The People's War

For the second time in Israel's history, Ariel Sharon is leading the country into a war of choice - as pernicious as any war of choice - and nearly the entire public is following him more than willingly.

For the second time in Israel's history, Ariel Sharon is leading the country into a war of choice - as pernicious as any war of choice - and nearly the entire public is following him more than willingly. When history judges this war, only a few will be able to say that they opposed it from the outset. In the last analysis, it will also be very difficult to blame Sharon for the consequences of the war, in the light of the sweeping support he has been given by the majority of Israelis.

With a huge leap in the percentage of citizens who "rely on him" - from 45 percent in March to 62 percent in April, according to a poll reported by the mass-circulation daily Yedioth Ahronoth - it seems that no one can express the aspirations of most Israelis like the prime minister. This is not a war that was waged by Sharon, the "warmonger," this is the war of all of us. The call that was sounded at the right wing's demonstration almost a month ago - "We want war," the kind of call that is not heard in any enlightened country - has become the general sentiment.

Israel has set out on a bewildering operation whose goal no one understands and whose end no one can guess. Nearly 30,000 men were mobilized and they reported for duty as one man, making the refusal movement, with 21 refuseniks currently in jail, irrelevant. "We didn't ask why, we just came," the reservists told the prime minister, expressing the "together" syndrome that characterizes Israel at such times. Tens of thousands of men leave their homes, putting their normal life behind them, and set out to kill and be killed - and they don't even ask why? That is the behavior of the herd.

The series of horrific suicide terrorist attacks in the heart of Israeli cities, which were preceded by brainwashing, brought about the present mess. The groundless contention that former prime minister Ehud Barak offered the Palestinians "almost everything" and in return they set in motion a wave of terrorism, has become the most widely accepted axiom in Israeli public opinion. To it was added the old assumption that "something has to be done" in the light of the terrorist attacks and that "doing something" means making use of a lot more force.

The Labor Party and the Likud joined forces in order to reach the conclusion that it was necessary to reoccupy the Palestinian cities, and to strike hard against the Palestinians to teach them a lesson in the practice of peace. Even the lying statements of the prime minister that he had done everything he could to achieve a cease-fire, while ignoring the wholesale liquidations of wanted Palestinians, were widely believed.

So we have again become one nation that speaks in one voice and doesn't ask questions, such as: Who will fight terrorism after we crush all the Palestinian security units? Who are all the "armed people" Israel is arresting, and will they become Israel's security contractors after their release? What is the infrastructure of terrorism if not the occupation, the despair and the hatred? How will the shattering blow we have delivered against the entire Palestinian population help in the war against terrorism? How will it advance the peace, or at least the security of Israelis?

The nation wanted war, and it got what it wanted. Within a few days we succeeded in sowing hate in the heart of every Palestinian and it will not soon fade. The tens of thousands of Palestinians who are imprisoned in their homes after an unbearable year and a half, who are frightened by the sounds of gunfire and the rumbling of the tanks; the bodies that continue to be brought to the hospitals without letup; the mass arrests and the general destruction - these are now generating fierce resentment against us. The world, with the exception of the United States in the meantime, is again treating us like lepers, and public opinion in the Arab states is threatening to push their leaders into an all-out war. This is the balance of blood and terror of this operation, which has not a thing to be said to its credit, other than it satisfies the feelings of a public that is terrified by the terrorist attacks.

The Labor Party is a full partner to everything that is happening, despite its leaders' talk about a political horizon, the Saudi plan and the day after. The problem is not the "day after" when the acts that are being perpetrated in Labor's name today are horrendous. Meretz, Hadash and the extra-parliamentary movements have begun to come out of their slumber lately, but have not been able to obtain mass support. Over the weekend the Peace Now organization announced that it would hold a "demonstration of tens of thousands" - but only a month from now.

Most of the press is in one of its lowest periods, not only in its near total mobilization in the cause, but also because it is not supplying the public with concrete information about what is going on an hour away. Rare shots of the suffering that the Palestinians are enduring were broadcast on Channel 2 and led the defense minister to temporarily close the territories to the Israeli media, according to a report last week.

In any event, much more about what is really going on can be gleaned from the foreign networks. The suffering of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians is hardly given expression, and the critical damage being done to the health and supply systems is barely mentioned. Again, the majority of Israelis don't have the slightest idea of what their neighbors are going through.

This is a dark time in Israel. The damage we are causing ourselves will in part be irreversible. In the not so distant future, when it becomes clear that this war was pointless, the meaningful voices of opposition will begin to be heard. But they will be too few and too late.