David Horovitz: This is why the Israelis support Mr Sharon's tactics

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The Independent Online

For months in Israel now, to step outside one's front door of a morning has been to enter a grisly lottery. It's been a pretty safe bet that somewhere in Israel on any given day, any number of civilians will be blown up by Palestinian suicide bombers.

Will it be you or your loved ones? Who knows. It doesn't matter how deep inside sovereign Israel you have made your home. Because the bombers aren't "merely" targeting settlers in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip, or disputed areas of East Jerusalem. They are terrorising all of Israel.

For nine precious days after 31 March, when yet another suicide-bomber blew up yet another restaurant – the Arab-run Matza in Haifa – the likelihood of dying that kind of vicious death receded a little. It's pathetic, but true: A touch more than a week without suicide bombings constituted an extraordinary respite. Yesterday, the suicide bombings resumed. Eight more dead on a bus outside Haifa.

Why is it that Israelis broadly support the Sharon government's unprecedented incursions into the West Bank? This despite the international condemnation. Despite the strains induced by tens of thousands of reservists, heads of families, being drafted into the front line – 14 of them killed in an ambush in Jenin on Tuesday. And despite the widespread awareness that there can be no long-term, solely military solution to the conflict. Why? Because, briefly, it placed the bombers on the defensive.

For more than 18 months, Israelis have nurtured, along with the fear of the bombers, a sense of burning injustice. They don't expect a fair hearing from the Arab world and much of Europe, but they are dismayed that the Bush administration and the Blair government are not prepared to acknowledge key parallels between the Taliban and Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority, two regimes that have actively incited terrorism. When Israel, as an act of last resort, has sent soldiers into Palestinian areas to try and thwart the bombings, often by killing the planners and recruiters – actions that pale in impact beside the post-11 September assault on Afghanistan – it has been repeatedly urged by the US and UK to withdraw without delay.

Now US Secretary of State Colin Powell is flying in, again demanding what the army is telling Israelis is a premature withdrawal, again preparing to rehabilitate Mr Arafat. Why did the bombings recommence yesterday, with a Hamas terrorist from Tulkarm apparently responsible? Because, most Israelis will tell you, the army withdrew from Tulkarm 24 hours earlier, under extreme pressure from the Bush administration.

Israelis nurse a tremendous grievance, too, against many in the international media – who they feel employ a double standard in their coverage: rigorous objectivity in presenting the Israeli side of the conflict; fawning subservience to the Palestinians line, with little questioning of the suicide-bomber culture as a tool for political gain.

At the root of this widespread sense of injustice is the Israeli perception of what happened at the crucial Camp David summit talks in July 2000. By and large, Israelis are convinced that the then-prime minister Ehud Barak sought to end the occupation – to relinquish almost all of the territory the Palestinians were seeking – and Mr Arafat turned him down. By demanding a "right of return" to sovereign Israel for up to four million Palestinians, Mr Arafat, most Israelis believe, effectively sought to overwhelm Israel – current population: five million Jews; one million-plus Arabs – by sheer weight of numbers.

Israelis are deeply troubled about the impact on Palestinian civilians of the current military offensive – natural empathy, combined with the realisation that the bitterness this assault is causing will rebound to their detriment. But they feel strongly that at the root of the Intifada is not "the occupation", which Mr Barak tried to end, but an Arafat-engineered, suicide-bomber-backed effort to destroy all of Israel.

They believe that Mr Arafat failed to tell his people the truth about what was offered at Camp David, that he used his media to whip them up into a state of despair and hatred, and that it is tragic that, many months ago, the Palestinians didn't reach the conclusions Mr Bush has recently begun publicising about Mr Arafat thus having betrayed his people.

The sense in Israel is that if the man so enthusiastically pleading with the almighty to grant him "martyrdom" rides out this offensive, many more innocent people on both sides are going to die. In fact, the grim assumption is that many more innocent people on both sides are going to die, come what may, until a Palestinian leadership emerges that genuinely seeks reconciliation with Israel.

For a few days, earlier this month, Israelis were tentatively enjoying the simple pleasure of walking around their country – hoping that ruthless murderers, legitimised by too much of the international community, were too busy facing off against the army in the West Bank to kill them. But then the American pressure became too strong to withstand, and the bombers were free to start up again.

The writer is editor of 'The Jerusalem Report'

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