View From a Height
Commentary from the Mile High City
Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Life and Death 

Ehud Olmert is the Vice Prime-Minister of Israel, but rose to prominence as Mayor of Jerusalem after the legendary Teddy Kollek. In today's Wall Street Journal, on the Eve of Rosh Hashanah, Olmert unflinchingly discusses the War on Islamofascism in Jewish and Israeli terms.

One might have imagined that we Israelis, after having endured more than four years of brutal terrorist attacks carried out by Palestinians, would have become immune to the horrific tragedy that unfolded in Beslan. Indeed, the televised scenes of the tiny coffins and grieving families seem far too familiar, just as the boilerplate speeches of the politicians and standard condemnations by world bodies feels like the routine drill. Yet the fact that we still find ourselves distraught, and can so readily identify with the suffering of the Russian victims, shows that the world today is divided into two distinct camps -- the first which seeks to affirm life, the second hell bent on avowing vengeance, martyrdom and death regardless of its victims.

In 1974, as a newly elected Knesset member, I watched the terrorist assault on a school in Ma'alot as it played out along Israel's northern border. Palestinian gunmen, ironically from a PLO faction funded by the Russians, infiltrated a high school and took dozens of students hostage. Before the army could free the children, the terrorists managed to kill 26 of them. At the time, the idea that a ruthless terrorist could deliberately murder Israeli children seemed almost beyond even our belief. What sort of desperate animals, we demanded, seek to advance their political agendas by slaughtering children? Surely the international order would insist that all the culprits be hunted down and punished.

The seeds of Beslan were sown in Ma'alot, Israel, in 1974.

But the world voiced only silence, and business went on as usual. Israelis were forced to learn that our tragedies were always going to be personal affairs, and that there would be no united international response to terror. Indeed, the democratic states in Europe provided the first cracks in the front, insisting on maintaining relations with the PLO after Ma'alot while accepting that there were no real consequences when it comes to Arab terror.

The distance from the school in Ma'alot to the school in Beslan should be measured not in miles but in historical perspective. The seeds of terror planted by the Palestinians in 1974 has come to complete fruition in a school house in Russia 30 years on. Terror attacks like the recent ones in Madrid, Jakarta, Be'er Sheva and Bali, as well as the genocide of African Muslims by Arab Islamic extremist in Darfur should all be seen as Yasser Arafat's legacy.

Last week marked three years since America was viciously attacked by radicals bent on the destruction of America's cornerstone values of freedom and justice. The images of 9/11 have left a permanent mark on Americans and freedom-loving people around the world, including myself. They seek to remind us of the dire consequences of terror and reinforce the need to never again allow terror to go unabated.

This week, Jewish communities everywhere will celebrate Rosh Hashanah, our inauguration of the New Year. But more than merely noting another year on the Hebrew calendar, Israel's sages teach that Rosh Hashanah marks the anniversary of the actual birth of the world. It is interesting to understand that according to our tradition, the recorded date of the start of time is not when the Creator fashioned the Earth and stars, but rather on the fifth day of creation, when Adam and Eve were brought into being. So cherished is human life that only on the birthday of the first couple are we told that the world truly began to exist.

The stark moral contrast between the ushering out of this past year with images of murdered school children and our high hopes for the New Year and the future of humanity is difficult to assimilate. However, these days, the two seem to be relentlessly entwined. Countries that are determined to protect their citizens and safeguard their security now understand that they can no longer remain passive in the face of evil. The threat of terrorism no longer recognizes national borders and no country remains immune. Either democratic states will bury the terrorists and their patrons, or they will bury us.

Although human-rights groups are quick to point out infringements of civil liberties as security services, law-enforcement agencies and armies around the globe engage the terrorists, they have no answers or words of consolation for the victims and their families. Indeed, those innocents maimed and killed also once had rights that were violated and can never be restored. In the balance of things, the temporary difficulties caused by fences, administrative detentions and interrogation techniques pale in the face of a tragedy like Beslan. It is easy to isolate and paint lifesaving government policies as "draconian." But the larger peril cannot be ignored.

As outlaw regimes such as Iran and North Korea race to acquire nuclear arms, the terrorist danger escalates. The camp of nations that chooses to hold life sacred must actively engage and disarm the camp of terrorist regimes and organizations at all costs. In Israel, we have learned that you can either fight the perpetrators in their cities and villages or you can turn your own streets and schools into a war zone. Pre-emptive operations can be utilized effectively in pinpoint strikes against terrorists and can incapacitate their leadership.

All those concerned with the freedom and survival of humanity must join in this struggle against the terrorists. Indeed, we must act to eradicate these organizations and never permit them to threaten us again. On this Jewish New Year, we are commemorating the birthday of humanity. We are also painfully reminded of the forces of destruction. Let us work to ensure humanity's survival -- and let us not fail.

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