As a thunderclap explosion signaled the destruction by Israeli forces of three high-rise buildings in Gaza believed to have been used in last Friday’s deadly Palestinian raid on the Jewish settlement of Netzarim, the debate in Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s Cabinet about Netzarim’s future grew increasingly heated.
Some members of Sharon’s Cabinet questioned the wisdom of maintaining the small Jewish town in Gaza, using terms that were more reminiscent of a dovish government than a hawkish one.
“We must not reward violence, but the time has come for the government to hold a discussion on the future of Netzarim,” Justice Minister Yosef “Tommy” Lapid said at Sunday’s meeting.
His colleague from the secular Shinui Party, Interior Minister Avraham Poraz, proposed that the 60 Israeli families living in Netzarim, who are protected by an entire battalion of the Israel Defense Forces, be evacuated so Netzarim could be turned into a full-time military base.
The two ministers were quickly shot down by other Cabinet members.
“Netzarim should be maintained and bolstered,” said Infrastructure Minister Effi Eitam, head of the National Religious Party. “And when there is someone to talk to” on the Palestinian side, he said, “it will be a community next to which the border will run.”
Sharon and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon are also known to oppose any discussion of Netzarim’s future.
Fresh off a new round of international criticism for killing Palestinian civilians in recent bombing raids, Israel appeared to take pains not to harm any this time.
In Gaza, Israeli soldiers rounded up Palestinian residents and moved them out of harm’s way before demolishing the buildings. Israeli forces lay down cover fire to discourage snipers from shooting at soldiers as military engineers fanned out throughout the buildings, planting sticks of dynamite for the building’s demolition.
Meanwhile, domestic criticism intensified following the deaths of the three soldiers.
Fueling Sunday’s debate were fresh feelings of frustration and anger as Israel buried two women among the three victims of the attack.
Sgt. Adi Osman, 19, of Kfar Saba, and Sgt. Sarit Shneor, 19, of Shoham were killed in the raid, along with Staff Sgt. Alon Avrahami, 20, of Or Yehuda. Two other soldiers were wounded by the Palestinian attacker before he was shot dead by troops. Both Hamas and Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attack.
The women who were killed were soldiers, but Israel’s military, which bars women from most combat roles, is unused to female conscripts dying in battle.
Charges that the women were without their rifles due to budget cuts stoked further controversy.
“How can you put soldiers on the front line without weapons?” the tearful father of Shneor told Israeli television on Sunday, the day his daughter was buried.
A spokesperson for the IDF said the army is investigating the claim that a base commander took away weapons from all female soldiers serving at the base.
There was also anger after it became apparent that the gunman who went on the shooting spree in Netzarim infiltrated the settlement with little difficulty, using early morning fog to escape surveillance.
Nahum Barnea, a leading Israeli columnist, said the raid highlighted the human cost of budget cuts, given that there were no rifles for the women to use.
“There is denial at work here. There is cowardice. There is an insufferable situation that is beginning to prove insufferable for large sections of Israeli society,” Barnea wrote in the daily Yediot Achronot. “Netzarim is a luxury that Israel, in its current situation, cannot really allow itself.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.