In March of 1983, a strange phenomenon later referred to as the "poisoning affair" was recorded in the West Bank. United Nations institutions, the World Health Organization, international groups, and representatives of various countries arrived in the territories in order to examine from up close how the enlightened State of Israel apparently caused "mass poisoning" of West Bank residents – from Jenin to Hebron, school children, officials, and employees all complained about dizziness, aches, vomiting, and a shortness of breath.
Thousands of Palestinians were "hospitalized," while ambulances were traveling across the West Bank with their sirens blaring. For two weeks, Palestinian media along with the international media celebrated the "poisoning affair." Only two months later, global public health experts ruled that the Palestinian "popular committees" in the territories turned a minor incident of bad odor at one school lab into a large-scale humanitarian disaster.
Meanwhile, Israel was condemned in almost every forum, its international status declined, and the world pressed the Jewish state to "improve the condition of residents in the territories at once." We were very close to seeing international forces dispatched to "save the poisoned residents of the territories."
I recalled the "poisoning affair" in the context of the emerging inclination in the defense establishment to make use of civilian levers to pressure Gaza Strip residents, in the hopes that they in turn would pressure Qassam launchers to stop their attacks. It should be noted that over the years Palestinian leaders always hoped for a disaster in the territories that would prompt the international community to send troops, which would eventually prevent Israeli forces from acting freely against Palestinian terrorism.
For many years, Arafat attempted to initiate a "white intifada" – a non-violent uprising that would be prompted by the wrong utilization of civilian levers by Israel in order to pressure residents in the territories. Over the years, the Palestinian propaganda machine attempted, without success, to create a false image of a "disaster area" characterized by hunger and thirst, a large number of deaths, sick on the verge of dying, etc.
We recall the declarations of Palestinian propaganda minister, Saeb Erekat, who during operation Defensive Shield in Jenin appeared on CNN and spoke of 500 victims while characterizing the situation as a disaster of global scale, immediately outraging the entire international system.
The PLO is the master of false propaganda. Hamas learned the secrets of the trade from the PLO. The Fatah government in the West Bank and the Hamas government in the Strip have contingency plans in case the State of Israel decides to make use of civilian sanctions.
Here is a completely realistic scenario: Cutting off the electricity supply would lead to a situation whereby every natural death of an elderly Gaza resident would be reported as a death as a result of the "oxygen supply being cut off" in the wake of the power outage. Every normal death of a premature baby will be reported as the death of a "day-old martyr hurt by the Zionist enemy's horrors."
Foreign news teams would be brought into the refugee camps in the Strip and rush to photograph and present to the world "horrific scenes" of people, cows, and chickens dying as a result of skyrocketing food prices. Huge quantities of rotten food will be photographed from every possible angle, and a shortage of fresh food would lead to a solidarity attack from various countries and heavy pressure on Israel.
The Palestinians will hand over to all media outlets close-ups of faucets empty of water as a result of the inactivity of electrically powered pumps. We can already imagine the result – the hungry, thirsty, and sick Gaza will create in Israel the same effect as the bombing in Lebanon's Qana village.
Therefore, you mad people, stop talking about cutting off the electricity supply!
Despite the anger in the wake of the Qassam attack on the Zikim base, the Israeli response to the rockets must be military, rather than civilian. The response to Palestinian terrorism should focus on its leaders and activists, in the territories and beyond, and not on the millions of residents who are not a part of the game.
Israel must restore its image as a deterring country vis-à-vis its enemies by fighting the error infrastructure, not by fighting logistical infrastructure.
The writer served in various posts in the territories and currently researches Palestinian society at the Shmuel Neeman Institute at the Technion