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Tuesday, November 21, 2006 

Hi, we're going to bomb your house in 15 minutes....

Palestinians outside a house which the residents were warned was going to be bombed.

It's 10:30pm, and you're about to go to sleep. Suddenly, the telephone rings. Not expecting anyone to be calling you, you nevertheless answer it, after 4 rings.

It's a man who says that he's a representative of France's military intelligence. He asks you to listen very carefully, because this is the only warning you're going to get. He explains that within 15 minutes, your home is going to be destroyed. His justification for this is like a multiple choice question. Either you're a terrorist, or a terrorist sympathiser, or whether you're aware or not, there's a tunnel beneath your house which is being used to smuggle weapons, or to store them. He says that this phone call is designed to make sure that everyone gets out before the missiles strike your home, to avoid unnecessary casualties. He says once again that you have 15 minutes, then he hangs up.

Understandably, your mind is reeling. You know you have to take the warning of the French man deadly seriously. That doesn't stop you from being rooted to the spot, however. It occurs to you that every second you're standing here, frozen, is another second lost. Your synapses are working overtime. Within moments, your house, that you might have saved for years for, that you're so close to finishing paying the mortgage off on, is going to be nothing more than a pile of rubble. Then there's your possessions. What can you possibly save within 15 minutes? Your photographs of your children, your parents, those ornaments that contain numerous memories, all the sentimental things that aren't worth anything but that make you who you are, are about to be destroyed. Then there's all your vanity items that you've collected over the years, all the things you don't really need but that you must have anyway, like that flat screen LCD TV, your brand new dual core PC, all your music, your DVDs. Your antique furniture you inherited.

Before you realise it, you've been sitting on your bed with your head in your hands for five minutes. You've got 10 left, maybe 20, if what you've known of previous attacks on houses by the French is repeated again. Do you run, tell your wife, wake up your kids, grab as much as you can in the fast slipping away seconds, and get outside? Or is there a way to stop this? The French would probably get away with killing you and your family, if you decided to make the futile gesture of accepting your fate, even if you're not guilty. What if however, you ran up and down your street, telling all your neighbours what's about to happen? Would they be prepared to fill your house, or get on the roof and make it obvious that to attack your dwelling is an attack on all of their lives? Could they possibly cope with the backlash from the media photographs of all those bodies of innocent men and women, limbs strewn throughout the debris, with your 5-year-old daughter miraculously surviving, left without parents and siblings? Would they win the resulting argument over whether the actions of those on the ground constitute the use of innocent human shields by terrorists, even if they were defending the home of their neighbour with their bodies completely of their own accord?

Replace French with Israel in the above, and more or less, you have the situation faced by the Palestinians over the last few days in Jabaliya, although I've obviously westernised the reaction. Informed by "Abu Nimr" that their home is about to be obliterated with a burst of hellfire missiles, rather than just getting out and staying alive, residents have decided to fight back with civil disobedience involving the use of potential mass casualties if the Israelis carry through with their warning. Knowing full well that it'll result in yet more bad publicity for the collective punishment the Israelis are inflicting on the Gaza Strip, sometimes in response to the firing of Qassam rockets, sometimes to assassinate militant group leaders, the tactic has worked remarkably well so far.

The start of this new mass resistance was with the protest a couple of weeks ago by hundreds of Palestinian women in hijabs, who marched on a mosque surrounded by the IDF and containing alleged armed militants. The soldiers, uncertain of what to do when faced by a mass of unarmed women, mainly ceased fire. Two of the women were however later killed when the troops shot at the crowd, later justified on the basis that some in the group were armed, something not backed up by television pictures.

Enthused by the success of that march, the tactic has now been repeated to defend houses. While the Israelis use of a warning is meant, so they say, to avoid civilian casualties, it can just as much be a cynical act of warfare: meant to terrify the occupants of an area, knowing that there's nothing they can do to stop the army from destroying their homes. As Conal Uruquat has reported, those whose houses have been destroyed following such warnings have not always had the alleged tunnels beneath their homes.

Naturally, the Israeli response to this mass uprising of resistance has been to allege that the terrorists are using human shields to stop them from destroying the militants' capability to launch the rockets into Israeli territory, one of which last week killed an Israeli woman in Sderot. There is no evidence to suggest that this is the case. Rather, the residents of those around the doomed houses appear to be more than happy to take part in what could potentially be their untimely death. Reports have also suggested that there has been euphoria once it's been realised that the Israelis have called off the air strikes which they said were coming.

It's an incredibly welcome development. It's long been suggested that the Palestinians should drop their violent resistance and instead switch to non-violence, which in the past has been rejected because of the realisation that the IDF just can't be trusted not to attack such protests. After all, this is the same military which has fired hundreds of thousands of cluster bombs into southern Lebanon, purely to punish the residents whose houses were likely also damaged in the month long bombing campaign during the Israel-Hizbullah-Lebanon war, and which habitually fires hellfire missiles into the crowded streets of Gaza City, normally at the cars of suspected militants. One such attack was on the paralysed and half-blind Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Yassin, which also killed his two bodyguards and 8 others.

For the moment at least, this new resistance tactic appears to be succeeding. It can only be hoped that both sides recognise that there is no military solution to the on-going crisis. The pitiful Qassam rockets only mute the outrage when Israeli operations go wrong, such as that which killed 18 Palestinians in a shelling. A return to the negotiation table, where it has to be recognised that for any two state solution to work, the vast vast majority of Israeli settlements in the West Bank have to be removed, has to be encouraged. This could be brought forward by the forming of a coalition Palestinian government, and the announcement of a full, unilateral ceasefire by all the armed groups. That would put the onus on Israel to do the same. As usual, this dream scenario seems as far away as ever.

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