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The MetroWest Daily News

The spreading cancer of terror

By Ilana Freedman / Local Columnist

Friday, June 13, 2003

JERUSALEM -- Last Thursday, on my first evening of a 10-day visit to Israel, I sat on a hillside high above the Sea of Galilee and watched the lights come on in the valley below.

A cool breeze blew in from the lake and the stars appeared overhead in the darkening sky. The purpose of my trip was to study the implications of Middle East terrorism on US policy and homeland security. But as I sat on that hillside, I could not help but wonder how anyone could ever bring war to a place so full of peace and beauty.

Less than a week later, a Jerusalem bus loaded with children returning from school became the latest target of terror in this land of stark and troubling contrasts. The crowded public bus was traveling through the city center. The street was full of traffic. The sidewalk was teeming with pedestrians. The roar of the explosion was loud enough to be heard blocks away and strong enough to blow out the side of the bus, hurling passengers out onto the street. People became human torches, and the dead and dying were stark reminders that peace has not yet reached the Holy Land.

A suicide bomber, dressed as a religious Jew, had boarded this crowded bus in the middle of Jerusalem during one of the busiest times of day. His targets were students, young mothers with small children, the elderly. The bomb not only contained massive explosives, but was packed with bolts and screws in order to inflict as much pain and damage as possible. The bomber, who blew himself up in the name of religion, took 16 lives and wounded over 100 others. Some of the wounded, those burned and those now missing eyes, hands, and legs, face long recovery periods, their lives forever changed. Some will never recover and all the survivors will relive the horror of this nightmare for the rest of their lives.

Taking Credit

Hamas, a vicious terrorist organization that describes itself as a jihadi movement . . . that is part of the Islamic awakening, took credit almost immediately. Not content to kill and maim, they bragged across the airwaves about their latest attack against the Zionist enemy and warned Israel that their reach was everywhere and there was more to come.

There is something intrinsically evil about an enemy that chooses as its intended victims that part of the population least able to defend itself. This is not just a war against a standing army, although the Israeli Armed Forces have certainly been the target of suicide attacks. This war is largely against civilians, perpetrated by those who are not ashamed to sacrifice their own children in order to kill their perceived enemy. It is war against innocents and it is waged against the western way of life. Its targets are those who do not subscribe to the particularly vicious form of Islam that preaches lethal force against 'infidels'.

Since September 2000, nearly 600 civilians have been killed in terrorist attacks in Israel, over 65 percent of them women and children. Over 3,900 people have been wounded. In a country of only 6.5 million people, that is a price far too high to pay.

When is enough really enough?

What does it take to understand that those who would send their own children to die in order to kill others are not people with whom we can negotiate? When do we stop Pressuring Israel to turn the other cheek, and give them the freedom to do what is necessary to provide real security to its people.

When Iraqi citizens dressed in civilian clothes to perpetrate a suicide bombing against US troops, President Bush called it an act of war. What is it then, when Palestinian terrorists do the same, only the victims are innocent civilians? Had this terrible attack happened in Chicago or Boston instead of in Jerusalem, how long would we Americans have waited to respond?

It is time to let Israel take a strong and consistent stand against the terrorism that assaults them daily. Terror is a cancer, spreading around the world like SARS. It has already raised its bloody head in New York and Washington, as well as in Bali and Casablanca, in Mombassa and the Philippines, in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. On Wednesday it was in Jerusalem. And tomorrow?

Ilana Freedman is Senior Partner of Gerard Group International in Billerica. An industry analyst and an expert in trend forecasting, she has specialized in civil defense and anti-terrorism since 9/11. She lived in Israel for 16 years, where she worked with the Israeli police and learned first hand the issues related to living with terrorism on a day-to-day basis.