When a whole people are seething with rage, it becomes a dangerous enemy, because the rage does not obey orders.
When it exists in the hearts of millions of people, it cannot be cut off by pushing a button.
When this rage overflows, it creates suicide bombers - human bombs fuelled by the power of anger, against which there is no defense. A person who has given up on life, who does not look for escape routes, is free to do whatever his disturbed mind dictates. Some of the suicide bombers are killed before they reach their goal, but when there are hundreds of them, thousands of them, no military means will restore security.
The actions of General Mofaz during the last month have brought this rage to an unprecedented pitch and instilled it into the hearts of every Palestinian, be he a university professor or a street boy, a housewife or a high-school girl, a leftist or a fundamentalist.
When tanks run amok in the center of a town, crushing cars and destroying walls, tearing up roads, shooting indiscriminately in all directions, causing panic to a whole population - it induces helpless rage.
When soldiers crush through a wall into the living room of a family, causing shock to children and adults, ransacking their belongings, destroying the fruits of a life of hard work, and then break the wall to the next apartment to wreak havoc there - it induces helpless rage.
When soldiers shoot at everything that moves - out of panic, out of lawlessness, or because Sharon told them "to cause losses" - it induces helpless rage.
When officers order to shoot at ambulances, killing doctors and paramedics engaged in saving the lives of the wounded, bleeding to death - it induces helpless rage.
When these and thousand other acts like them humiliate a whole people, searing their souls - it induces helpless rage.
And then it appears that the rage is not helpless after all. The suicide bombers go forward to avenge, with a whole people blessing them and rejoicing at every Israeli killed, soldier or settler, a girl in a bus or a youngster in a discotheque.
The Israeli public is dumbfounded by this terrible phenomenon. It cannot understand it, because it does not know (and perhaps does not want to know) what has happened in the Palestinian towns and villages. Only feeble echoes of what really happened have reached it. The obedient media suppress the information, or water it down so that the monster looks like a harmless pet. The television, which is now subject to Soviet-style censorship, does not tell its viewers what is going on. If somebody is allowed to say a few words about it, for the sake of "balance", the words are drowned in a sea of chatter by politicians, commentators acting as unofficial spokespersons and the generals who caused the havoc.
These generals look helplessly at a struggle they do not understand and make arrogant statements divorced from reality. Pronouncements like "We have intercepted attacks", "We have taught them a lesson", and "We have destroyed the infrastructure of terrorism" show an infantile lack of understanding of what they are doing. Far from "destroying the infrastructure of terrorism", they have built a hothouse for rearing suicide-bombers.
A person whose beloved brother has been killed, whose house has been destroyed in an orgy of vandalism, who has been mortally humiliated before the eyes of his children, goes to the market, buys a rifle for 40 thousand shekels (some sell their cars for this) and sets out to seek revenge. "Give me a hatred gray like a sack," wrote our poet, Nathan Alterman, seething with rage against the Germans. Hatred gray like a sack is now everywhere.
Bands of armed men now roam all the towns and villages of the West bank and the Gaza strip, with or without black masks (available for 10 shekels in the markets). These bands do not belong to any organization. Members of Fatah, Hamas and the Jihad team up to plan attacks, not caring for the established institutions.
Anyone who believes that Arafat can push a button and stop this is living in a dream world. Arafat is the adored leader, now more than ever, but when a people are seething with anger he cannot stop it either. At best, the pressure-cooker can cool off slowly, if the majority of the people are persuaded that their honor has been restored and their liberation guaranteed. Then public support for the "terrorists" will diminish, they will be isolated and whither away. That was what happened in the past. During the Oslo period there were attacks too, but they were conducted by dissidents, fanatics, and the public aversion to them limited the damage they caused.
American politicians, like Israeli officers, do not understand what they are doing. When an overbearing vice-president dictates humiliating terms for a meeting with Arafat, he pours oil on the flames. A person who lacks empathy for the suffering of the occupied people, who does not understand its condition, would be well advised to shut up. Because every such humiliation kills dozens of Israelis.
After all, the suicide-bombers are standing in line.
The author is an Israeli journalist, peace activist and a former member of the Knesset.