The assassination of Ahmed Yassin produced a predictable wave of criticism, eye-rolling and tongue-clucking. This time, too, the critics fell into two categories. There were those who attacked the decision to kill the Hamas leader. Others took cover in the patriotic comment that Yassin might have been a murderer and terrorist who deserved to die, but they complained the timing was bad and the damage would be greater than the possible benefit from the operation.
Both groups should mostly criticize themselves. A lot of criticism can be leveled at the management of the war against the Palestinians. But it is impossible to claim that the Israeli war commanders, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz have deceived the public. This isn't America; the government did not invent intelligence material nor exaggerate the description of the threat to justify their attack on the Hamas leader the way George Bush did on his way to Baghdad. On the contrary, there hasn't been a military operation that was so loudly marketed, with previews on the front pages of the papers and on prime-time TV. The government announced it would assassinate the Hamas leadership and the failed attempt last September to kill Yassin and his colleagues only added to their credibility.
Everyone knew about the upcoming assassination and everyone was silent. Where were Shimon Peres and Yossi Sarid? Why didn't they deliver stormy speeches about the dangers and risks of the operation and why didn't they seek a last minute meeting with Sharon to try to reconsider? Where were B'Tselem and Yesh Gvul and the refusenik pilots and the anarchists against the fence? Why weren't there demonstrations in the public squares and petitions to the High Court of Justice to cancel the government decision, to save the victims of the expected retaliatory terror attack? And where were the columnists with their scathing pens? It was a lot easier for everyone to attack the government in retrospect.
The government operated transparently this time and the media fulfilled its duty and played up its reports on the planned assassinations of the terrorist leaders. But the opposition totally failed in its democratic role. It had nearly a week to enlist public support against the killing of Yassin and his colleagues and the expected escalation in its wake, and it chose to ignore it. Okay, Peres is enthusiastic about going back to the Foreign Ministry, and Yossi Beilin was celebrating his election as head of Yahad. But even Gush Shalom preferred to attack Labor for its planned entry to the government, and did not warn anyone about the coming assassination. Only when the smoke clear did Uri Avnery write, "It's worse than a crime, it's stupid."
What caused the apathy? After three-and-a-half years of mutual killing, it seems that even the most stubborn and determined peace activists are tired. They prefer to pop up in the public arena, riding on some media gimmick like the pilots' letters or the Geneva Initiative, instead of doing the hard labor of collecting supporters and convincing the undecided.
It's also possible that Sharon's credibility is at such a low that nobody believes him when he promises to kill terrorists; they remember his silly decision to "expel Arafat." But that is difficult to accept as an argument. Apparently, Sharon has simply managed to sweep the public into a kind of escapism around his disengagement plan.
Ever since he announced his desire to leave Gaza, Sharon has enjoyed media and political backing from the moderate left, which has adopted a policy of "sssh, we're leaving Gaza soon." Everyone's busy with talk about evacuating settlements, and the war has been shoved to the margins of the public interest. It's a shame the withdrawal will only happen - if at all - sometime next year, while the race for more terror attacks and retaliations is going on here and now.
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