September/October 2000

Afraid of the Truth

By Natan Sharansky

Thursday , October 12, 2000

JERUSALEM –– Nearly 20 years ago, confined to an eight-by-ten cell in a prison on the border of Siberia, I was granted by my Soviet jailers the "privilege" of reading the latest copy of Pravda, official mouthpiece of the Communist regime. Splashed across the front page was a condemnation of Ronald Reagan for having the temerity to call the Soviet Union an "evil empire."

Tapping on walls and talking through toilets, prisoners quickly spread the word of Reagan's "provocation" throughout the prison. The dissidents were ecstatic. Finally, the leader of the free world had spoken the truth--a truth that burned inside the heart of each and every one of us.

For decades, with few exceptions, the moral authority of the Soviet Union had rarely been challenged. Some, particularly those who saw in communism's egalitarian ideals the antidote to all the ills of capitalism and democracy, were simply duped by a totalitarian society that could so easily manipulate the picture it presented to the outside world.

But sadly, most were not blind to the truth--they were just frightened by it. They understood what the Soviet Union represented but, knowing the price of confrontation, preferred to close their eyes to it. Rationalizing their cowardice with morally comforting words such as "peace" and "co-existence," they pursued the path of appeasement.

Today the nations of the free world also prefer to close their eyes to the truth in the Middle East in general and the Arab-Israeli conflict in particular. While in practice the Arab states do not pose the threat of a belligerent superpower, the West's attitude toward these authoritarian regimes is all too familiar. Some, who see Palestinian stone throwers as David to Israel's Goliath, are again duped by the manipulations of a brutal dictator who sends children to the front lines to achieve through tragedy what he cannot achieve through diplomacy.

But most people are not so easily duped. They simply choose to blindfold themselves rather than confront a discomforting truth. Instead of pressuring Arab tyrants to free their own peoples from the yoke of oppression, the West prefers to view them as a "stabilizing" force.

When the peace process began, Israel and the West had a remarkable opportunity to use their influence to ensure that the emerging Palestinian society could evolve into a liberal, democratic state. Instead they spent the better part of 10 years subsidizing tyranny.

The goal was to strengthen Yasser Arafat and his PLO, supposedly a force for moderation and compromise. With his 40,000-man armed police force, Arafat was supposed to serve as Israel's proxy in the war on terror, and would do it, as the late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin said, "without a Supreme Court, without human rights organizations and without bleeding- heart liberals."

This policy, supported by the West, was not designed to solve a genuine Palestinian human rights problem but to export it.

In the past two weeks we have seen the consequences of this folly. The man who promised at Oslo to renounce the violent struggle against the Jewish state once again uses violence as an instrument of negotiation. His police have turned their guns against the state that armed them, while his kangaroo courts have released dozens of Hamas terrorists drenched with the blood of his "partner" in peace.

Needing an external enemy to justify internal repression, he continues to incite against Israel. With new textbooks depicting a map of Palestine that stretches from the Mediterranean to the Dead Sea but does not include a Jewish state, he is educating the next generation of Palestinians that they will soon take up arms in a holy jihad.

In response to all this, the world can summon sufficient courage only to condemn a democratic Israel for defending itself against enemies within and without who seek its destruction. It is assailed for provoking the Palestinians by visiting our people's holiest site, when the real provocation is not our sovereignty over a Temple Mount that is the soul of the Jewish people but our sovereignty, period.

No doubt a government that is prepared to make far-reaching and dangerous concessions will soon be pressed to make more, so that the free states can remain safely behind their blindfolds. The only free state in this vast region of tyranny will be asked to concede more in the name of "peace" and "coexistence" to an Arab world that wants nothing of the sort.

Thirty years ago, Democratic Sen. Henry Jackson of Washington state courageously stood against the bipartisan forces of appeasement and issued a moral challenge to an immoral state. By speaking the same truth a decade later, Republican President Ronald Reagan helped free hundreds of millions of people around the world, and sparked a democratic flame that continues to engulf and threaten tyrannies. Who will speak the truth today and allow freedom to reach this region where only one nation carries its torch?

The writer, a former Soviet dissident, is a member of the Israeli parliament and formerly served as interior minister in the Barak government.

© 2000 The Washington Post

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