"Citizens of Israel, the state of Israel is at war -- a war against terror," thundered Ariel Sharon in his Sunday address to the nation.
But Sharon's rage and resolve notwithstanding, Israel is not at war with terror. Israel is at war with Palestine.
The terrorism of the suicide bombers of the Intifada -- ugly and awful as its manifestations are in Netanya, Haifa, and Jerusalem -- is but a tactic in a guerrilla war of national liberation being waged by the Palestinian people against Israeli occupation. It is a tactic with a venerable pedigree in the 20th century, where it was used repeatedly and successfully against the Western empires.
Michael Collins used terror to bring into being an Irish Free State. Menachem Begin blew up the King David Hotel to drive the British out of Palestine. The Mau Mau used terror to run the British out of Kenya. Nelson Mandela's ANC used terror to overthrow white minority rule in South Africa, as did Mugabe in Rhodesia. The FALN used terror to drive the French out of Algeria. Islamists used terror to run the Marines out of Lebanon. And Islamic Jihad, Hamas and the Al Aqsa Brigades are using terror to drive the Israelis off the West Bank and out of Gaza.
Terrorism works, and the terrorists of yesterday often emerge as the statesmen of tomorrow. Begin and Mandela won the Nobel Peace Prize, and a third Nobel laureate is now holed up in Ramallah.
Terrorism works best against Western governments inhibited in the weapons they may use to combat it by their Judeo-Christian and just-war moral codes. But, like civil disobedience, terror is far less effective against dictatorships. Gandhi would have been well advised not to lie down in front of the trains in Hitler's Germany.
Indeed, when Lord Halifax droned on to Hitler about his difficult dealings with Gandhi during his tour as Viceroy of India, the Fuhrer impatiently interrupted him, "Shoot Gandhi!" As an astonished Halifax stared in disbelief, Hitler went on: "Shoot Gandhi -- and if that does not suffice to reduce them to submission, shoot a dozen leading members of Congress; and if that does not suffice, shoot 200 and so on until order is established."
But the Israelis cannot "shoot" Arafat. To do so would forfeit Israel's support in the West, ignite an explosion in the Arab and Islamic world, and make Arafat a martyr about whom the Palestinian people would rally and rise up for revenge.
And what good would it do? Arafat is not recruiting the terrorists. Israeli tanks and armor rampaging through the cities and refugee camps of the West Bank are doing the recruiting. As for the Palestinian Authority, the Israelis have smashed it. Arafat has nothing left to lose and would surely prefer to die a martyr's death than live as the Arab leader who capitulated to Ariel Sharon.
Whether the Israelis admit it or not, the Palestinians are winning. Hezbollah drove Israel out of Lebanon. The first Intifada brought Israel to Oslo to offer land for peace. The second caused Barak to offer 95 percent of the West Bank. Today's suicide bombers die in the knowledge their families face no reprisals but will forever honor their memory. Sharon's reoccupation of the West Bank will no more cause the Palestinians to give up than the black-and-tans could force the Irish to surrender to Lloyd George.
Is there no way out?
The only hope lies in a Palestinian state. A small state of their own would give Palestinians a huge stake in peace and in preventing acts of terror against Israel -- i.e., national survival. Syria does not allow acts of terror on the Golan Heights, because Assad knows he has a nation to lose in any war with Israel. And, after independence, the IRA, the Irgun, the Mau Mau and the ANC terminated the terror.
But time may be passing us by. For the Israeli repression has radicalized the Palestinians, and through Al Jazeera's nightly clips of Arabs cut down by Israeli Jews using American weapons, it has radicalized the Arab world. Arabs and Moslems are concluding that the tactics used to drive Israel out of Lebanon and bring her to Oslo may be the tactics that can drive the Israelis out of the Middle East altogether.
And just as Israelis must be asking themselves today, "What price Judea and Samaria?" we should be asking ourselves, "What price empire?" For, in Arab and Islamic eyes, ours is the last of the Western nations and imperial presence in their part of the world.
Over the weekend came reports America is planning to put troops in the Middle East and President Bush backed Sharon to the hilt. If America has decided to abandon the role of honest broker in the Palestinian-Israeli war, in favor of its role as Israel's ally, we would be well advised not to put U.S. troops on the West Bank, or we will likely revisit the lesson of the Marines in Beirut.