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Does the World Prefer It When Jews Are Victims?


JERUSALEM — We Israelis watch the growing outrage against us and wonder whether the world has gone mad. How is it possible, we ask each other, that after suffering an unprecedented terrorist campaign, we're portrayed as bullies for finally trying to uproot the threat? Why does so much of the world seem to get indignant not when Israelis are being massacred and turned into a nation of terrorized shut-ins but when we hit back?

Tragically, the anti-terrorist offensive has caused great suffering and dislocation among innocent Palestinians. Any war that is televised produces horrific images. But the crucial moral difference between the Israeli government and Yasser Arafat's regime is that Israel doesn't deliberately target civilians. In fact, rather than use Israel's mighty air power to attack terrorist enclaves, the army has sent infantry into the narrow alleyways of West Bank towns.

There is no fully surgical way to fight the war of survival that has been forced on Israel. Indeed, no national movement has ever fought a dirtier and less justified war than the Palestinians, who could have ended the occupation had they accepted President Clinton's plan and who have since violated every civilized norm--from hiding gunmen behind priests in a holy place to smuggling suicide bombers in ambulances.

There is no solution to be had with Arafat, who responded to Israel's unprecedented offer to share sovereignty over its capital with 18 months of terrorism, including the murder of entire families. Does the international community really expect us to negotiate a deal with Arafat that will bring him and his terrorist militias into Jerusalem?

For years my press colleagues have debated whether Arafat can control the violence. Now we know that the very question was absurd. The last few weeks have produced two smoking guns directly linking Arafat to terrorism. Yet most of the media chose to bury those stories.

The first was the Israeli army's discovery of documents in Arafat's Ramallah compound that authorize transfer of funds from the Palestinian Authority to terrorists, who planned the machine-gun attack on a bat-mitzvah party in the northern town of Hadera in January. The authorizations were personally signed by Arafat.

That revelation was coupled with an interview with Arafat on Al Jazeera TV, in which the Palestinian leader invoked the suicide bomber who murdered 27 Israelis at a March 27 Passover Seder. "Oh God," said Arafat, "give me martyrdom like this." Here was the "legitimate leader of the Palestinian people," as the world's statesmen refer to him, affirming a mass murderer as his role model.

But rather than earn him instant membership in the Bin Laden club of pariahs, Arafat's self-incrimination went virtually unnoticed. Instead, three of the five members of the Nobel Peace Prize committee say they now regret having awarded the prize to Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres. Apparently, they have no regrets about giving it to Arafat.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has sarcastically asked whether the whole world can be wrong and only Israel right. The same question could have been asked in 1981, when Israel bombed the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak. Then, too, the "whole world" condemned Israel as an outlaw. But who today isn't quietly grateful to Israel for having prevented Saddam Hussein from acquiring the bomb?

The Israeli army is performing a similar service for humanity today by establishing the principle that terrorism won't be indulged. Perhaps one day that too will be acknowledged.

Meanwhile, almost everyone I know here is near despair. Getting through the day without yielding to hysteria or rage is a constant act of will. Now we're not just reeling from terrorism but international isolation, judged by a standard that no other nation would be held to in our place.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, the diplomatic siege against the Jewish state is being accompanied in Europe by the worst outbreak of violent anti-Semitism since the Holocaust, with Jews being beaten in Berlin and synagogues burned in France.

Most Israelis have given up on the Europeans, who are seen here as incurable appeasers. But don't we have the right to expect more of Americans, especially at this fateful time?


Yossi Klein Halevi is the Israel correspondent for the New Republic and a senior writer for the Jerusalem Report.

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