I was in Jerusalem on Sunday, February 22, when another bus was blown up on the streets of the capital city, murdering eight and wounding scores of innocent travelers on their way to school and work. That same week, a young couple was brutally gunned down as they drove on the Hebron-Beersheba road, and the Tzadok family, in N'vei Dekalim, had half their home destroyed by a mortar, one of 4,000 that have landed in Gush Katif in the last three years.



At the Prime Minister's Conference for Tourism to Israel, which I was attending, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was the first speaker. He paid tribute to the dead and wounded in the February 22 terror attack and repeated the mantra that "life must go on" in Israel. He was speaking to a group gathered to promote tourism, but never spoke the truth that tourism cannot flourish in Israel while terrorism reigns.



He does not or will not see that terrorism will grow stronger as long as there are Israeli leaders who capitulate and negotiate with terror, and do not have the courage or moral clarity to confront the enemy and defeat him. Instead, ideas such as building a fence to divide Israel, and transferring 8,000 Jews out of Gaza, are presented as a unilateral gift offering to Arafat's terrorists, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, and all the other terrorist groups that operate in Israel.



In the 'Program & Abstracts' publication distributed to the participants at the Conference, the first page contains the Prime Minister's Greeting, entitled, "The Bible, Your Guide to the Land of Israel." Within the text, he writes, "Above all, Israel is the Land of the Bible. It is the only place in the world where the Bible functions as an authentic tourist guide ? a place where the original Hebrew names of locations have been preserved for thousands of years." I read these words, and listened to the Prime Minister repeat this message in his speech to the assemblage, and I was shocked at the hypocrisy. This is the man who is ready to give away Gaza. Does he know its Biblical history? Gaza is the place where our forefathers, Abraham and Isaac were active, where the story of Samson took place, where the Hasmoneans lived, in Gaza city, and led a vibrant life during the Second Temple period, and where Jewish settlement continued almost without interruption for two thousand years.



Sunday, February 29, a group of us made arrangements through Dror Vanunu, the representative for Gush Katif, to visit the community of 1,500 families, comprising 8,000 people spread out over twenty-one settlements along the Gaza Strip. We saw life, growth, synagogues, schools, playgrounds, lush green fields, hot houses and dairy barns. The holy soil of the Biblical desert land has been transformed into a garden. And this is what Sharon ? who calls the Bible his guide ? will give away as a reward to terrorism. And this same man, who quotes the Bible, is also planning to give away much of the Biblical heart and soul of Israel in Judea and Samaria. This is the same man who permits an ugly concrete wall to divide the holy land and Jerusalem, the holy city. This, despite his quoting from the Bible, "Upon your walls, O Jerusalem, have I posted guardians." He continued, "Today, we still see ourselves as the guardians of Jerusalem."



It is clear that Ariel Sharon, acting without Cabinet or Knesset support, and flying in the face of Israel Defense and Military Intelligence reports, has failed in his leadership of Israel. It is clear that a new, authentic Jewish leadership is necessary.



All of this is especially heartbreaking because the Israel we saw as part of the Tourism Conference is such a vibrant, exciting country. The Jerusalem International Convention Center was bursting with approximately 700 tour organizers from all over the world. The variety of languages spoken was dizzying. The many important speakers were all upbeat about the prospects of growth for the Israeli economy and the upswing in tourism and the dollars that generates. The tours of Jerusalem, which included a visit to the newly renovated and expanded Yad Vashem, the Western Wall tunnel complex, and the Davidson Center, reinforced the majesty and mystery of Israel's golden capital city. I had already breathed in the special qualities of Yerushalayim by spending the previous Shabbat there, praying at the Kotel, and enjoying some magnificent home hospitality.



We were treated to a day in Tel-Aviv at the 10th International Mediterranean Tourism Market, where hundreds of booths were set up, dispensing information about attractions in Israel and, indeed, throughout the world. And then the optional tours were offered. I chose the one through the glorious Galilee, where the spring flowers were showing themselves off in fields of yellow, purple and red, and waterfalls were carrying the waters from the Hermon into the Kinneret. In all the kibbutzim and guest houses that we visited, the warmth and hospitality was extraordinary. Surely, all the participants in the Prime Minister's Conference on Tourism had to be impressed with the good food, good hotels and the beauty of the country.



From my perspective, it was like being in two different worlds. The Israel that I usually visit on my AFSI Chizuk missions to Israel, which take place twice a year (the next one scheduled for May 16-May 23), was never mentioned in the Conference. The extraordinary, Biblical communities of Judea and Samaria, the reclaimed areas of Jewish east Jerusalem, the Jewish communities of the Gaza strip didn't exist at the Conference. The Prime Minister had the audacity to talk about Israel as the Land of the Bible, but he and the organizers never mentioned Gaza, Hebron, Shilo, Efrat, Elon Moreh, Beit-El, Bethlehem, Shechem, Betar, Tekoa, Be'er Sheva, Jericho, and so many more cities and communities in the biblical heart of Israel. Of course, some of these places are now off-limits to Jews because they were given away to the Palestinian Authority, but there was a time when we were able to visit the ancient synagogue in Jericho, and Joseph's tomb in Shechem. Fortunately, with army escort, we are still able to visit Rachel's tomb in Bethlehem and the Cave of Machpela in Hebron.



It is apparent that official Israel is not interested in promoting Biblical Israel. Official Israel is not ready to admit that tourism, which it is eager to develop, cannot and will not prosper while terrorism continues. And official Israel asks its people to continue with "life as usual" under the daily threat of terrorism, when it should be attacking terrorism at its core and eliminating the enemy. Instead, we see Jews placed in prison, Jews threatened with transfer from their homes and livelihood, and Jews treated as the hated "Jews" by their own people.



I believe it is up to each person, Jew and non-Jew, Israeli and American, to demonstrate actively against this policy. The Jews of Gaza need our help. They must not be transferred. If we allow this to happen, the "Never Again" that was chanted so bravely after the Holocaust will become a mockery. The time is now. Call AFSI ? 212-828-2424, or write to afsi@rcn.com, to learn how you can help.



We want Gaza to become one of the garden spot visiting sites on the next program of the Conference on Tourism.