The gathering of the winds of war against Israel over the past two months have raised parallels with the crises in 1973, 1967, and even 1948. Yesterday's bombing of an Israeli school bus recalls another year: 1974, the year a school in Ma'alot was attacked by Palestinian terrorists. Perhaps it is not surprising that parents and leaders who proudly send children to die in attacks against Israel would resort to targeting Israeli children as well.
Yesterday, two teachers died and nine others were wounded, four of them children, when a large remote-controlled bomb ripped through a school bus in the Gaza Strip. In 1974, 24 schoolchildren and a soldier were killed by Palestinian terrorists who captured a school in the northern town of Ma'alot. Since the current attacks against Israel began, at least six Palestinian children aged 13 and under have died in the fighting.
Though the ability of a belligerent party to deliberately target or use its own children in warfare is difficult to contemplate, this barbaric phenomenon is impossible to deny. The Palestinian use of children in warfare against Israel is not a marginal phenomenon, but one that has been systematically cultivated with devastating results.
Official Palestinian television and schools have saturated young children with hatred of Israel and glorification of warfare and martyrdom. Far from resisting the official incitement, some Palestinian parents have proudly shared the hope that their children will die fighting Israel.
Though Palestinian spokesmen, such as Hanan Ashrawi, have denied that children are deliberately sent into battle (and even labeled such charges as "racist"), the debate among Palestinians on this topic confirm its reality. Bir Zeit University, for example, asked Palestinians in a just-released poll whether they "support or oppose the participation of children (under 18) in the confrontations." Fully 74 percent, to their credit, expressed opposition, but the fact that the question needed to be asked indicates the scope of the problem.
In addition, an Arab journalist writing in a London-based Arabic newspaper has movingly condemned "Palestinian leaders [who] consciously issue orders with the purpose of ending their childhood, even if it means their last breath." Huda al-Hussein continued, "What kind of independence is built on the blood of children, while the leaders are safe and so are their children and grandchildren?"
Now we must hold these same leaders responsible for attacking our children, despite the Palestinian Authority's denial of all responsibility. This barbaric attack demonstrates the uselessness of the "cease-fire" announced by Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, which he specifically limited to firing from Area A -- under full Palestinian control -- against Israelis.
As Israeli security officials have pointed out, this supposed cease-fire clearly permits attacks against Israelis in the territories, such as yesterday's. Nor does estimation that some extremist Islamic group, such as Hamas or Islamic Jihad, perpetrated these murders absolve Arafat. The Palestinian leadership has released such murderers from its jails, coordinated with these groups politically, and all but suspended the security cooperation with Israel that was designed to prevent such terrorism.
The game whereby Arafat does not engage in terrorism himself but signals a bright green light for others is an old one. It is not enough for Arafat to stop the shooting by his own Tanzim Fatah militia, he must work to put out the fire that he started and that is being used as cover by groups that may or may not oppose him.
Prime Minister Ehud Barak, for his part, should start crying foul regarding US President Bill Clinton's refusal to unequivocally blame the Palestinians for perpetuating attacks against Israel. The US refusal to clearly assign blame for aggression is a perversion of the concept of honest broker: It is one thing to be balanced when mediating negotiations, quite another to be balanced when one side replaces negotiations with violence. Israel's military retaliations for terror are necessary, but cannot be as effective as an American decision to render Arafat's continuation of violence diplomatically counterproductive.