The government's decision to declare the House of Contention in Hebron a closed military zone was an inevitable step, but if it does not lead to the necessary phase then it is liable to fail. Following the latest riots two days ago, Defense Minister Ehud Barak declared that the government would not reconcile with the rampaging by "extremist forces." At about the same time, those in charge of the "forces" lashed out at the government, the courts, the army and the media, as if we were dealing with two legitimate, opposing sides.

The time has come to cease the vague characterizations and call a spade a spade. We are not dealing with "marginal groups," "extremists who have gone out of control," and other attempts at verbal acrobatics that are designed to paper over a harsh reality. For a long time now, settlers in Hebron and other areas of Judea and Samaria (and East Jerusalem) have engaged in unruly behavior whose only goal is to violently threaten the Palestinians while undermining Israel's sovereignty. By any official standard recognized worldwide, this is terrorism that sows fear and disrupts the proper management of a state.

It is difficult to fathom the way Israeli politics and society were seduced into turning a blind eye toward the growing Jewish terrorism. Ever since the heads of the Jewish underground were released as part of a shady deal, this trend, which was given the deceptive term "wayward weeds," has continued. Under the hypocritical umbrella of "national unity" and the self-righteous threat of "a rift in the nation," the rampaging has become the norm, a daily routine. The settlers utter profanities, spit, beat, sow ruin and destruction, while the army turns a blind eye in the best-case scenario and takes part in the worst.

The House of Contention is therefore the culmination of a dangerous progression of events, and the widespread public protest that should have arisen among the sane portion of society after these events has not materialized because the heart of Israeli society has been desensitized for quite some time. Only in such a setting could a former ambassador (Danny Ayalon) who recently joined Yisrael Beiteinu, a party that espouses clear-cut racist values, appear as the lawyer for the offending group and warn: "The settlers are part and parcel of us and we must not tear them away from the nation."

The extreme right-wing activist Daniella Weiss also warns that in Hebron "we will not turn the other cheek," and the settlers holed up in the House of Contention openly call for their admirers to aid them in their struggle against the army. These calls for rebellion, which are tinged with cries of persecution, frighten the government.

This week, Israel has reached the point of no return, which will also determine who controls the state: the justice system and a government elected by democratic means, or Jewish terrorism. If the government does not remove, as soon as possible and without fear of violence, the riotous core of settlers in Hebron, which has disengaged from the state and its institutions and now endangers the public, the blood of the victims of religious fanaticism in the territories will be on its hands. No less grievous would be the message sent to the plunderers that they were victorious and proof for the silent majority in Israel that the future of the Jewish Zionist state is being held hostage by those who pray for its destruction. No other moral claim, not even the just claim of the Jewish people for a national home, will stand, either at home or abroad, against such a capitulation to terror.