Saying that Israel has launched a war that pits “terrorism against democracy,” Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Natan Sharansky called on American Jews this week to use their influence to convince the world to allow Israel to finish the job.
“With all of the information we have, we know there are hundreds — not thousands — of people actively involved in the [terrorist] infrastructure,” Sharansky told The Jewish Week. “The world must understand it and not try to stop us in the middle of the war. That is the challenge for American Jews. [This war] is in the basic interests of all the free world.”
Sharansky said that history has proven that “when the cruel killing of Jews is successful, it has meant the cruel killing of others. This is a war between terrorism and democracy and we must continue with this operation.”
The United Nations Security Council last weekend called on both sides to implement a cease-fire and for Israel to withdraw from its West Bank incursions. The United States supported the resolution, but President George W. Bush did not repeat that call in subsequent press conferences on Saturday and Monday.
The Israeli offensive confined Palestinian President Yasir Arafat to two or three rooms in his Ramallah compound, which was virtually destroyed by Israeli tanks. Inside the compound, Israeli troops found counterfeit Israeli money and the plates used to make the phony currency, as well as rocket-propelled grenades, anti-tank weaponry and other supplies that are illegal under the Oslo Accords Arafat signed in 1993.
image2goeshere Israeli troops made forays into several other Palestinian-controlled towns and villages in the largest Israeli military operation inside Israel. Dore Gold, a Sharon adviser, said the troops were careful to “leave innocent civilians alone.”
Gold said troops were going house to house to find terrorists and illegal weapons. He noted that seven Israelis were injured when they entered a house that was booby-trapped with a bomb.
“This is very dangerous work but a Jewish army does not use massive firepower against a civilian population,” he said.
Jewish leaders on a conference call Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon pledged their support. Morton Zuckerman, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, told Sharon: “We stand with you and assure you of our commitment to work with you.”
Robert Goldberg, chairman of the executive committee of the United Jewish Communities, said his organization was ready to help financially, politically and with public opinion. But he asked that Sharon assign someone to keep diaspora Jews informed of government policies “to make sure we are on the same wavelength as you.”
In his remarks, Sharon pointed out that two weeks ago Israel gave up its demand for seven days of quiet and had withdrawn its forces from Palestinian-controlled territory to help foster the cease-fire efforts of Vice President Dick Cheney and Middle East envoy Anthony Zinni.
“All we’ve received in return is terror, terror and more terror,” Sharon said. “No nation would put up with such attacks. We had no choice but to combat terrorism by ourselves in order to restore security to our citizens. We launched this campaign against terrorism to uproot the terrorist infrastructure, terrorist activity and terrorist organizations.”
Sharon added that it would be a “long, difficult and complex” struggle but that Israel was fighting for “our values and way of life.”
“United, determined and with confidence in the justness of our cause, we will prevail and achieve peace with security for us and our neighbors and our future generations,” he said.
Operation Defensive Wall
Dubbed “Operation Defensive Wall,” the Israeli assault on the Palestinian terrorist infrastructure began following what an Israeli press spokesman called the “Passover Massacre,” in which 24 Israelis were killed by a suicide bomber as they began their seder in a hotel dining room in Netanya.
Until that attack, many Israelis still believed a “provisional cease-fire” could be achieved with Arafat, according to Colette Avital, a Knesset member from the Labor Party. “The ‘Passover Massacre’ ended that [hope].”
Bobby Brown, an adviser to former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, said that act was “so horrific because [the bomber] was not fighting against soldiers but fighting against families who were set for prayer. What it did, in conjunction with everything else, was to create a doubt about whether Israelis could live in safety in Israel.”
Brown said the military response was necessary because “the first duty of any government must be the safety of its citizens.”
That suicide bombing was quickly followed by a succession of others on a daily basis. There were six attacks in six days that claimed the lives of 39 Israelis before the Passover holiday even ended.
Among them was the suicide bombing of a Haifa cafe that killed 15 — Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs alike in a northern coastal city in which Jews and Arabs live in relative harmony. The cafe was owned by a Jew and managed by an Israeli Arab.
Among the dead were Aviel Ron, 54, Haifa, who was killed with his two children, Ofer, 17, and Anat, 21. Sharansky said Ron worked in the Housing Ministry, which Sharansky also heads.
“He was charming, intelligent, inventive and sensitive to people,” said Sharansky. “I just came from the funeral. Three coffins. Now his wife and mother are all alone. She couldn’t believe it happened. She kept crying, ‘No, no.’ ”
A quick-thinking paramedic is credited with averting a tragedy Sunday in Efrat when he stopped a Palestinian who snuck into the West Bank community and said he was on his way to buy cigarettes.
Dr. Yitzchak Glick, the head of Efrat’s medical clinic, said that as the paramedic, Assaf Perlman, stretched out his arm to get the man to stop for questioning by a security guard, the man blew himself up. Perlman was seriously wounded, along with Nathaniel Fenischel, 16, a former New Yorker who was nearby.
“We are very thankful to God that no one was killed,” said Glick.
What Happens Next?
As Israeli troops increased their footprint in the territories, much of the Israeli public applauded the action. But many also are questioning the length of the operation and what happens next.
Sharansky said the government’s vision is that once the war against the terrorist infrastructure and organizations is completed — Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said it would take “three or four weeks” but Sharansky would not set a date — Israel then would move into political negotiations to bring about lasting peace.
“We’re now trying to finalize with the Americans and other leaders how to move after the cessation of violence against terror is over,” he said. “We want to move ahead to change the economic and social situation of the Palestinians, and that includes dismantling the refugee camps. We’ll do it with the help of those Palestinians who are ready to be concerned about their people.”
He pointed out that he met recently with Palestinians who had reached out to him because of their desire to see a Palestinian state and who did not “side with the suicide bombers and the corrupt mafia” of the Arafat regime.
But Avital said that “as long as Arafat is around, it is not realistic” for other Palestinians to step forward.
“Nobody would dare to challenge him, even though they may understand that what he is doing is useless,” she said. “He has the power myth. He’s the hero. The longer we confine him like a prisoner, or even if we expel him, the more he becomes the hero.”
Asked if Arafat would retain control even from exile, Avital replied: “He pulled the strings from Tunis,” where he sought refuge after being expelled from Lebanon 20 years ago by Israeli forces under the direction of Sharon, then defense minister.
But Sharansky said he believed other Palestinians would step forward once Arafat’s influence begins to wane.
“The moment his practical influence on Palestinian society, his control of the structure of power [diminishes], other Palestinians will be able to raise their voices and challenge Arafat,” he said.
“I believe that is a good strategy,” Sharansky said, answering critics who contend the government has no plans after the military operation is completed. “It is not simple and it needs a lot of understanding from the outside world.”
Sharansky noted that Europe and the United States continue to view Arafat as the only hope for peace, something he called “absolutely ridiculous.”
Considering The Saudi Plan
At the start of the week, members of the Knesset and Israeli daily newspapers were demanding that the government spell out exactly the goal of the military operation and its long-term objectives.
“If the goal is to bring Arafat to his knees begging for a cease-fire, then why were 20,000 reservists called up?” asked the daily tabloid Maariv. “If the goal is to conquer large areas and remain in them, it has to be declared clearly — at least to cabinet ministers — as they might reconsider their vote.”
And the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee decided Monday not to authorize the call-up of another 31,000 reservists, claiming Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer had failed to provide sufficient reason for the action. The committee was set to meet again late this week, and asked that Sharon or Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz appear to further explain the need for the reservists.
Ben-Eliezer reportedly had told the committee that once the military operation was over, the peace initiative of Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah “is a possible basis” for future political negotiations.” At a summit meeting last week, the Arab League adopted the plan with several modifications.
The plan now calls for Arab states to have normal relations with Israel once Israel withdraws to the pre-1967 borders, grants the Palestinians their own state with Jerusalem as its capital and arrives at a just solution to the issue of 3.6 million Palestinian refugees.
Although Sharon said on “60 Minutes” last Sunday that he would be willing to fly to Washington to discuss the Saudi initiative with the U.S. and other Arab leaders, Gold said the government has not made a decision to pursue the Saudi suggestion.
The fact that Ben-Eliezer is openly talking about the initiative has caused speculation that the Labor Party may seek to leave the governing coalition once the military campaign has ended. Sharon is now reportedly wooing three right-wing parties in a bid to get them to enter the government to prevent a collapse of his coalition should Labor leave.
Avital said she and others have “mixed feelings” about the military operation. Although they believe something must be done to stop the wave of terrorist attacks, “many people are a little skeptical about how much such an operation can achieve,” she said.
“The more we stay in, the more we are capable of reaching the infrastructure of Palestinian terrorism and the more arrests we can make,” Avital explained. “On the other hand, people know it is not going to totally prevent [all] the suicide bombers.”
She said there has been some success, however, noting that only last week, more than 20 acts of terrorism were thwarted by the IDF. One reason for that, Avital said, is that some of those who prepared the missions have been among hundreds of Palestinians arrested.
“But it’s like a mushroom after the rain,” she said. “It’s a deeper problem and the majority of those in my party believe it is not going to achieve everything.”