(2 of 2)
The experience of the Gaza pullout convinced even some of the most ardent peace activists that turning over full control of the West Bank to the Palestinians could be dangerous. With land for peace discredited, the Israeli public turned to deterrence, using the strongest army in the region to crush opponents. Once Palestinians realize that they cannot defeat Israel the thinking goes Israel's other adversaries will too.
Even for those Israelis still disposed to think that peace with the Palestinians is possible, there is a new worry. In the run-up to the Gaza war, the Israeli public was constantly told that Hamas was Iran's proxy. According to some experts, Iran whose President has said, "Israel has no right to exist and soon will vanish" was providing Hamas with long-range and more-accurate missiles, money and training. It was a powerful argument that was repeated often in the Israeli media, to chilling effect.
The Gaza war has shifted the course of Israel's current election campaign. Avshalom Vilan, a Knesset member from Meretz, a left-wing party, said it would have been "committing political suicide" not to support the war. Both Meretz and the mainstream Labor Party did so but said the air strikes should have ended after the first three days to keep down the civilian casualties. "The electorate now has a deep hatred of Arabs, such distrust," says Vilan. "They see us as Arab lovers, and they don't accept that we're patriots fighting for the long-term interests of Israel." Polls suggest that neither party is expected to increase its representation in the Knesset in the Feb. 10 election, and the odds are on the Gaza war's helping sweep a right-wing coalition into power.
The peace cause was not aided by the way the Israeli military muzzled media coverage of the war. Most correspondents were barred from entering Gaza, and viewers of Israeli TV news were, for the most part, shown only the aerial ballet of fighter planes streaking through pillars of smoke rising from the bombs they had dropped. Yossi Sarid, a Ha'aretz columnist and former Meretz politician, says, "People only saw the sterile version of the war. I think they'll be shocked when they see the images coming out of Gaza once the reporters are allowed inside."
That may be the case. On Jan. 16, an Israeli TV news show telephoned a Gaza doctor, Izzeldin Abuelaish, known for his dedication to peace, for a live broadcast. The call came just after a tank had shelled the living room of his home in a refugee camp, killing three of his daughters and a niece. Through the TV channel's influence, the Israeli military helped evacuate the doctor's other wounded relatives. But his plaintive question "Why, why did they do this?" touched the hearts of many Israelis.
And there are indeed Israelis who still want to reach out to Palestinians. They are part of what political scientist Ezrahi calls "the liberal-humanitarian strain" of the peace movement. Such activists help protect Arab Bedouins from armed Jewish settlers, challenge illegal demolition of Arab houses in East Jerusalem, keep an eye out for bullying Israeli guards at Palestinian checkpoints and fight in Israeli courts against army and police excesses. But even among these die-hard believers in peace, there is a sense of exhaustion, says David Shulman, a Hebrew University professor of Tamil language and culture who is an activist of Ta'ayush, which defends Palestinians from settlers who destroy their olive groves. "We're worn out," says Shulman. "The right wing has sold to the Israeli public [former Prime Minister] Ariel Sharon's foolish idea that there are no partners among the Palestinians." Until that changes until Israel is prepared to talk to its Palestinian adversaries, and they are prepared to listen the fighting is bound to continue.
Back in Sderot, Zion still doesn't dare go too far from her bunker, which she has converted into a cozy study, decorated with drawings from Sderot's children. The cease-fire in Gaza could end any moment, and rockets could crash down again. "I've got five seconds, maybe less, to reach my bunker before a rocket hits," says Zion. "Enough with this music of vengeance."
With reporting by Aaron J. Klein / Jerusalem
The original version of this story included a quote attributed to former Israeli army chief Moshe Ya'alon, "it will be seared deep into the consciousness of Palestinians that they are a defeated people." Though this quotation has been used widely over the years, the original source cannot be found, so TIME should not have used it.