(April 15) - Internal Security Minister Uzi Landau, whose dry manner conceals fiercely held political views, tells Herb Keinon and Margot Dudkevitch why his own government must do more to fight against terror -
It is an Uzi Landau moment that stands out in memory because, well, it was so un-Uzi Landau like.
At the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds back in November 1997, when disenchantment with then prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu inside the Likud was reaching fever pitch, the generally staid Landau - one of Netanyahu's most vociferous critics - leapt on a chair on the lawn and, striking the pose of a union organizer firing up the workers, berated his own party.
"The Likud is sick, very sick," Landau shouted, to replies of "yes!" and "right!" "There is a serious rift between the party activists and the leaders. The party only wakes up before elections, and after that it falls into a deep sleep. Its institutions have become democratic only in name, and the activists are not involved. The activists are the ones who brought us victory; let's not go like sheep to the slaughter."
It was an impassioned speech by a man who, at least in public, demonstrates so little passion; a colorful pose by a man whose public persona is so colorless.
Three and a half years later, the party - thanks to Ariel Sharon's election victory - has woken up. And Landau - understated, gray, consistent, and very right-wing - is where few people imagined he would be: in the high profile and influential job of minister of internal security.
In these days of fear and rage, terror and violence, that particular job - which carries with it automatic entry into the security cabinet which decides the country's overall defense policy - is both high profile and one tall order. How do you provide security for a population that feels so insecure?
For starters, says Landau, 57, sitting in his office in a building behind Israel Police headquarters in Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, the government should do more than it is doing.
"The government's activity up until now has been very minimal," he says, characterizing the various activities against the Palestinian Authority in the last month as "the beginning of the change, the end of the beginning. No more than an introduction. My demand in the cabinet is to intensify [these actions].
"This government," Landau continues, "has changed the policy in the struggle against terror - not as a response, or retaliation, but a systematic, consistent struggle, regardless of whether there was or was not a terror act, and regardless of whether or not it succeeded."
Part of that policy, he said, repeating the mantra of his boss, Prime Minister Sharon, "is that we will not negotiate while there is terror. As a part of that policy, we make a distinction between those who are involved in terror and those among the Palestinian population who are willing to live with us in coexistence. With the latter, we want to keep channels open, we want to make it clear to those who are willing to coexist with us that they will have a livelihood and respect. We will not harm them."
But for those involved in terror, the government has to be involved in a consistent and protracted battle.
"It has to be continuous," Landau insists. "Actions must be carried out daily and hourly, so that the price paid by the Palestinian Authority, and those who use the tools of violence and terror, will be insufferable, and no longer a feasible method to be used to advance political interests."
Landau, who has been described by journalists as "leak-proof," will go no further, providing no clue as to what he thinks should be the country's response to the mortar fire on Gush Katif or the sniper fire in Hebron.
Asked if Sharon should have taken a more forceful response to the murder of Shalhevet Pass in Hebron and the string of bombings in Jerusalem two weeks ago, Landau replies, "I will not go into more than what I said now. It is clear to me after conversations with the prime minister that that is the direction."
ONLY A few of the bookshelves in Landau's new office have books on them; the rest stand bone bare. One framed generic poster graces the wall.
Nothing stands out. Nothing grabs you. The room lacks personality.
Landau's office seems as nondescript as its tenant. But this nondescript nature seems to have benefited Landau. In Sharon's mammoth cabinet, Landau is decidedly in the right corner, with only Rehavam Ze'evi and Avigdor Lieberman outflanking him in that direction.
But Landau's statements - because of how he says them - are not as easily dismissed as "right-wing ravings" by the country's mainstream as those made by Lieberman and Ze'evi, giving more proof to the old saying that it is not what you say, but how you say it.
And Landau "says it" without fire, without brimstone. He "says it" deliberately, quietly, analytically, consistently, in measured tones.
Like a systems analyst with a Ph.D from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (which he has); like a gentleman (which he is - the proud recipient once upon a time of the Knesset's "Most Polite MK" award).
"Any person or Palestinian interest that is involved in terror should not feel immune from the price that we will extract," Landau threatens, without modulating his voice. "That is the same logic of all governments throughout the years - Ben-Gurion, Begin, Eshkol, Shamir."
But something got messed up at Oslo, he believes.
"Since Oslo, Israel has became the Middle East's punching bag. And if you show everyone that they can punch you, then in the final analysis they will do it. That is what happened in Lebanon, and what happened with [PA Chairman Yasser] Arafat in Judea and Samaria."
Stating clearly what Sharon will only hint at, Landau says that that in his mind Arafat's actions clearly place him in the "enemy" category, not in the category labeled "partner."
"There should be no doubt, Arafat is an enemy - and against that enemy, we need to fight."
Landau charges that Arafat's actions, not any determination by himself or anyone else, have turned the Palestinian leader into an enemy.
"When he educates his youth to see the Jews as Satan on earth, to see us as the enemy of mankind; when you see him praise the suicide bombers, and educate a complete generation against us, and toward jihad on Jerusalem, and liberating and saving Beersheba, Tel Aviv, and Haifa; and when you add to this his actions - this is what has indicated he is an enemy. Not me.
"When you see him giving the green light to a sniper to aim for the head of a 10-month-old baby [Shalhevet Pass], what sort of partner is he," Landau continues. "He isn't a partner for peace, he is Saddam Hussein's partner or the partner of the ayatollah in Iran. I don't know how much more time has to pass, and how many more victims we have to lose, before the remnant of those people who still think that Oslo is a process that in the end will leave the PLO and Israel fighting Hamas together will see that this is not logical."
Yet the head of his own government, the chairman of his own party, received a cordial phone call from Arafat the day before Pessah, wishing him and the Jewish people a happy holiday. Is this how enemies behave?
"That is my opinion," reiterates Landau of his characterization of Arafat. "But we are in a unity government. In [Foreign Minister Shimon] Peres's words, 'Arafat is a partner who erred.'
"I see him as an enemy. The government did not make a formal decision. It is a unity government. We are sitting together not because we agree to an ideological or political plank, but because we agree on a course of action and on the definition of the country's immediate dangers.
"I think unity is very important, and for that I am willing to compromise on some of the things I believe in - for unity. And out of the realization that even if we are not doing exactly what I think we should be doing, we are going in the right direction. That is the nature of politics."
Landau's immediate predecessor as internal security minister, Shlomo Ben-Ami, met numerous times with Arafat and security chiefs in Gaza, Judea, and Samaria. Landau says he too would do it if his job makes it necessary.
"The question is not my willingness. When someone takes upon himself a position, he takes upon himself certain obligations," he explains, adding by way of illustration that although he has never set foot in Germany, this too is something he would do if his current job makes it necessary.
"I'm not sure that we have not exhausted the talks and dialogue with Arafat and his people," Landau adds. "I would like to see more military activity. Not high profile, without exposing ourselves to the demands [by the Palestinians] for international protection, but much more than we are doing now. We can do this with wisdom, consideration, without so many helicopters and tanks - I think we exaggerated a little with this. But we can do more than we are doing now."
Asked if killing intifada leaders and activists is effective, or counterproductive because of the international criticism it engenders, Landau cautiously replies, "I am not here to confirm or deny that Israel engages in assassinations." Yet, he points out, the US had no qualms in the past over bombing Muammar Gaddafi's bases or palace, or sending missiles in the direction of Osama bin Laden. Nor, he said, have the British hesitated going after IRA terrorists in Northern Ireland. Those now criticizing Israel for acts they have done in the past are "not on morally strong ground."
"I think that when you choose the specific targets, and know that if you hit them, you are preventing mass murder of innocents, all the talk about [the assassinations as] murder are hypocritical. We have to give a real answer to the population that needs protection."
Regarding criticism of these actions by other countries, Landau is even more adamant.
"When I look at France, for instance, which recently has gotten closer to Saddam Hussein and Iran, and other countries which have followed in its wake, I ask myself, who are they to preach to us?"
Landau has also been strongly critical of the Or Commission, set up to investigate the police handling of the riots in last October in which 13 Israeli Arabs were shot dead. Establishing the commission, asserts Landau, was "definitely a bad mistake and those who did so should have known that it would be seen as a slap in the face of the police, an expression of no confidence in those who stood firm at a difficult hour and did what they did for the security of Israel.
"No one there did what they did because they wanted to, or because they enjoyed it," Landau continues. "There was a small force there that was not properly equipped or trained for these ugly mobs, some of them yelling 'Kill the Jews.' This was not a normal demonstration of people wanting bread or equal rights.
"There is no doubt that the committee was established for political reasons right before the elections, and I'm sorry it was done. It is completely clear that it has harmed the morale of the police, and I will do everything to express my complete confidence in the fact that the police acted according to their judgment for the benefit of the public.
"I am obligated as head of the police to ensure that law and order will be preserved in the Arab sector. My job is also to safeguard their right to protest, to allow them say all that is on their minds - including the difficult things they have to say - while maintaining law and order. It needs to be clear that I will be an ally to those in the Arab community that have tied their lot to the State of Israel, and are loyal to Israel as a Jewish and Zionist state that has a minority that deserves equal rights."
IT BECOMES clear in a conversation that this son of Haim Landau, an Irgun chief-of-staff and later Likud cabinet minister, feels that historical right and justice are clearly on Israel's side, and that few have the right to preach morality to it.
This technocrat, whose mannerism and speech bring to mind the dry unemotionalism of a Moshe Arens (once one of Landau's political mentors), speaks like a veritable poet when talking about Zionism and living in Israel. One of those pre-post-Zionists, Landau attributes many of the country's ills - which he is now empowered to battle - to society's growing distance from the country's Jewish and Zionist roots.
The rash of crimes involving Jews that a few years ago would have been considered unthinkable are symptomatic of a rot that has slowly crept into a society that cares more for computers and a high standard of living than for Zionist and Jewish values, Landau says.
The arrest of Jean Elraz for allegedly killing Kibbutz Menara security chief Yitzhak Kvartatz, stealing the kibbutz's weapons, and selling them to Palestinians, or the arrest of Angelica Yosepov, suspected of being an accomplice in the bombing run of her Palestinian boyfriend, are "expressions of a process that has continued for a number of years, whereby Israeli society has distanced itself from its Jewish and Zionist values that were the true base of its strength. This is a process that has continued for a number of decades, but especially in the last 20 years when the state educational system made conscious decisions to distance itself from these fundamentals."
And while this distancing from the cardinal values was taking place, Landau says, along came the Oslo Accords and intoxicated the nation with the notion of peace. This became the most important thing, and pushed everything else - immigration, education, connection with the Diaspora, a feeling of obligation to every Jew - to the side. Then, Landau says, standard of living, economics, and computers become the highest values, and Judaism and Zionism less so.
"So why are we surprised that from time to time there is a drop in the number of youth willing to go into the elite IDF units, or that parts of the haredi community - in huge and exaggerated numbers - are demanding to evade their obligatory service."
Considering this crisis in values, it is not that difficult to understand, according to Landau, how some on the fringes would go so far as to cooperate with the enemy. His mention of the Oslo process in this context raises the question of whether he sees it as responsible for what he views as the country's diminishing values.
"The Oslo process sped it up. It did not cause it," he says. "If before the establishment of the state there was a clear goal and orientation - to establish a country, a democratic state, a light unto the nations - then once we achieved it, the question became how to give the state content. Some said a Jewish state, others said a state like all others.
"But if the latter was the case, then why here? If all we need in Israel is that we be democratic, pluralistic, and humanistic, then it is not surprising that kids come out of high school and say: 'Democracyâ why here? Why not in England? Is it any less democratic there? What does America lack?' "
Landau speaks of the imperative to impart through the educational system the special values, "the 'additional soulâ' of Jews have who live here, and for which it is worth endangering oneself, for which it is worth suffering. The people must be infused with a feeling that they are taking part in a great historical justice, in an enterprise that only a few Jews in the world are lucky enough to take part in. We are an aristocracy, and like all aristocracies, it sometimes necessitates noblesse oblige."
These are words that one would expect to hear from the education minister, or even from the prime minister trying to shore up morale. But not from the police minister. Except, of course, if the internal security minister is trying to prepare the country for a long, protracted battle, likely to entail more suffering, more sacrifice, and more hardship.
©2001 - Jerusalem Post