30 Nisan 5762 04:47Friday April 12, 2002

We have no choice
Natan Sharansky

(April 12) - We continue to face critical days and the international pressures will only increase before they recede. But when we deal with vital national interests, contending with these pressures becomes less, not more, difficult: we simply have no choice.

President George W. Bush's statement last Wednesday concerning events in the Middle East was of historical importance. He stated, with simple but profound clarity that "the Palestinian people deserve a government which respects human rights."

For a decade, the entire civilized world, with Israel and the US leading, betrayed its principles by promoting, supporting, and condoning a corrupt leader who suppressed all Palestinian impulses and aspirations for a free and just society. Our leaders calculated that Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat would suppress terrorism in return for his international rehabilitation and a license to plunder his people. It would be easier for him, it was reasoned, because he would not be limited by the restraints of a democratic society.

This bargain with the devil, as with all such bargains, was bound to boomerang. Not only did Arafat fail to curb terrorism, he recruited, supported, and directed the terrorists themselves in the most cruel and inhumane acts of wanton and indiscriminate terror yet witnessed. Like all dictators, he needed an enemy to keep his people from focusing on their problems, and we were the perfect choice.

The last wave of terror directed by the very leader who was supposed to fight it, finally exploded this absurd illusion. We can no longer allow Arafat to pretend to play the role of peacemaker while ordering and directing the terror. Far from Arafat being our only hope, only without Arafat is there hope.

While Israel has not suffered a single terrorist assault such as that perpetrated against the United States on September 11, in the last month, more than 150 of us have been slaughtered in a series of random attacks while going about the simple daily tasks of living. For our small society, this is an even greater loss per capita.

But numbers alone do not define the terrible ordeal. For within each family suffering a loss, there is unbearable grief and pain, and a terrible, neverending void. And for each family suffering a death, tens of other families have had members permanently disabled, or scarred. At the funeral of my Housing Ministry colleague, Aviel Ron, and his two murdered children, his widow, and their mother, cried out in utter disbelief, "ze lo yachol lihiyot" (this cannot be happening). This is what all of us are saying, and each of us must do everything in our power to make absolutely sure that this does not continue.

What our defense forces are doing now is long overdue. Even our vast intelligence networks were surprised to discover the scope and power of the network of terror in place. We are finally uprooting this network using careful, surgical methods. Even after the tragic death of 13 soldiers in Jenin, the army did not resort to bombing which would save the lives of our soldiers at the expense of Palestinian civilians.

There is no example of any other army in the world taking such painful precautions to save innocent lives - not Europe, not the United States and not Russia. Those we seek hide behind innocent civilians, and especially, children and adolescents. They hide also in churches and mosques and take monks and nuns hostage. Those we are chasing booby trap houses and even churches. Advancing cautiously means moving methodically and moving slowly.

Because of these very difficult circumstances, we need several weeks to eliminate most of the sources of terror. This work must be done now in order to save our citizens later.

We have already arrested close to 1000 terrorists, about 100 of whom actually murdered our innocent people. Among those arrested, are those who directed the massacres at the Dolphinarium, at the Seafood Market, and at Sbarro Pizza. The terrorist responsible for the massacre at the Seder in Netanya was killed in a highly sophisticated operation conducted by the IDF and the security services.

If we are forced to stop short before the completion of our mission, we will, at some point, have to return. And the cost in innocent lives on both sides will be far greater.

History teaches us that Jews have often been murdered in cruel and unusual ways. From the harugei hamalchut (Jewish matyrs) in Roman times to the Inquisition, to the pogroms, and more recently, the gas chambers. And each time, it begins with the murder of Jews but ends with the murder of many others. Today, we are subject to yet another diabolical phenomenon - human suicide bombs.

But this time, things are different. For today, we have a sovereign Jewish state to defend and protect our citizens. And by protecting our people from this new weapon of terror, Israel is at the vanguard of those protecting the civilized world from this new danger.

That much of the free world condemns us for doing what we must and what they themselves would do, is offensive and hurtful. But it is not the first time and we simply have no choice.

(The writer is deputy prime minister and minister of construction and housing.)