New York Times, opinion: Toughing it out

By David Horovitz October 7, 2003

JERUSALEM— We buried as many of Saturday’s victims as possible before the start of Yom Kippur, and then we went to pray — for safety and quiet and a better year ahead. For three full years, we’ve gone on with daily life. Untenable daily life, in a land where nowhere is off limits to terrorism, not even a beachfront restaurant in Haifa where Jews and Arabs eat together.

I had thought my wife, who had a cup of coffee in this city’s Cafe Hillel last month a few hours before a Hamas bomber wrecked it, would be broken by such proximity to death. She cried over the young woman who died there, 24 hours before her wedding, and over the woman’s dead father, who was head of a local hospital’s emergency room. But she had no tears, or deepened fears, for herself. She’s still able to abide by the decision we’ve all made, consciously or not, in staying here through more than 100 suicide bombings — the decision to tough it out.

We have not become blasé or desensitized. If anything, the horror deepens every time our front pages are disfigured by those rows of passport portraits, the faces of the newly dead. But 60 years after we were slaughtered because we had no nation of our own, we will not easily give up our little state. And once you base your life on that philosophy, there’s nothing to do after the bombers strike except to grieve and keep going.

And yet I wonder how much longer our national resolve can hold, especially when there is so little realistic prospect of improvement.

We Israelis cannot end this conflict by ourselves. Even as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon sends helicopters to attack the endless ranks of ”most wanted” intifada kingpins, and now even widens our retaliatory action to Syria, the bombers keep coming. Yet if we withdraw our settlers and soldiers from the West Bank and Gaza Strip without an accord, our enemies will perceive it as capitulation. They will not lay down their arms and embrace us.

We cannot impose peace on a people who have been so misled by their leader, Yasir Arafat, who returned from Camp David to assert, falsely, that Israel had refused viable Palestinian independence. Affected since by antiterrorism measures like border closings, mass detentions and missile strikes, most Palestinians have become even more hostile. And Mr. Arafat — who condemns the suicide bombings in English while, in Arabic, he asks for ”a million martyrs” — will resist any new effort at engineering tranquillity.

But Israelis can do more to reach out to Palestinians over the heads of this manipulative leadership. Statehood for the Palestinians is not only in their interest, it is crucial to our own. Unless Israel can separate from the 3.5 million Palestinians, it cannot remain democratic and predominantly Jewish. And so we need to use every possible forum to underline our commitment to co-existence.

Our leaders must stress that Israel will make no concessions until Palestinian leaders condemn terrorism, jail perpetrators and educate for reconciliation. But they must also make clear that if such a Palestinian leadership emerges, Israel will rush to join it at the peace table. And they must reinforce the rhetoric with proof — by stopping expansion of the settlements and building the terrorist-thwarting ”security barrier” along the Israel-West Bank border rather than inside the West Bank.

This is no quick fix. Indeed, there is no quick fix. But every day more Israelis and Palestinians succumb to the dead-end notion that our enemies are fundamentally different from ourselves, delightedly sacrificing their children for the cause. Such dehumanization shames and undermines us. We need our government to emphasize our desire for peace as relentlessly as it demands an end to terrorism. We must try to end the hopelessness, to persuade the mothers of Gaza that their children have something to live for — and, in the process, give ourselves the chance of something better to live for, too.

David Horovitz, editor of The Jerusalem Report, is author of the forthcoming ”Still Life with Bombers: Israel in the Age of Terrorism.”