What is 20 Tons of Explosives?

Hamas has smuggled 20 tons of explosives into the Gaza Strip, and that is aside from the anti-aircraft and antitank missiles. That is what the Israel Defense Forces has calculated, and it made sure to pump this frightening information into the Israeli media over the course of several days, raising the specter of Hezbollah-type attacks.

Despite half-hearted denials from Hamas, these statistics are believable. The Israeli information about weapons smuggling is supported by the simplistic thinking of Palestinian groups and their desire to engage in emulation: Hezbollah defeated Israel, so let us arm ourselves like Hezbollah. Armed resistance proved itself in Lebanon, they think, and it will prove itself for us, too. Minor issues like the very different geographic expanse, the population density, and the Strip’s isolation from the rest of the world do not affect the mimics’ considerations.

Neither do more complex analyses that show that Hezbollah erred in its political-military calculations and did not expect such a destructive Israeli response. The mimics are particularly unconcerned by questions such as: How many striking teachers could be paid salaries with the money that is being paid to weapons procurers and tunnel diggers? And has it not been proven over the last six years that harming Israeli citizens within the state’s borders only strengthens public support for their government’s policy of occupation? The Palestinian weapons mimics are finding themselves on the same side of the barricade as the Israeli security establishment, both of which are inflating the significance of Palestinian arms.

Whenever Israeli military officials report on the dangers awaiting us from the Palestinian side, they are aided by three phenomena. First, in Israel, information from military sources about Palestinians (unlike information about the recent war in Lebanon or other generals’ wars) is considered neutral, driven not by any personal or group interests but by purely patriotic motives and concern for the good of the nation. Second, a significant percentage of Israelis simply forget their rich military experience. Everyone–including current and former combat soldiers and their families–turns into a naive civilian convinced by the television images of masked gunmen running around besieged Palestinian cities that “the other side is a warmonger” (and we are peace seekers).

Finally, in contrast to Palestinian weaponry, which is quantifiable, it is impossible to quantify the amount of “explosives” in Israel’s hands–all the different types of shells and bombs, all the weapons that Israeli soldiers use or will use. The IDF Spokesman’s Office does not volunteer that information, but in any case, the quantities are enormous, and they are constantly being restocked, whether through imports or through the flourishing Israeli arms industry. Before the recent war in Lebanon, did anyone calculate how many millions of cluster bombs Israel had in its warehouses (of which 1.2 million were fired during the war, as Meron Rapoport reported in this newspaper on September 12)?

And therefore, what exists in Israelis’ consciousness is not the millions of cluster bombs–that is, the flying mines–or the tens of millions of bombs and shells and lethal bullets stored in our arms warehouses and our gun barrels and the bellies of our helicopters and planes. Although the amount of such explosives is measured in the millions of tons, it is the 20 tons of explosives and the few thousand rifles that permeate the Israeli consciousness.

Israelis are convinced that we are facing an existential danger. But what has been erased from the Israeli consciousness is that Israel is a weapons superpower, and that the weapons this state has, as is the nature of all weapons, are lethal and frightening.

The Israeli media, of course, cooperates with this distortion of reality. It devoutly reports every shot fired by the Palestinians and every rocket they launch–even when they cause no harm. But Israeli bullets and shells, which are fired routinely, do not exist in the media unless there are fatalities, and even those are quickly forgotten.

The purpose of instilling such fear in Israelis is to win ongoing support for the IDF’s policy of constant escalation. The security establishment is not neutral. Its members, no less than bureaucrats in any other system, want to perpetuate the rationale for their existence and their salaries. They need public silence about the free use the IDF makes of the weapons and ammunition that it puts into its soldiers’ hands. This serial intimidation is meant to give the IDF a free hand while it expands its operational infrastructure, perhaps to the point of using thousands of cluster bombs on Gaza, too.

The military establishment in Israel is joined at the hip with the political decision-making establishment, and hyping the security threat facing Israelis, while completely disengaging from the reality of the Israeli occupation, assures continued Israeli support for the myth that there is a military “solution” but not a political one. This in turn provides support for the ongoing regime of occupation and dispossession, and for the privileges that this bestows on Israelis.

AMIRA HASS writes for Ha’aretz. She is the author of Drinking the Sea at Gaza.




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