April 8, 2002

Dear Friends,

As we continue to face critical days and mounting pressures, I feel, it important to share firsthand some thoughts on the events of the last few days. President Bush’s statement Wednesday concerning events in the Middle East was of historical importance. He stated with a simple but profound clarity that, “the Palestinian people deserve a government which respects human rights.”

For a decade, the entire civilized world, with Israel and the US leading, betrayed its principles by promoting, supporting, and condoning a corrupt leader who suppressed any Palestinian impulse and aspiration for a free and just society. Israel’s leaders cynically and fallaciously reasoned that this would be good for us because such a dictator would suppress terrorism in exchange for his international rehabilitation and a license to plunder his people. It would be easier, our leaders told themselves, because he would not be hindered by human rights organizations or by a Supreme Court. This bargain with the devil, as all others, was bound to boomerang. Not only did Arafat fail to curb terrorism, he recruited, supported, and directed the terrorists themselves in the most cruel and inhumane acts of wanton and indiscriminate terror yet witnessed.

In the face of President Bush’s clear statement that Arafat betrayed his obligations and refused to fight the terrorists, how can Israel trust him in yet another promise to stop terrorism? Terrorism will be eliminated when we eliminate it, and the terrorists will be incarcerated when we take them into captivity. The Tenet agreement which is being promoted by the US administration as an appropriate exchange for a premature cessation of our efforts at effective self help, is based on an obligation by Arafat to arrest and punish the same terrorists with whom he is closeted in Ramallah. Arafat has not merely failed to thwart terrorism, he has promoted, enlisted and paid the terrorists per suicide bomb assembled. He has perpetuated and exploited the misery of the Palestinian Arabs.

How can anyone seriously treat Arafat and his corrupt gang of terrorists as partners for peace? Arafat has finally been exposed and his naked duplicity, wickedness, and corruption can no longer be clothed by us in self deception.

By ignoring Arafat’s despotism, corruption, and flagrant disregard of agreements, we not only betrayed our own principles, we thereby enabled the growth and spread of terrorism until it reached the inconceivable and monstrous proportions of today.

In the last month, over 150 of us have been murdered either by sitting in a cafe, or by going to the supermarket or by celebrating the Feast of Freedom with our families on Seder night. Statistically, for our small society, this is a loss even greater than that of September 11th. But this story is not one of statistics. For with each family suffering a loss, there is unbearable grief and pain, and a terrible, never ending void. And for each family suffering a death, tens of other families have had members permanently disabled, injured, and scarred. At the funeral of my Housing Ministry colleague, Aviel Ron, and his two murdered children, his widow, the mother of their two children cried out in utter disbelief, “ze lo yachol leeheeyot”–this cannot be happening. This is what all of us are all saying, and all of us we must do everything in our power to make absolutely sure that this does not continue to happen!

What our Defense Forces are doing now is long overdue. Our vast intelligence networks are working together intensively to identify the leaders and carriers of this explosive and venomous terrorism. We are determined to reach the villains and not innocent Palestinians. Because we are so careful to avoid unnecessary losses-on both sides- we must proceed carefully, deliberately, and surgically. Those we seek out hide behind innocent civilians, and especially, children and adolescents. They hide in churches and mosques and take monks and nuns hostage. Those we are chasing, booby trap houses and even churches. Advancing cautiously means moving methodically and slowly. We cannot treat every house as booby trapped and bomb it-lest we risk injuring innocent people; but we must treat every house as if it might be booby trapped-lest we risk the lives of our young soldiers.

Because of these circumstances, we need several weeks to eliminate most of the sources of terrorism. This is a job which can be done effectively. We have already arrested over 400 terrorists, about 100 of whom actually committed the murders. We have arrested those who directed the massacres at the Dolphinarium, at Seafood, and at Sbarro Pizza. The terrorist responsible for the massacre at the Seder in Netanya was killed in a highly sophisticated operation conducted by the IDF and the Security Forces. We can do the job responsibly, effectively, and honorably, but we must be given the proper time. If we are forced to recede before the completion of our mission, we will, at some point, have to return. And the cost to us and the price in innocent lives will be far greater.

History teaches us that Jews have often been killed in cruel and unusual ways. From the harugei hamalchut in Roman times to the inquisition, pogroms, and more recently, the gas chambers. Now, we experience yet another cruel innovation–human suicide bombs.

But this time, things are different. For we have a sovereign Jewish State to defend and protect its citizens. Israel’s first responsibility is to protect us from this recent wave of carnage. And by protecting us from this new weapon of terror, Israel defends freedom and civilized values everywhere. To prematurely end our campaign against this new threat, is to place our innocent civilians in harm’s way to the detriment of all. Israel must be no less resolute in fighting terrorism directed against us than the US in fighting terrorism against its citizens. The wishful thinking of Oslo has long since self destructed and we can no longer pretend that Arafat is a partner for peace.

You are no doubt facing conflicting pressures and will face even more in the next few days. The media is reporting what it understands based on many fragmented sources. I can promise you that the true story is really quite clear. We are a democratic state fighting to eliminate the worst wave of terrorism unleashed against a civilian population in human history. This campaign which will require several weeks, has only one purpose: to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure which was built by the Palestinian Authority and its leader Arafat with Israeli, US, and European resources. To force us to stop before its completion would be a tragic error.

These are not easy times but more than ever they call for us to be united in this campaign to eliminate terror. This is the humane course; this is the only course consistent with President Bush’s forthright stand against terror.

We need your understanding. We need your support. And we need them now as never before. I know the power and glory of Jewish unity and I know that together we can prevail.

Natan Sharansky
Israel Minister of Housing