The years 2001-2003 were the worst in Israel's history, even though other periods - the Independence War, the three weeks of the Yom Kippur War - took a higher toll in lives. What set apart 2001-2003 was that despite a relentless terror assault against Israeli civilians and soldiers, Israel essentially did not fight back, even though it had a Likud prime minister with a reputation as a hawk and an army that was capable of defeating the terror at any time. Even after the Park Hotel massacre in March 2002, the military was given only a somewhat freer hand.

In trying to figure out what was happening, I conjectured that the blame lay mainly with the US government for refusing to give Israel the diplomatic support it would have needed to fight the terror seriously. George Bush, I reasoned, had probably told Ariel Sharon not to count on the US preventing a United Nations reaction of sending "peacekeepers" to "protect the Palestinians." Sharon had probably concluded that this would ultimately be even more harmful to Israel's security than the terror war itself. No doubt, it was emotionally easier to view it that way, though, as someone who grew up in America and is still affectionately attached to it, not easy.

Recent statements, though, by two people who were Israeli cabinet ministers at that time (and still are) suggest that the reality was worse.

Natan Sharansky was, in those years, deputy prime minister and minister of housing and construction. In his recent book The Case for Democracy (with Ron Dermer, Public Affairs, 2004), he recounts:

"Sharon cobbled together a national unity government and made Shimon Peres his foreign minister. Almost immediately, it became clear that there would be constant tension in the government. The sea change in Israeli public opinion... was not reflected inside Israel's parliament, and this was especially true inside Israel's Labor party. Most of the leading Labor ministers did not change their pro-Oslo views. They remained convinced that Arafat and the PA were the only alternatives and that nothing should be done to weaken them. Rather than meet the escalation of Palestinian terror with a firm response, they counseled restraint. According to the logic of their approach, the Palestinian terror attacks coupled with Israel's muted response was gaining Israel the sympathy of the world, and this sympathy could be used to pressure Arafat into taking action against the terror organizations. A strong response, it was thought, would create international sympathy for the Palestinians and put no diplomatic pressure on Arafat to crack down on terror."

And Silvan Shalom, who was deputy prime minister and finance minister in that government, related in a December 22 interview with the Jerusalem Post:

"I said more than once that we would never be able to reach an agreement with Arafat, and I called for his expulsion more than three years ago.... I also always said it is easier for me as the deputy prime minister to call for Arafat's expulsion than for the prime minister to do it. I understand that. ...But I think that if we would have done it three years ago, we would have saved hundreds of Israeli and Palestinian lives, even thousands. No mourning, no widows and orphans."

The implications of these two statements are grim. Both Sharansky and Shalom were high-ranking ministers in that government, and they both believe much more could have been done to protect us from the onslaught. Instead, it was hypothetical fears about world reactions - especially strong among a group of ministers who did not represent the people's will - that led to "restraint", in other words, to letting us be butchered.

So, it is with a feeling of bitter irony that I view the civil disobedience campaign that is now finally starting to take shape in Israel. That is, I view the campaign both as entirely justified and as too little, too late and too restricted. Justified, because the government has no mandate for "disengagement"; instead, Sharon's dictatorial tactics are making a mockery of what's still proudly trumpeted as Israeli democracy. Too little, too late and too restricted because disengagement-without-a-mandate is only the latest in a string of outrages that Israeli governments have perpetrated in the Oslo era.

It looks now as if not only the Yitzchak Rabin-Shimon Peres Oslo government during 1993-1996, and the Ehud Barak Oslo government during fall-winter 2000-01, essentially allowed Israelis to be slaughtered in deference to diplomatic concerns, but that the Ariel Sharon Likud-Labor "unity" government of 2001-2003 did the same thing. And we know that the whole blood-strewn "process" would have been stopped in its tracks with the Oslo II vote in the Knesset in October 1995, except that Labor bought the votes of two conscienceless monsters (one of them now facing charges for massive drug smuggling).

We know, too, that Barak pulled a trick of resigning in December 2000 so as to prevent Knesset elections that undoubtedly would have resulted in a right-wing government that would have been much more likely to fight the terror instead of submit to it. And we also know that, after hundreds more funerals, we were finally allowed to elect such a government in 2003; and it did fight terror much more effectively on the whole, but Sharon has now destroyed that government in the name of the same Oslo approach of unilateral concessions, while striving to bring the Osloites back.

In other words, an accumulation of outrages of which disengagement from Gaza and northern Samaria is only the latest installment. And it continues. Here are some examples:

1. The government informs us that Egypt will soon be handling our security concerns in Gaza. At the same time, it turns out that in return for releasing an innocent Israeli citizen who was judicially kidnapped in Egypt and held there in horrendous conditions for eight years, President Hosni Mubarak needs the release by Israel of over 150 convicted offenders, many of them terrorists, to show our appreciation. This is in addition to the release of six Egyptian infiltrators who were caught while planning large-scale terror attacks, and who, upon returning to Egypt, were greeted with smiles and honors by their government. Never fear; after the IDF leaves Gaza, 750 Egyptian border policemen will be guarding the Philadelphi Route for us, and Egypt will be "training Palestinian security personnel."

2. The newly emerging "unity" government creates a plethora of ministerial posts to stroke the egos of the various hacks who will constitute it, continuing a tradition started by Barak in 1999, when he used legal sleight of hand to expand the cabinet from the mandated 18 ministers to 24. Here, one might say, they're only stealing our tax money instead of letting us be killed. But economics and security are closely linked in Israel. At a time of deep cuts both in welfare payments and the defense budget, there's always enough money for useless ministers without portfolios and deputy ministers with fancy offices, staffs and cars. And if this isn't enough, another Basic Law is altered to create a special, entirely redundant deputy-prime-ministerial post for none other than Shimon Peres, who got the Oslo nightmare rolling and still thinks it's a great thing.

3. Convicted and jailed mass murderer Marwan Barghouti is not only allowed to run for the presidency of the Palestinian Authority until he himself bows out of the race, but to continue playing a lively, influential role in Palestinian politics from his prison cell. Just last December 28, Barghouti was visited by Gaza strongman Mohammed Dahlan and told him that "Israel's decision to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and the northern West Bank is a victory for the Palestinian resistance." Other recent visitors to this honored figure include Member of Knesset Taleb A-Sanaa and PA minister Kadura Fares. This, while Barghouti's murder victims can only be visited at their graves.

4. Government by trial balloon. In the latest "trial balloon" episode, Minister Ehud Olmert announces that the Gaza/northern-Samaria disengagement is just the start of a larger withdrawal process that will leave Israel as a huddled, indefensible ghetto surrounded by deadly enemies. Sharon immediately denies Olmert's words. Yet, when, a few months ago, Sharon's personal aide Dov Weisglass proclaimed that the Gaza/northern-Samaria disengagement would be final and was aimed at keeping the rest of the land under Israel's control, Sharon similarly issued a flat-out denial. Sharon here exposes himself as a liar, since it cannot be that both Olmert and Weisglass are wrong. Instead of a government that respects a population that is enduring a terror war, and speaks openly and honestly to us, we get a government of trial balloons, lies and trickery.

What can be concluded from all this?

A nonviolent civil disobedience campaign against disengagement is, to repeat, completely justified.

[Part 1 of 2]