Terror in the Holy Land

Posted: Aug 31, 2001 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON -- If you plan to visit that part of the world that Christians call the Holy Land, you ought to know that it is increasingly unsafe. Terrorists keep delivering bombs to cafes, discotheques and other places where civilians -- occasionally tourists from the West -- gather. Sometimes the bombs are in parked cars. On other, more spectacular occasions, they are carried under the clothes of suicide bombers. Over the past 1 months, 160 innocent people have been killed by these bombs. Hundreds of others have been wounded, sometimes severely. The Holy Land is now about the most dangerous place one can possibly visit. And what are the people who live there year-round supposed to do? The Israeli government has begun to target those responsible for the bombings and, with surprising accuracy, kill them. Now the Bush administration has notified the Israelis that they must end this practice. "Israel needs to understand that targeted killings of Palestinians don't end the violence but are only inflaming an already volatile situation and making it much harder to restore calm," Richard L. Boucher, a spokesman from our State Department, said this week. He spoke after Israeli helicopters fired on the headquarters of a radical Palestinian organization that is responsible for murdering Israeli civilians (and the occasional tourist) with some of these aforementioned bombs. If the Israelis comply, what alternative policy will return "calm" to the Holy Land? Naturally, our State Department favors renewed negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority which under Yasser Arafat governs the West Bank and Gaza strip, territories where the bombs and bombers originate. Yet either Arafat is not in control of these territories or he condones the bombing. In Gaza and the West Bank, such terrorist organizations as Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine have clearly visible offices. People enter them and leave them very publicly. They offer programs for local Palestinians. From these offices, terrorists organize campaigns against civil order in Israel, running the gamut from street demonstrations to bombings and ambushes. Incidentally, all these organizations have long histories of striking out at Westerners who were not even visiting the Middle East. So which is it? Is Arafat in charge and condoning the violence of the past 11 months, or are these organizations out of his control? Whatever the answer, negotiating with him seems futile. It will not save lives. The only way to end or impede the assaults on peaceful civilian gathering places is the targeted killings now being practiced by the Israelis. The assault that roused the State Department's wrath was against the offices of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The strike killed the organization's acting leader, Abu Ali Mustafa. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine has a long history of violence and terrorism. Mustafa was known to have directly orchestrated a series of car bombs and ambushes against civilians that have left scores of casualties in Israel. He will not be easy to replace. His death might lead at least temporarily to some of what Boucher calls "calm." The terrorists have created their own hell. Arafat, by either allowing them to murder the innocent or by being unable to police Gaza and the West Bank, has made himself superfluous. There are some who say that the increasing carnage in the Holy Land is directly related to his governance. They remind us that, going back decades, wherever he has become a power anarchy and random bloodshed have followed. In Jordan and in Lebanon, order was only restored by banishing him. Perhaps that is the way to end the bombings that are now regular occurrences in Israeli neighborhoods. The reason I mention the killing of tourists in the Holy Land is that the news reports of the bombings do not convey to an American audience living thousands of miles from the bloodshed just how exposed ordinary Israeli citizens are to these brutal attacks. It is one thing for a political group to target soldiers for death. But the terrorists acting out of areas under the Palestinian Authority are targeting unarmed, defenseless citizens. When the State Department calls for an end to the Israelis' countermeasures, it ought to take into account the unconscionable nature of these bombings. They cannot continue. Any Palestinian leader who allows them to originate on his territory is either uniquely incompetent or uniquely evil. Arafat is either one or the other.