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Killing of Hamas Kidnappers in Hebron Reveals Israel’s Weaknesses in Dealing with Gaza

Security Forces in Hebron

In Hebron on Tuesday morning, an IDF force, following a lengthy shootout, killed the two Hamas members who had kidnapped three Israeli teenagers two months ago. Unlike events 30 miles away in Gaza a month ago, bringing this case to a fitting conclusion in the West Bank did not require warfare and bombing and demolished hi-risers. Damage was kept to a minimum.

There’s a crucial lesson to be learned here.

Using intelligence acquired a week ago by the Shabac internal security police, an IDF force last night surrounded the two terrorists’ hideout in north-west Hebron and a special police force reached the house. The terrorists were ordered to come out, but did not respond. An IDF bulldozer started to demolish the house, until,  at some point, the two suspects came out of the house shooting, and were both gunned down.

The IDF is expecting some rioting as a result of the killing, especially in the Hebron area. Nothing more.

In the end, Israel’s security forces have been able to deal with the kidnapping case and its outcome in an exemplary way, reflecting their success in controlling law and order issues in the West Bank, in collaboration with the Palestinian Authority security forces.

Throughout the case, the kidnapping remained a law and order issue, and was handled as such—decidedly not as a conflict between two nations. Individual criminals were pursued, based on a reliable network of informants, and the fact that they were killed in the end is immaterial – this was a police investigation, beginning to end.

Israel has been able to maintain law and order in the West Bank this way since 2003. Following the massacre of 30 Israelis on Seder night, March 27, 2002, in Netanya, Israel’s security forces responded by destroying the terror infrastructure in the entire West Bank—a process that took several years—while concurrently erecting effective systems of road controls and intelligence gathering that helped secure that area ever since.

This is not a small feat, and like all good police work it requires maintenance, diligence, analysis and a lot of money. The proof is in the pudding: terrorism in the West Bank has been dwarfed. Yes, young people are rioting now and then, and violent individuals may go out and firebomb a moving car on the highway. Those things are impossible to stop, as long as the civilian population is not motivated to stop them. But gone are the masterminded terror attacks of the 1990s, that caused so much carnage inside Israel.

The result has been not only good for Israelis, but for Palestinians as well. The fact that security issues are being handled in police work fashion means that the vast majority of Palestinians get to stay away from harm, and develop their society and their economy. Many Palestinians are moving to the cities, many are prospering, shopping malls offer luxury items, a new, modern Arab city is being completed outside Ramallah. The Palestinians are able to carve for themselves a hopeful horizon—with or without Israeli support—because Israeli security forces are able to manage law and order in a civilized manner.

It’s not independence, it’s not statehood, it’s probably a lot less than what most Palestinians aspire to, but it’s relatively sane, people go to work, things get built, money changes hands, good things are happening.

All of which exposes even more harshly Israel’s failure to enforce law and order in the other Palestinian territory, Gaza. Over there, overt attacks on Israeli civilians, mostly with mortar shells and primitive rockets, cannot, by definition, be dealt with through police work. It’s always a military issue, and it’s always a major international crisis.

When Israel retreated from Gaza, in 2005, it willingly cut off all the means of control it continued to enjoy in the West Bank. Two years later, when a vehemently antisemitic organization won the election (run with America’s blessing, even urging), all expectations for a benevolent, gradual development of a prosperous, law abiding Palestinian society there went out the window.

Because Israel no longer has any foothold in Gaza, it is deprived of the ability to manage security the way police do it. In Hebron, on the West Bank, if a Palestinian goes up on his rooftop to shell Israelis, he is arrested, or gunned down in confrontation with security forces, IDF or PA. In Gaza, the same act would likely bring on an Airforce wing spewing hellfire on everything in sight.

Naturally, the people who suffer most from Israel’s inability to do simple police work in Gaza are the Gazans. Hamas on occasion arrests the shooters, when it fits its political needs. But it cannot be relied on to diligently enforce law and order, because it’s not that kind of an organization.

For Gaza to come out of the rubble victorious, it doesn’t need to start with an airport or a harbor, or even new buildings or new roads – first of all, it needs a good, reliable, honest and impartial police force. Of course it needs all the other good things, too, but they’ll come down in a heap of rubble again, unless the law is kept in Gaza.

The West Bank relative success story must be imported to Gaza: a Palestinian Authority police force which is supported by Israel’s security apparatus. Let PA police control safety issues in the strip, while the IDF and Shabac are making sure they’re not killed by Hamas – same as they’re doing in the West Bank.

It’s not ideal, but it’s a whole lot better than what Gazans are having at the moment. Someone must deliver to the good people of Gaza the most essential benefit civilization has to offer: safety.

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