The recent suicide bombing at the Sharon Mall in Netanya claimed "only" five Jewish lives. Drive-by shootings have become almost routine. Potentially lethal Kassam rockets directed against Israeli civilians are a daily event. In most instances, initial responses are momentary anger followed by relief "because it could have been much worse" - a shocking reflection of how we are acclimatizing ourselves to such horror.
In what has become the standard ritual following attacks, the prime minister condemns the terrorists, receives global messages of condolence and makes threats. Empty fields and buildings in Gaza are bombed and targeted assassinations renewed. Checkpoints are apologetically reinstated. And innocent Israelis are buried and scores of wounded remain in hospitals.
A year ago, then chief of staff Moshe Ya'alon demonstrated that tough military action, especially systematic targeted assassinations, could dramatically reduce terror attacks. The killers were in disarray and some Palestinians even began to publicly suggest that violence was only intensifying their misery.
That was short-lived, because after Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced unilateral withdrawals, the terrorists proclaimed victory, insisting that the policy of killing Jews had been vindicated.
Although Sharon did not promise that disengagement would bring about peace, he did insist that the withdrawals would make Israel more secure. Yet despite the restraint we displayed to encourage Mahmoud Abbas to curtail terrorism, and while the Palestinians have a vested interest to temporarily suspend violence, Kassam rocket attacks and suicide bombings continue.
For Abbas, terrorism is a PR problem. After the Netanya attack he again criticized terrorists who "harm Palestinian interests," avoiding casting aspersions on terrorism per se. He announced arrests which at best amounted to an overnight detention and a revolving door. He also said he would absorb terrorists into his security forces, which to our chagrin are being funded and trained in part by Americans.
The reality is that since the death of Arafat, beyond Abbas being a more photogenic vehicle for obfuscating the terror and apparently winning the affection of President George Bush, very little has changed.
BUT THE central problem is not the refusal of Mahmoud Abbas to dismantle the terror infrastructure - which itself would represent a casus belli for any civilized nation. The root source of the violence is that the central pillars of Palestinian society - culture, religion and education - continue to be driven towards the sanctification of the murder of Jews and worship of death.
On the very day of the most recent Netanya carnage, Abbas approved a monthly stipend of $250 per "martyred" family, which combined with other subsidies would amount to about $100 million out of the annual billion dollar PA budget - the bulk of which originates from international aid packages. Families of "martyrs" also receive additional funds from "charities" in Saudi Arabia, Iran and Persian Gulf states.
But this is merely the tip of the iceberg. Recent reports from Palestine Media Watch and MEMRI provide evidence of an obscenely sick society.
In August this year the PA Ministry of Culture's "book of the month" comprised of poems honoring Hanadi Jaradat, the suicide bomber who blew up 21 people at a Haifa restaurant in October 2003.
In July this year the PA sponsored a women's seminar named for Wafa Idris, the first woman suicide bomber, who is constantly promoted as a role model for Palestinian feminism.
The recently opened Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt was named after the terrorist
who killed five Israelis at that location in D e c e m b e r 2004.
A soccer t o u r n a m e n t was named by the PA Minister of Education to honor the ghoul responsible for the murder of 29 Israelis on Pessah eve in Netanya.
Then there are the mothers of suicide bombers who regularly appear on PA TV exulting over the martyrdom of their sons and expressing the hope that their surviving children would follow the same course; PA TV broadcasts covering sermons in mosques calling on congregants to kill Jews; PA sponsored TV programs urging children to regard shahids (martyrs) as their role models; schools, kindergartens and summer camps conveying the same message; and of course, the obscene street celebrations which spontaneously erupt following every successful terrorist attack.
It may not be politically correct to say so, but the reality is that after years of brainwashing, from kindergartens onwards, a large element of the Palestinian population have been transformed into a truly evil society. They have in fact undergone a process not dissimilar to the draconian transformation of the Germans under the Nazis.
Regrettably, in the current environment of intensified incitement, the next generation of Palestinians promises to be even more barbaric. Thus, even if Hamas assumed control the difference would be marginal.
Yet many of our friends continue urging us to be patient and show restraint because Abbas is "trying his best." To many "progressives," including Jews and even some Israelis, the conflict is still perceived as a mindless cycle of violence or a struggle between two peoples over land. That apparently, is the misleading message of Steven Spielberg's film Munich which allegedly presents a moral equivalency between Israelis and Palestinian murderers.
Our government must realize that that if we do not take the initiative in explaining the vile aspects of Palestinian society, the world will never be able to appreciate our position. The Foreign Ministry and Diaspora Jewish communities must launch a massive campaign to explain the true nature of the conflict.
Needless to say we should reiterate our willingness to negotiate a settlement. But if the PA will not or cannot combat the terrorists, we must adopt measures to protect our citizens as would any other civilized country facing such threats.
Without denying the importance of diplomacy, we should tell James Wolfensohn, Condoleezza Rice and, yes, even President Bush that our first priority must be to defend our citizens even if this affects the welfare of Palestinians. If saving lives of innocent Israelis requires us to sever all relationships with the Palestinians, seal off roads and cease all commercial activity with them, we should do so.
Such steps will possibly also require abrogating the deal brazenly imposed on Israel by Condoleezza Rice to provide free passage daily for 1,800 Palestinians between Gaza and the West Bank while we remain under attack by suicide bombers and Kassam rockets.
Instead of empty threats, we should respond to terror attacks by alerting the inhabitants exploited by the terrorists as shields, and then leveling the specific locations from which lethal rockets are launched against our civilian population. No other nation, including the US, would do less.
If we succeed in creating an awareness of the dark hatred which consumes our neighbors, most decent people would understand our need to defend ourselves and would not be swayed by the chorus portraying the conflict as a morally equivalent "cycle of violence." Public opinion could lead to more intensive pressure being exerted on the PA to halt terror and incitement. More importantly it should result in Israelis attending fewer funerals.
The writer is a veteran international Jewish leader.