Message to Sharon
By Michael Freund
The Jerusalem Post
October 15, 2003
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is in political trouble. If you don't think so, just ask the parents of David, an eight-year old Israeli boy.
David's parents are beside themselves with worry, because their son lives in constant fear, terrified that he too may fall victim to the "bad guys," as he puts it. David heard about the families that were wiped out entirely in the Haifa massacre last week, the father and daughter who were murdered by a Palestinian suicide bomber at Caf Hillel in Jerusalem, and the infant who was slain in her crib in Negohot.
Not surprisingly, these horrific events have left an indelible mark on David's young mind, leading him to reconsider just how safe the world is beyond his front door.
Compounding his worry is the anxiety he feels that one or both of his parents might be killed, leaving him alone and orphaned, with no one to care for him.
That's pretty heavy stuff for an eight-year old.
But David, it seems, is not alone. In the past year, I have heard several such stories from friends and acquaintances living in various parts of the country. Parents, teachers and principals all seem at a loss as to how to deal with such cases, which has led to numerous lives being disrupted.
A similar level of fear, albeit not as intense, appears to have gripped much of the rest of the country as well.
In a poll published in this past Friday's Ma'ariv, respondents were asked the following question: "Do you personally fear that you or one of your family members will be harmed in a terrorist attack?"
The results, quite simply, were incredible. An astonishing 71% of Israelis said yes, they are afraid, while just 24% said no.
Stop and think about that for a second. Nearly three out of every four Israelis are walking around fearful that they or someone they love might become a victim of terror. You don't need to be a mental-health professional to understand what a tremendous psychological burden this amounts to, or what the cumulative impact must be on people's psyches.
The pressures of daily life, such as raising a family, holding down a job, and getting by during tough economic times, present their own set of challenges. But add to that a basic, lurking existential fear, and it's a wonder that more Israelis aren't buckling under the pressure.
But one thing that is most certainly buckling is Ariel Sharon's popularity. According to the Ma'ariv survey, his approval rating has tumbled to 36%, making him only slightly more popular than various forms of dental surgery.
To be fair, Sharon's standing with the public has had its ups and downs over the past couple of years. But even during some of the most difficult periods of the current intifada, he managed to consistently earn approval ratings of 50 or even 60 percent.
The decline in his popularity is almost certainly linked to another key question that was included in the poll. Asked if the current government knows how to fight terror, only 34% of Israelis said yes, while 55% said no.
It is of course his reputation for being tough on terror that brought Sharon to power and preserved his popularity for much of the past two years. But even that seems to be eroding, as the public loses patience with his inability to quash the Palestinian terror campaign.
If, as Sharon said recently, he has every intention of running for office again, he is unlikely to remain indifferent to these trends in public opinion. Sooner or later, he will have to win back the public's confidence, and the only way to do so at this point is to strike an overwhelming blow against the terrorists.
After all, it is the fear factor prompted by terror that has brought down two premiers in the past decade. In May 1992, the murder of 15-year-old Helena Rapp by a knife-wielding Palestinian terrorist shortly before the election contributed, at least in part, to the defeat of Yitzhak Shamir.
And it was the February-March 1996 suicide bombings in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem that helped toss Shimon Peres out of office.
With this in mind, and as he confronts a possible coalition crisis with the National Religious Party and Shinui over control of the rabbinical courts, Sharon may at last decide to salvage his premiership by doing what he should have done long ago: dismantling the Palestinian Authority and eliminating the Palestinian terrorist threat once and for all.
Of course, he has refrained from doing so thus far, despite the ongoing murder of Israeli citizens. Instead, Sharon has preferred to rely on a mix of tactical military moves while remaining strategically committed to establishing a Palestinian state.
But the failure of this approach, and the public's increasing apprehension about it, may leave Sharon with little choice in the matter. He may finally have to give the public what they want, and so truly deserve: a life free of daily Palestinian attacks.
As US Vice President Dick Cheney said in a speech last Friday to the Heritage Foundation, "Strategies of containment will not assure our security either There is only one way to protect ourselves against catastrophic terrorist violence, and that is to destroy the terrorists before they can launch further attacks."
With an increasing number of Israelis like eight-year-old David living in fear for their safety and their future, Sharon may at last be forced to embrace the wisdom in Cheney's approach, and order the inevitable reconquest of the Palestinian-controlled areas.
After 10 years of Palestinian terror and bloodshed, it is an order that is long overdue.
The writer served as deputy director of communications and policy planning in the Prime Minister's Office under former premier Binyamin Netanyahu.
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