By Ehud Olmert, mayor of Jerusalem
March 14, 2002
Responding to terrorist attacks and attending funerals are the two most
dreadful public duties elected officials are called upon to perform. For the
mayors of many Israeli cities they have also become a routine part of our work.
For those of us in Jerusalem, this week began as tragically as the last. First, on
Saturday, March 2, we witnessed the terrorist bombing outside a synagogue in
Jerusalem, as the Jewish Sabbath drew to a close.
Then, barely had the city been granted a moment’s grace to recover
from its shock, bury the dead and conclude its mourning rituals before the
senseless carnage, this time in the crowded Moment Cafe on Saturday, began
the now-familiar rites anew.
Diplomacy by ambulance
As Vice President Cheney now travels throughout the region building support
for America’s expanding war on terror, our Palestinian peace partners seem
intent on escalating their campaign to reduce the daily lives of Israelis to an
unremitting stream of ambulance sirens, shattered bodies and funerals.
As I responded to Saturday night’s bomb blast scene, I thought of the other
funerals I attended last week, a total of five in the course of three days.
On Sunday, March 3, I had been asked to eulogize an entire Jerusalem
family, a mother, father and two small children. Their only mistake was
standing in the street outside a family bar mitzvah celebration when a suicide
bomber walked up next to them and detonated himself.
Then this Saturday night, another Palestinian bomber successfully blew up an
entire coffee bar full of twentysomething patrons. As I arrived at the Moment
Cafe the ambulances were evacuating the bodies of a young engaged couple
who now would never attend their wedding, planned for May 15.
This is the reality Mr. Cheney will find in the Middle East and it is the logical
conclusion of the disastrously ill-conceived Oslo Accords. That reckless process
revitalized a vanquished Yasser Arafat and brought tens of thousands of armed
guerillas into the administered territories from PLO bases around the globe.
Once widely demonized as Saddam Hussein’s closest ally during the Gulf War,
Mr. Arafat has managed to acquire a sheen of legitimacy even as he personally
directs the violence against Israel.
No doubt that as Mr. Cheney is treated to endless cups of strong coffee in
Middle-Eastern capitals, he will be plied with demands that the United States
pressure Israel for concessions. As they have done since the beginning of this
long conflict, our neighboring kings and dictators will spin yarns portraying the
region’s only democratic nation as an aggressor, and alleging that U.S. support
for the Jewish state is the source of anti-American sentiments.
Along with their dismal records on human rights and their regimes’ outlawing of
free speech, Mr. Cheney will be encouraged to overlook the fact that virtually
all the rhetoric turning the Arab streets against the U.S. is being pumped out by
state-controlled media. Indeed, the Arab world’s support for Palestinian terrorist
organizations has not diminished even in the wake of September 11.
The U.S. must act in its own self-interest, of course, but it must also recognize
Israel’s need to continue to carry out policies to safeguard its citizens.
The unprecedented waves of suicide bombings which have engulfed us
in recent months have required Israel’s security services to continuously rethink
the methods they employ in meeting the new challenges of protecting the
Facing the tireless terrorist organizations that have spent the last eight years
smuggling illegal weapons and explosives in for use against Israeli civilians
requires unrelenting vigilance.
And yet nothing can guarantee that our law enforcement agencies will
be successful each and every time a suicide bomber sets out for a downtown
cafe. The Palestinians have turned too many of their homes and communities
into terrorist laboratories and launch pads. Nothing short of the comprehensive
confiscation of weapons and arrests of the terrorist leaders would thwart the
danger that menaces us.
At a time when we are under such serious attack, when our streets and
markets have been turned into battle fronts, and no neighborhood in the
country feels entirely secure, we can only develop a thicker skin in response to
the daily reprimands and criticisms from both our allies and enemies.
Either by negligence or design, the world community seeks to weaken
our resolve by repeatedly comparing our legitimate acts of self-defense with the
terrorism we are struggling against.
It is a frustrating double standard that causes foreign diplomats to spend
countless hours complaining about each of Israel’s alleged infractions while
refusing to even once take sanctions against Mr. Arafat for his documented role
in the terror.
Those who sincerely seek a peaceful solution to the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict should set about demanding that Mr. Arafat and the
Palestinian leadership answer some of the hard questions they have evaded for
the more than eight years that the Palestinian Authority has been in existence.
Mr. Cheney might ask how, for example, such enormous quantities of
terrorist weapons and explosives, like those that have devastated Jerusalem in
recent days, have been illegally stockpiled inside the Palestinian Authority.
There are other mysteries worth exploring with Mr. Arafat and other Middle
East leaders as well.
Who is behind the manufacturing of the Kessem missiles that have
begun to rain down upon us? How are Hamas and Islamic Jihad permitted to
maintain offices and training bases inside the Palestinian Authority? Why are so
many members of Mr. Arafat’s Fatah faction engaging in suicide attacks?
The red line maintained by every civilized society is repeatedly and intentionally
crossed by the Palestinians. The terrorists continue to target wedding halls,
pizza places, cafes and schools with ghastly results.
As I stood, this past Saturday night, in the midst of the shattered
remains of the trendy Moment Cafe, I shuddered at the thought of a people that
believes this sort of destruction is a legitimate path to statehood. I agonized,
too, over the sickening reality of leaders who send youngsters out with belts of
explosives and nails, and then proudly claim responsibility for the attack.
With these Palestinian partners, how can Israel be expected to negotiate peace?
A naive belief
In the years that followed the Six-Day War until quite recently, Israel’s
ever-optimistic political left promoted the naive belief that compromises by both
sides of the conflict could lead to a lasting political accommodation. They
adopted and popularized the slogan of ‘Give Peace A Chance.’
With great risks and disastrous results, we did just that. For the eight and a half
years of the Palestinian Authority’s existence, we gave Mr. Arafat a chance.
The gamble killed many Israeli citizens and Palestinians, and it left too many
families grieving. Now Israel must prepare itself for what comes next.