During World War 2, friends and myself (too young for the military) asked ourselves “Would you rather be a dead hero or a live coward?” My recollection is that “dead hero” was near 100% for the answer. Even today, many USA adolescents enlist at their earliest possible age, choose the Marines, and hope for military action. It is patriotism mixed with glory, and it is not a recent phenomenon; check the legends in all cultures of youth defeating the Spirits of Hades, or the dragon, or the raging seas, or David against Goliath. A popular recurring example is the running with the bulls in Pamplona, with the “mozos” hoping to touch the bulls during the run.
Does Israel understand that it is now a rite of honor for a Gazan youth to show on Friday to demonstrate and taunt Israel soldiers and provoke live gunfire? Show off to your friends, take the criticism of your worried but proud parents, have something to tell your children when they are themselves adolescents. Best of all would be to be wounded in a minor, non-disabling way; to be carried off by weeping friends, maybe your picture taken by a journalist. Maybe it’s enough to show up just once or twice, but there are plenty of adolescent boys in Gaza to keep this going.
The Friday pattern now cast, all the cease-fire talks in the world are not going to stop this adolescent urge. The only thing that will stop it is punishment by Hamas, and Hamas obviously has a perverse interest in continuing this behavior even after it can claim to have an agreement to stop it.
Given today’s reality, Israel itself cannot alter this urge of the Arab boy to be in the fight. Even if the outcome is unattainable, the desire to have publicly demonstrated is there. And since each month new boys come of age who wish to also be seen as having been on the front lines, it is likely these demonstrations will continue even after an agreement with Hamas unless Israel foresees this as a problem outside of politics. Hamas has the power to stop this bragging and Israel should insist that Hamas enforce an end to demonstrations in any agreement. Otherwise it seems likely this weekly catastrophe will continue.