Isi Leibler 224.88.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Alas. Our fears have been realized. A missile landed in a crowded shopping mall in Ashkelon, a city with 120,000 inhabitants. Although fatalities were miraculously averted, there were over 90 casualties, including a number of seriously wounded.
I learned of the attack at the "Facing Tomorrow" Conference in Jerusalem, held under the auspices of President Shimon Peres. Just moments before President Bush was scheduled to make his appearance, the master of ceremonies informed the packed hall of the tragic event and concluded his announcement with the inappropriate and chilling observation that "we are used to it."
Unfortunately, he was probably right. We all assumed that once a missile hit a key location or inflicted major casualties, a long-overdue, tough IDF response would be instantaneous. Yet it seems our leaders consider that unless it is accompanied by numerous fatalities, the bombing of a crowded shopping mall does not qualify as a sufficiently grave offense to warrant a harsher military response.
It is surely unconscionable for them to continue abandoning their citizens. Yet these leaders have the gall to urge residents to stoically accommodate themselves to further onslaughts in order to promote a make-believe peace process.
Like a broken record, Prime Minister Olmert once again made the same empty threats and repeated the mantra "This must stopâ€¦ it is intolerable and unacceptable." Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Ashkelon residents: "You guys need to bite your lips, but not for long," implying that some miraculous solution beyond military action would soon be unveiled.
The following day Israelis were informed that a military response would take place after the departure of Bush, but that it would be limited to targeting missile launch sites and Hamas activists. It was also once more hinted that the anticipated Gaza invasion was "coming closer" but was being delayed to enable the government to rally "broad international support" for such an operation.
CLEARLY, PRIME Minister Olmert is desperate to avoid being accused of responsibility for derailing the "peace" negotiations with the PA, which would be the consequence of a military confrontation with Hamas. There were also hints that the government was obliged to take account of the sensitivities of the Egyptians, especially in view of their efforts to broker a short-term truce with Hamas.
Yet the IDF is bitterly opposed to such an arrangement, adamant that it would enable Hamas to regroup and acquire more lethal weapons for future confrontations. (In terms of Egyptian sensitivities, it is also noteworthy that the Egyptian minister of culture has just announced that he would be happy to "personally burn Israeli books if they found their way into Egyptian libraries.")
Since the first missile launches - which our leaders initially dismissed as "Kassams, Shmassams" - thousands more have been raining down in northern border areas, where residents have been transformed into refugees in their own country.
The founding fathers of Israel, who vowed to ensure that Jewish blood would never again be shed with impunity, would turn in their graves if they were aware of the behavior of their successors. Could one conceive of Ben-Gurion, Begin or Rabin, out of concern for international public opinion, standing by and failing to protect their citizens while missiles were targeted toward shopping malls and schools? Would they have allowed our deterrence to erode to the point where terrorists dismiss our bombastic, empty threats of retaliation as jokes?
No country in the world whose citizens were under missile attack from murderous neighbors would respond in such an impotent manner, or be concerned with accusations of having responded with disproportionate force.
THERE IS also an element of surrealism when our leaders babble endlessly about peace, implying that all that is required is to haggle over real estate and divide the land between two peoples. Such attitudes deny the reality that, to this day, the overriding Palestinian objective remains to deny Jewish sovereignty. This applies no less to our duplicitous partner for peace, Mahmoud Abbas, who speaks with a forked tongue, than to Hamas, which at least is open about its intentions. Besides, it is abundantly clear that Hamas would today control the West Bank were the IDF not protecting the despised PA regime.
It is thus bizarre when, despite undeniable evidence to the contrary, we endorse the chorus of international leaders promoting the mirage of the feasibility of creating a Palestinian state, today, one that would live peacefully side by side with Israel.
President Peres, who is riding on the crest of a wave of popularity, talks as though the Oslo Accords were still on the table and supports dividing the land with a "partner" who, to this day, does not bother concealing his determination to deny us our right to remain a Jewish state.
In the course of an otherwise sparkling address at the opening of "Facing Tomorrow," our president went to great lengths, stressing the need to set aside the past in order to concentrate on the future. But the truth is that to succeed in the future we are obligated to learn from former mistakes.
If we fail to do so and repeat failures like Oslo or unilateral disengagement, we merely pave the way for more Israelis to die in vain. We must also stop hallucinating and recognize that our "peace partner" is an impotent, unpopular leader without a constituency who, moreover, like Hamas, denies us the right to Jewish sovereignty. Otherwise we will pay a bitter price for living in Wonderland.
With the barbarians at our gates, the time to act is now. Matters can only get worse. Our military intelligence chief predicts that Kiryat Gat, Ashdod and even Beersheba will soon fall into the range of the Hamas rocket launches. Must we wait to act until the Knesset is targeted? Or, God forbid, until there is a mega-bloodbath involving hundreds?
THE VAST majority of Israelis are willing to make great sacrifices to achieve a genuine peace, if they could achieve security. They would also dearly like to live in peace side by side with the Palestinians, or at least be separated from them. But creating false illusions simply undermines any possibility of achieving genuine peace.
Leaders who abandon their citizens, who lack the courage and determination to take the steps required to deter terrorists should no longer be permitted to remain in office. They can certainly not be trusted to negotiate peace on our behalf. They must be replaced by those willing to follow the courageous lead of our founding fathers and impress upon our enemies that they will pay a bitter price if they seek to murder or harm Israeli citizens.
The road to peace lies in strength and determination and the application of deterrence. History consistently shows that appeasement only encourages further aggression.
We have one of the most powerful armies in the region. It is now abundantly clear that we cannot coexist with this evil Hamas regime and, unless a dramatic change occurs, there is no alternative. We must put an end to them.