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Contentions

A Good Way to Start the New Year

If the recent rallies in Iran have been noteworthy for their large turnout, another rally this week was noteworthy for its lack of turnout: A mere 3,000 Gaza residents turned out in Jabalya on Sunday for a Hamas rally marking the first anniversary of its war with Israel.

What makes this so surprising is that just two weeks earlier, Hamas succeeded in getting 100,000 Gazans into the streets for a rally marking the 22nd anniversary of its founding. Hence Sunday’s low turnout was not a protest against Hamas in general; it was a protest aimed specifically at Hamas’s claim that “Gaza was victorious” in the war. Gaza residents know better.

And so do the Israelis across the border. In the year since the war — a year of global recession, rising unemployment, and falling salaries — housing prices in communities within rocket range of Gaza have risen an incredible 40 to 50 percent due to surging demand. A year ago, apartments in towns like Sderot went begging. Today, there is scarcely an empty apartment to be had, and Gaza-area communities are frantically building new housing to accommodate the demand.

What makes this housing boom particularly remarkable is that everyone in Israel knows last year’s victory was only temporary. Hamas’s grip on Gaza has only grown stronger since the war. And not only has Hamas rapidly replenished its arsenal, but according to Israeli intelligence, it now has more sophisticated weaponry, including longer-range rockets, than it did a year ago. Hence the next round is only a matter of time.

But the war nevertheless accomplished something more than a mere hiatus in the rocket fire: It convinced southern Israelis that their government was both willing and able to defend them. That belief had vanished over the previous three years, as Hamas rained almost 6,000 rockets and mortars on southern Israel with impunity, and the inevitable result was an exodus from the south. Now, with restored faith in their government’s willingness and ability to protect them, they are willing to risk round two.

And that, ultimately, may be the war’s greatest accomplishment. Deterrence is important, and Sunday’s rally shows that the war in fact achieved it: By staying away en masse, Gaza residents made it clear that they know they lost, and are anything but eager for a repeat. And since Hamas is not immune to public opinion, that means it will probably be some time before it tries again.

But nothing is more important to a country’s long-term health than its citizens’ faith in the willingness and ability of their government to fulfill its most basic obligation: to protect them from attack. In the three years preceding the war, that faith was badly eroded. The war, as the south’s housing boom shows, has restored it.

Thus Israel will begin the new year with renewed deterrence abroad and renewed faith in government at home. For all the problems it still faces, that’s a big improvement over where it stood this time last year.


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