Last Sunday, one of Israel?s ostensible ?peace partners? picked up an M-16 rifle and opened fire on an Israeli passenger bus carrying children home from school. This ?martyr? for the Palestinian cause, this ?hero? of the Palestinian revolution - as Yasser Arafat?s state-controlled media will no doubt refer to him - succeeded in murdering two innocent Jewish children and wounding 46 other Israelis before he himself was killed. So, while our politicians prattle on about how strong we are and how powerful our army is, Jewish children cannot ride home safely from school in our indivisible, yet apparently under-defended, eternal capital. So much for promises of peace and security.

How did the sovereign, independent Government of the State of Israel respond to this atrocity? By retreating, of course. Just hours after the attack, while some of those injured were still fighting for their lives at local hospitals, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon gave the OK for the Israeli army to withdraw from Kalkilya, thereby turning control over the city back to the Palestinian Authority (PA). The same Palestinian Authority, that is, which Sharon recently compared to the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Sunday?s events provided further proof that while the Oslo process may be dead, its destructive mentality is alive and well and it continues to reap a bitter harvest of Jewish victims.

There is something wrong, something terribly wrong, with how inured we have become to the violence around us. The daily fare of grenade attacks, roadside bombs, mortar rounds, shootings, stonings and stabbings have all become a regular part of the news broadcast, and they seem to elicit about as much interest as the daily weather forecast. Attacks come and go, the injured are evacuated, the dead are buried and now we turn to our economics correspondent for an update on the price of fruit and vegetables.

One of the most dangerous impacts of this ?routine? is that we have become numb, our senses dulled by the numerous tragedies. We have lost the ability to empathize, to feel the pain and share in the grief of a family whose father, or mother, or son will not be coming home any more. It is the death of outrage, for we no longer feel any outrage over death. We talk about the sanctity of human life, but when our government does little to protect it, we fall silent. We express revulsion for Yasser Arafat, the man behind the past 13 months of devastating bloodshed, but when our Foreign Minister greets him with smiles in Majorca or Brussels, hardly a peep of protest can be heard.

In a democracy, the government is supposed to respond to public pressure. It keeps a watchful eye on the public mood, often basing its decisions on how it thinks the people will want it to act. It may sound naive, but in this sense we all share part of the blame for what has befallen the Jewish people over the past year, for we have failed to pressure the Government into acting as it should. Sure, Prime Minister Sharon is under tremendous pressure from the United States and Europe to refrain from sending Yasser Arafat into early retirement and, yes, Foreign Minister Peres, with his weekly threat to resign, adds to the strain the Prime Minister faces. Yet if the nation were to finally say, ?Enough is enough,? if all the port workers, Labor Ministry officials and university lecturers were to strike, not to get another few dozen shekels every month, but because Jews are being murdered in the streets, then maybe, just maybe, the pressure on the government would be too great to ignore. If Prime Minister Sharon saw that the people of this country are no longer willing to tolerate daily casualties, then it might provide the necessary counterweight to Colin Powell and Shimon Peres.

Sharon has had plenty of opportunities to bring down the PA ? after the suicide bombing at the Dolphinarium in Tel Aviv, the Sbarro attack in Jerusalem or in the aftermath of the World Trade Center. In all these cases, he failed to do so, preferring instead to take far more limited steps. Even the assassination of Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi, which by any standards would be considered an act of war, was met with only a limited incursion into Palestinian-controlled territory.

Analysts have suggested that Sharon is waiting patiently for another opportunity to act, but that may be only partly true. If Sharon is waiting, it might very well be that he is waiting for us, for the people of Israel, to pour into the streets and express our long-forgotten sense of outrage over what has been occurring. If we do so, if we raise our voices loud enough in protest, then perhaps it will give Sharon the political cover he needs to finally bring about an end to Palestinian terror, once and for all.


Originally published in the Jerusalem Post. The article is posted with permission of the author.

Michael Freund served as Deputy Director of Communications & Policy Planning in the Prime Minister?s Office from 1996 to 1999.