Until last week, Israel under both the Sharon government and its Barak predecessor conducted itself as if it were possible to lead a normal existence, only periodically punctuated by murderous acts of Palestinian terrorism. This was clearly illusory.
For the past 15 months war has been unleashed against us by the Palestinian Authority, not merely the more bloodthirsty Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists but the authority itself, led by Chairman Yasser Arafat and clearly supported by a large majority of the Palestinian populace.
The general tenor of the Israeli response was that, since this was not a war of the magnitude of 1948, 1967 or 1973, we could easily handle the terrorist atrocities unleashed against both the settlers in the territories and the civilian population in the Israeli heartland, with one hand tied behind our backs; and that we had all the time in the world to do so.
This restrained approach has so far cost us close to 250 killed - the vast majority civilians - and enormous economic damage.
It was an illusion that we could conduct a slowly escalating war against that terrorism, often perpetrated right in front of our doorsteps, while continuing to conduct ourselves in all other fields as if everything was normal. It was not.
One of the saddest examples of this false sense of normality could be seen in the results of the terrorist attack on the Dan bus near Emmanuel last week.
Much of the media and official criticism of the Israeli screwups which contributed to the number of casualties was justifiably levelled at the Dan bus cooperative, which had failed to armor its buses on that line.
But what has mostly been overlooked is that most of those killed in that attack had not been on the bus at all but were driving in unarmored private cars and after nightfall. It is that false sense of normality that made it possible for those drivers to risk their lives and those of their families.
The fact is that quite a number of other settlers have been killed over the past 15 months because of their insistence on their right to "behave normally" by driving on the roads throughout the territories whenever and wherever they liked. Perhaps now, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the army will drop their political bravado and ban all driving on those roads after nightfall until total quiet returns to the territories?
The sad political truth, however, is that there was not much more that we could have done offensively against the Palestinian terrorism during its first year, primarily because of external political pressures. There is no use kidding ourselves: before September 11, the US government led by the State Department would have come down on us like a ton of bricks had we responded to the Arafatian terror with much greater force. Sharon was absolutely correct in placing such primary importance on maintaining our relations with the US when calibrating the intensity of our response.
It is equally clear that the IDF's current response was made possible by a correct reading of the changed atmosphere in the Bush administration following the Muslim fundamentalist attacks on September 11. But it would be well to realize that such windows of opportunity do not remain open for long periods.
It would be well, then, if we conduct the present campaign to round up identifiable terrorists in the territories and root out as many caches of arms and explosives as possible with a full sense of urgency. We will have to accomplish in a week or at most a fortnight what we neglected to do or could not bring ourselves to do over the previous 15 months.
It would also be desirable, once we are already dropping our false sense of normality regarding the prosecution of the war, that we do the same regarding our politics-as-usual. I am referring to grievously mistaken policies towards the haredi parties and to the leadership of the Israeli Arabs. The shock of the murderous attack on the haredi town of Emmanuel should be used to press for finally putting an end to the abomination of extending total exemption from military service to thousands of yeshiva students by giving in to the extortionate demands of haredi rabbis and politicians.
Similarly, the government should take the present opportunity to sever all relations with the Monitoring Committee of the Israeli Arab Leadership, which saw fit over the weekend to throw in its lot with Israel's Palestinian enemies, while also calling for an Arab boycott on all American goods. While denouncing Israel for its "terrorism" against Palestinians in the territories, the Monitoring Committee signally failed to exhort the Palestinians to refrain from attacking Israeli civilians.
©2001 - Jerusalem Post