza told an Israeli columnist. “Let the jailers be afraid.”

A Washington Post article Tuesday tallied the deadly cost of four years of the intifada. Molly Moore and John Ward Anderson report that 2,800 Palestinians and 1,000 Israelis have been killed since September 2000, and this year, Palestinians are dying at the rate of five to every Israeli fatality. Some 32,700 people have been injured, the overwhelming majority Palestinian. The Israeli army has demolished 2,751 homes and uprooted or burned 382,695 olive trees.

Now the fighters are back in the alleyways of another Palestinian town, and this time, no one is watching.