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Unstinting Terror Builds Support for Strong Israeli Military Strikes

April 2, 2002
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Igor Rottstein, a messenger at a Tel Aviv travel agency, couldn’t take his eyes off the television footage of the newest terrorist attack at a Haifa restaurant, despite the tears he could barely hold back.

“I buried two friends in similar attacks,” said Rottstein, 21. “I lost a classmate in the Dolphinarium attack last June — he stayed with me at my place and the next night he was gone. This is crazy. I can’t believe this is happening to us.”

More and more Israelis are finding it hard to believe the seemingly endless chain of Palestinian terror attacks, but the carnage is building popular support for an Israeli military response that ratchets higher every few weeks.

That might explain why Israel’s present military offensive in the West Bank — Operation Protective Wall, undertaken after a unilateral cease-fire during the mission of U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni was met with a string of deadly Palestinian attacks — has won such broad popular support.

The call-up of some 20,000 reservists late last week passed with relatively few objections — the first time that such a call has been so well-received since the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

According to initial reports, some 95 percent of those who received call-up notices responded immediately, and others have volunteered for duty. According to military sources, scores of reservists were sent home because quotas already had been reached.

“This is heartwarming,” Justice Minister Meir Sheetrit said of the reservists’ response. “The public votes with its legs.”

To be sure, there is still some criticism. The head of the left-wing Meretz Party, Yossi Sarid, called the Israeli offensive the war for the Peace for the Settlements, playing on the 1982 Peace for the Galilee invasion of Lebanon.

Yet such rhetorical attacks have failed to resonate outside of traditional leftist strongholds such as Peace Now.

“The reaction of the government, which drafts soldiers and drags us into an overall war, is the reaction of a cowardly and bankrupt leadership,” said Moriah Shlomot, general-secretary of Peace Now. “This is a leadership that cannot do what the majority of the people demand — dismantle the settlements, get out of the territories and set up a border.”

Israeli and international media have highlighted the refusal of some 300 reserve officers to serve in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Yet the protest movement has been overtaken by a general feeling that “something must be done, this cannot go on anymore,” as Amnon Dankner, editor of the mass-circulation daily Ma’ariv, wrote last Friday.

“It’s worse than a nightmare,” said Iris Elhanani, 45, a sales promoter from Tel Aviv. “You wake up and the nightmare is still there.”

Elhanani lives near the bohemian Sheinkin Street in downtown Tel Aviv, a generally lively street of cafes, boutiques and restaurants. For the past two weeks, Elhanani has steered clear of Sheinkin and other places that might attract terrorists looking to maximize the number of victims.

Elhanani is not alone in her fear. Eran, the Israeli Association for Emotional First Aid, this week allocated extra phone lines and additional counselors to help worried callers, but its lines were constantly busy as increasing numbers of Israelis sought help in the crisis.

Even reserve Lt. Gen. Meir Pa’il, a former Knesset member from Communist parties, suggested recently that Israel reoccupy the entire West Bank and Gaza Strip, before negotiating a peaceful settlement “from a position of strength.”

However, despite the national consensus that “something must be done,” there was little discussion of what would happen “the day after” the Israeli offensive.

Some analysts, such as Danny Rubinstein of Ha’aretz, suggested that the Israeli offensive would only strengthen Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, who has been “isolated” with a cadre of close aides, terrorist ringleaders and European peaceniks in his Ramallah office.

Israel has pledged that it will not harm or exile Arafat, but Arafat still has taken to the airwaves claiming that his life is in danger and stating his willingness to die as a “martyr” for the Palestinian cause.

That points up Israel’s conundrum: Beyond satisfying the public desire for revenge, what practical results can Operation Protective Wall bring?

“The present military operation will end up with very little,” suggested Eyal Golan, 42, a computer engineer from the Galilee. “Arafat need not worry and does not need to move a finger — the street and the Arab world will do the job for him,” by whipping up international pressure against Israel.

This is exactly what worries Golan’s wife, Tamar.

“I can’t listen to those leftists anymore,” she said. “They frighten me, because so far they have brought no results. I need to hear the right: They calm me down, suggesting that there is no alternative but to fight terrorism until victory.”

But can Palestinian terrorism really be annihilated?

Efraim Inbar, director of Bar-Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, suggested this week that there is little hope in sight for an end to the 18-month-old intifada.

Even a full-fledged Palestinian state likely would manipulate hatred against Jews and Israel to enhance its position and quiet domestic unrest, Inbar argued.

“Palestinian behavior has become incomprehensible in rational and instrumental terms,” Inbar wrote recently in the Jerusalem Post. “People in protracted ethnic conflict usually act according to their emotions, rather than in a rational way.”

The Palestinians are not close to the stage in which they can educate their children to coexist peacefully with Israel and not to hate Jews.

Therefore, Inbar concluded in the type of gloomy vision that has become all too common in Israel, the conflict will continue, “long and violent.”

“Peace is a beautiful dream indeed,” he wrote, “but with the Palestinians as a neighbor, it unfortunately remains, for our generation, just a dream.”

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