The Dead Who Walk Among Us

The government of Israel is Hamas's best ally. The government's actions express an old and bad pattern, based on the haughty attitude that there is just one player on the stage, to whom everything is permitted.

The days of commemoration are over. After honoring the memory of our dead who perished in the Holocaust and those killed in Israel's wars, the time has come to think about the next victims. They are walking among us. The fate of the next round's victims is almost sealed. This will be the last summer for the woman with the shopping bags who boards the bus that explodes, for the soldier at the bus stop, for the teenage girl at the mall, for the grandfather traveling to visit his grandchildren and for the foreign worker at the central bus station.

The cause of death: blindness, arrogance and stupidity - despite the fact that the intelligence services, which in recent weeks have repeatedly predicted the return of terror to our streets, see it as an unavoidable natural disaster.

Terrorism has abated for many months. With the exception of the attack at the Stage club in Tel Aviv, the fear of suicide bombers has receded, and our lives have returned to normal. This fundamental change has not occurred out of the blue, and those who think it can be wholly attributed to the actions of the security forces are mistaken. It was a Palestinian decision to stop the hostilities and to give Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) a chance.

The quiet could have been exploited to create a real change in our attitude toward the Palestinians. They are now led by the most moderate leadership they have ever had, creating an opportunity to try to begin a fair dialogue with them.

But Israel chose to refrain from any expression of goodwill, any decent gesture, any serious effort to meet and to work toward rapprochement. As in the past, the quiet was seen as a sign of weakness and surrender, enabling us to continue to go our own way, unhindered. Thus another missed opportunity, which cried out for attention, was recorded in the history of the conflict.

However, the quiet prevailed almost entirely on one side of the Green Line. Even if Israel shows no interest, almost nothing has changed in the territories, except for the removal of some checkpoints. There is still little personal security, children who go out in the street put their lives at risk, the Israel Defense Forces continue to conduct raids, day and night, in cities and villages, searching for wanted men and sometimes even killing them.

Peaceful demonstrations against the separation fence face violent, deadly responses from soldiers, as if there were no cease-fire. Even if the number of Palestinians killed has declined, a sense of danger hovers everywhere. Freedom of movement is still very restricted, and the humiliation involved in moving from one place to another, even for the sick and elderly, is unbearable.

The economic situation has also hardly improved - 34 percent unemployment in the West Bank and 40 percent in the Gaza Strip, while in many villages and towns the unemployment rate has reached 70 percent. The gates to employment in Israel are locked, and no new work places will be created under the current situation. Close to half of all Palestinians - 47 percent - live under the poverty line.

On the other hand, Israel is not fulfilling its basic commitments: The IDF has only left two cities, and more importantly, almost no prisoners have been released. It seems that few people in Israel realize the importance of the prisoner issue. There is no issue that troubles Palestinian society more, and there is no step that could bring about a more rapid change in the atmosphere than an extensive release of prisoners.

This kind of step would also serve to strengthen the current leadership - something that is clearly an Israeli interest. But Israel has discharged its obligations perfunctorily, releasing about 500 low-ranking prisoners who were due to be released soon in any case, and in this way has damaged Abu Mazen's standing in the eyes of his people.

The settlements and separation fence continue to be built at full steam, as if there were no agreement to freeze the settlements. Every day, more and more farmers lose their land. The occupation, therefore, continues unchanged. And in light of what is perceived, justifiably, as the PA's impotence, Hamas is garnering increasing strength.

The government of Israel is Hamas's best ally. The government's actions express an old and bad pattern, based on the haughty attitude that there is just one player on the stage, to whom everything is permitted. Only we are permitted to arm ourselves and prepare for the next round; only we are allowed to defend ourselves, to violate the cease-fire and to use violence. The thought that perhaps the Palestinians also have the right to defend themselves and their honor is incomprehensible.

This same pattern of thought is also behind the hope that disengagement supporters are fostering. Their belief that a dramatic change is underway ignores the fact that the lives of the Palestinians have scarcely changed as a result of the disengagement plan. Residents of Gaza continue to live in poverty in a giant prison, and residents of the West Bank, meanwhile, only see more cranes and bulldozers coming onto their land.

In light of all this, it is clear that the prevailing quiet is an illusion. One can assume that at the end of the summer, when the disengagement is completed and the occupation continues in all its cruelty, our streets will again come under attack. A new generation is growing up in the territories that is more extreme than its predecessor. Unlike their parents, who worked in Israel and got to know all sides of Israeli society, the new generation of Palestinians knows only the armed and violent Israeli.

The writing cries out from every wall, as a warning to all the dead who walk among us. But, amazingly, no one is doing a thing to stop the next cycle of killing.