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Jewish Journal

A Brave Show of

by Eric Silver

September 11, 1997 | 8:00 pm

"When's our luck going to run out?" my wife askedafter last week's triple suicide bombing on Jerusalem's Ben-Yehudashopping street. "They're getting nearer every time." It was one ofthose days when people phone around to count their friends.

We live downtown. In March 1996, one of the No. 18bus bombings took place barely a quarter of a mile from us. Thissummer, on July 30, two bombs went off in the Mahane Yehuda market, ashort walk away, and where we do our weekend shopping. My wife's fishman, Nissim, still has not reopened his store. His arm was smashed.He's only just come out of the hospital.

The Ben-Yehuda Street explosions were so close,perhaps 300 yards, that they shook the pictures on our walls.Yehudit, the manager of our favorite coffeehouse, Cafe Atara, wastalking to a couple with a baby at an outside table when the firstblast hit them. Her leg was wounded; the baby and mother wereburned.

Another friend, Natan, who runs a bureau dechange, saw it all from his office just off Ben-Yehuda, and was thefirst to help Abe Mendelson, the wounded Los Angeles student whocalled his father from a hospital bed on Prime Minister BinyaminNetanyahu's mobile phone.

By next morning, city workers had scrubbed thepavement. Most of the shattered shop windows had been replaced. CafeAtara had a new stock of chairs and tables. The crowds started comingback. It was a brave show of business as usual.

But it was a show. No one is running away. Thebombers, we tell each other, will not dictate how we lead our lives.Yet we do feel less safe. We are savvy enough in such things torecognize that all the police in the world cannot guarantee that theHamas kamikaze boys won't get through again.

Jerusalemites, perhaps Israelis everywhere, areworried by the bombings, but they are not in despair. They know thatthe security forces can reduce the risks. They also know that the jobhas been made harder by the army's evacuation of major Palestinianpopulation centers -- whether they liked or disliked the 1993 Osloaccords that brought it about.

What, then, can Israel do to fight the terror? Iturned to Gideon Ezra for a professional answer. Ezra, now one ofNetanyahu's Likud legislators, is a former deputy chief of the ShinBet internal security service. His last assignment, in the early1990s, was to supervise operations in the West Bank andJerusalem.

The key, he said, is intelligence. "You have tocollect information," he said. "Israel should invest all its effortswith all its best people to collect information on Hamas. But thatdepends on sources, and, afterward, you have to be able to arrest thesuspects and shake the tree until the apples fall down."

Ezra agreed that Israel cannot do it alone nowthat the whole of Gaza and much of the West Bank is under Palestinianrule. Recruiting and handling informers is infinitely more difficult.So is interrogating Hamas activists. Cooperation with the Palestiniansecurity services, he said, is essential.

The question remains how effective cooperation canbe. Even at the best of times, the experience has not beenencouraging. "We can give names to the Palestinians," Ezra said, "butthey will only give us what they want us to know. If somebody in anarea under our control is involved, they won't tell us because theydon't want to hand Palestinians over to us."

Another problem has been that the Palestiniansecurity services have been too busy extorting bribes from their owncitizens to fight terrorism. "Arafat's people are not interested incollecting information," Ezra said. "They are interested incollecting money. They try for one week, then they stop for sixmonths."

Israel, he argued, has to put pressure on YasserArafat to stick to his Oslo commitments. "The minute we impose aclosure, the minute we don't give him money, the minute the Americansdon't give him money, he's in trouble. Hamas is a problem for himtoo. If he doesn't act, he might as well go back and liveabroad."

But Israel, too, can do more. "We have to see thatexplosives don't enter the West Bank and Gaza from abroad. Theexplosives used in recent bombings, TNT and RDX [a plasticexplosive], aren't available here. They must have come from outside.They smuggle them with small boats into Gaza and through tunnelsunder the Egyptian border at Rafah. We have to stop them coming in,and we have to make sure nobody brings explosives through Eilat oracross the Dead Sea."

Israel has also to wage war on Palestinians whoslipped into Jerusalem through side routes without permission --usually to work. "The minute they enter Jerusalem," he said, "a carpicks them up. We have to arrest the drivers. We have to make peopleafraid to pick up such people."

All this will help, but it won't solve the problemonce and for all. Yossi Beilin, one of the architects of Oslo, stillbelieves that Israel has to offer a carrot as well as a stick."Arafat," he said, "cannot fight terrorism if the street is withHamas. And the street is with Hamas if Israeli policy does not giveany hope to the Palestinian people."

Over to you, Secretary Albright.

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