Sunday, August 3, 2014

Israelis Under Fire – Not For The First Time

The recent fighting in Gaza and the south of Israel (Operation "Protective Edge") is not the first time Israeli townships and villages have been attacked by artillery of different sorts. Since the 50s, Jewish communities have been targets for this kind of aggression. The Kisufim, Nirim and Ein Ha'shlosha kibbutzim were bombarded by the Egyptian army (which occupied the Gaza strip after Israel's War of Independence in 1948) in April 1956. In response, the IDF retaliated by bombarding Egyptian targets and inflicted heavy losses on the Egyptians.

After the Sinai war in October 1956, the point of friction moved to northern Israel. The Syrian army, which controlled the Golan Heights overlooking the Hula valley villages and the eastern Galilee, harassed and bombarded the settlements with heavy artillery fire, and many firefights took place in the years 1958–1967.
An Israeli artillery battery in the Galilee (Israel State Archives)
Examining the damage of an artillery shell in Tel Katzir kibbutz (GPO
One of these firefights, on April 7, 1967, deteriorated into a full battle in which the Israeli air force destroyed Syrian artillery batteries, tanks and fortified positions that had bombarded the Gadot and Eib Gev kibbutzim. When the Syrian air force tried to intervene, seven Syrian fighter planes were shot down--several over Damascus itself. Many believe that this incident was a catalyst to the entrance of the Egyptian army into Sinai on May 15, 1967, and three weeks later to the Six Day War.

Following the Six Day War, the settlements in the upper Jordan valley became victims of rocket and mortar fire from Palestinian terrorists, who turned northern Jordan into their stronghold. The Jordanian army and the Iraqi expeditionary force (based in Jordan since the Six Day War) joined in and bombarded kibbutzim such as Ashdot Ya'acov, Sha'ar Ha'golan and Masada, as well as Moshavim (villages) such as Yardena and Beit Yosef. The inhabitants of these communities spent long days and nights in bomb shelters, while the IDF retaliated with artillery fire, tank shells and air force strikes. Here's a part of a newsreel in Hebrew, showing the damage done by the Jordanian artillery and Israeli airstrikes to silence the guns.

Following the intensification of the fire, the Israeli air force bombed the bases of the Iraqi expeditionary force in northern Jordan and inflicted heavy losses. (The Iraqi government used this attack as an excuse to further harass and abuse the remaining Jews in Iraq. This harassment culminated in the hanging of nine Jews in January 1969, as we wrote about previously). The air force bombed the East Ghor Main Canal – a central water project in Northern Jordan. Following the bombings, which rendered the canal useless, King Hussein asked the USA to intervene and stop the bombings and Israel announced that it would do so if the King fought the terrorist organizations. In September 1970, the King did just that when he expelled the Palestinian terrorist organizations and ordered the Iraqi expeditionary force back to Iraq.

The next people to be shelled were the residents of Israel's northern border, especially those who bordered Lebanon. As early as 1968, Palestinian terrorists shelled Kiryat Shmona, Nahariya and other northern towns and villages.

Residents of Kiryat Shmona after a rocket attack in 1968 (Israel State Archives

Golda Meir at the funeral of Daniel Khayo, slain in a rocket attack on Kiryat Shmona in May 1970 (GPO)

The expulsion of the Palestinian terrorists from Jordan to Lebanon intensified the rate of attacks on Israel's northern border communities. The IDF retaliated in raids, artillery fire and air strikes. This situation continued through the 70s to the early 80s.

Children hide in a bomb shelter in Nahariya during a rocket attack on the city in 1979 (GPO)

Residents of Nahariya in a bomb shelter during a rocket attack in 1979 (GPO)

A direct hit in a house in Nahariya, June 1982 (Israel State Archive)

In the early 1980s, the PLO's artillery barrages on Israel's northern border escalated, after the organization started using real artillery--Soviet 130mm cannons and heavier rockets. The First Lebanon War (Operation Peace for Galilee: June 1982 – June 1985) eliminated this threat to the northern border. Later on, when the clashes with the Hezbollah terror organization intensified in southern Lebanon, the threat of rocket fire on the northern border became real again. In 1993 and 1996, in Operations "Accountability" and "Grapes of Wrath" (respectively), the IDF concentrated air and artillery strikes to stop Hezbollah from shooting rockets at northern Israel.

Clearing the rubble after a rocket attack on Kiryat Shmona, August 1993 (GPO)

After Israel's unilateral withdrawal from south Lebanon in May 2000, Hezbollah enlarged its rocket stockpile and unleashed it on the northern Israeli communities during the Second Lebanon War (July 12, 2006 – August 14, 2006). Since then, the northern border has remained quiet--aside from several incidents of rocket fire, usually from Palestinian organizations.

On January 30, 2001, an improvised rocket was shot at the Netzarim settlement near Gaza. The Hamas terror organization that fired it nicknamed it "Qassam" after the 30s gang leader Izz ad-Din al-Qassam. In April 2001, the first rocket was fired at Sderot. Since then, thousands of rockets, ever improving in payload and range, have been shot at Israel. The IDF has responded to the rockets with air strikes, artillery fire, and three major air and land operations: Operation "Cast Lead" (Dec. 12, 2008 – Jan. 18, 2009), Operation "Pillar of Defense" (Nov. 14, 2012 – Nov. 21, 2012) and the current Operation "Protective Edge" which started on July 8, 2014.

Every decade in Israel's history finds one part of the country or another under artillery fire, and all Israelis continue to share in this hard chapter of Israel's struggle for peace and quiet.

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