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Jewish Journal

Lessons from the Mahane Yehuda Tragedy

by Rabbi Marvin Hier

July 31, 1997 | 8:00 pm

Tragically, the horrible terrorist attack against civilians at the Mahane Yehuda marketplace in Jerusalem leaves all of us numb and, at the same time, reminds us that the memories of Jewish history live on.

The attack took place during the period known as the Three Weeks, a period between the 17th of Tammuz and the ninth of Av, when our enemies broached the walls of Jerusalem and then destroyed the Temple. Traditionally, it is a period of mourning, when no weddings or simchas take place. The attack by the Hamas terrorists reminds Jews everywhere that, 2,500 years later, our enemies still want to lay siege on Jerusalem.

What should we make of all this? And how will it affect the peace process?

Obviously, nothing would please those who want to destroy the peace process more than to trigger a siege mentality that places the Middle East on a war footing and allows the terrorists to achieve their ultimate objectives. On the other hand, to naïvely accept Yasser Arafat's condolences is to turn a blind eye to the overwhelming evidence that his rhetoric and the behavior of his senior police officials encourages the work of the terrorists.

Arafat assures President Clinton that he is fighting terrorism, but we have no clue which terrorists he is fighting, since he refuses to believe that Hamas and Islamic Jihad are anything less than patriots. Less than a month ago, in an interview with a Russian newspaper, Arafat was specifically asked the following:

Q: Is Hamas a terrorist organization?

A: The Hamas is one of many patriotic organizations.

Q: Even its military wing?

A: Even its military wing.

Many Israelis blame the lack of progress in the peace process as having exasperated the situation and contributed to the current terrorist attack.

Personally, I don't find that particularly persuasive. When the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was making the most progress in the peace process, the fundamentalists still unleashed their terror. Then, following Rabin's murder by a Jewish fundamentalist, Prime Minister Shimon Peres moved the peace process forward at an even faster pace, but the terrorists still unleashed their bombs on the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

There are important lessons that Israel must learn from the Mahane Yehuda attack.

The first, I think, is that the Palestinian Authority, which Arafat undoubtedly will make into an independent Palestinian state, will never adequately be able to protect Israeli citizens. Despite all the international pressure, the man on the street in Gaza and in Jericho will simply not turn on his brother Palestinian and hand him over to the Israeli occupier.

The more land turned over to Arafat means a larger geographic area from which the terrorists will feel free to continue their operations. If Israel cedes sovereignty over portions of East Jerusalem to Arafat, then make no mistake about it: A terrorist can leave his bombs at the King David Hotel, walk a few blocks and enter another country, a country that has shown little inclination to apprehend terrorists or bring them to justice.

No country in the world would tolerate a situation like that, let alone the United States, which Israelis often look to as a moral barometer. If they looked carefully, they would see a country that's zealous about protecting its national-security interests.

Just look at the bipartisan way in which American presidents have conducted foreign policy toward Cuba, which is 90 miles -- rather than just a few blocks -- from the Miami shoreline and is certainly no grave threat to the national-security interests of the world's only superpower. The only thing Cuba can invade us with is sugar beets and cigars, and, still, the United States has almost a paranoiac fear about a possible attack from Cuba. If, indeed, such an attack was ever launched from Cuba, the United States wouldn't think twice before launching a counterattack on Cuban soil.

Yet Arafat is incredulous when he hears that Israel might enter Palestinian territory to apprehend the terrorists who have murdered hundreds of Israelis and whom he calls patriots. And the international community, led by the Arab world, would join in the annual chorus of condemnation against Israel at the United Nations General Assembly.

The second lesson we must learn from all this is that a significant minority of Palestinians hold fundamentalist views that teach them that Israel is a cancer in their midst which must be expunged. They hold such views now, and they will hold such views after a final peace treaty is concluded.

Therefore, Israel must assume that wherever the final Palestinian state will be, a sizable minority of fundamentalists will pitch their tents alongside.

If Israel should compromise and divide Jerusalem, then it means that living in East Jerusalem, next door to Arafat, will be someone who believes that if you blow up Israeli women and children, the G-d of Islam intercedes and grants such martyrs 17 wives, a heavenly banquet and eternal bliss in heaven. No government should allow its citizens to live in such mortal danger without a policy that adequately protects them.

In concluding a final peace with the Arabs, Israel must ask itself: What would the United States do under similar circumstances? Would the United States or any other country take such risks?

And then Israel, before moving forward with the peace process, should launch an aggressive campaign aimed at the international community to get them to force the leaders of Islam to stand up and tell the truth about their religion in newspaper and television ads around the world, but particularly in the Middle East.

To get President Hosni Mubarak, King Fahd and King Hussein to assemble the spiritual leaders of the Moslem world and ask them to tell their constituents in the mosques and in public ads in the Arab newspapers that those who perpetrated the attack at Mahane Yehuda were going directly to hell and not heaven; that they have dishonored their religion and their families; that they should be given a traitor's funeral rather than a patriot's.

Then, the Arab world would be credible in urging Israel to jump-start the peace talks.

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