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Public ‘won’t bend’ to uproar over Qana

- The Washington Times - Monday, July 31, 2006

TEL AVIV -- The Israeli public, which has been united in support of the government's military actions in Lebanon, stood firm yesterday despite the international uproar over the deaths on Sunday of more than 30 children and several adults in the town of Qana.

"We won't bend," read the headline on a front-page column by the leading political commentator for the Ma'ariv newspaper.

"It's time you understood, the Jewish state will no longer be trampled upon," wrote Ben Caspit. "We won't allow anyone to exploit population centers to bomb our citizens. You can condemn us, you can boycott us, you are invited not to visit us, and if necessary, we will stop visiting you."

Three weeks into the war, the heavy civilian death toll in Lebanon has not changed most Israelis' perception of the war as an existential conflict over the right to live without the threat of Hezbollah rockets, as well as a proxy battle with an Iranian government bent on destroying the country.

During Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon, the killing of hundreds of Palestinian refugees in the Sabra and Shatilla camps helped undermine public support for the war effort. There was a similar effect on Israel's offensive against Palestinian militants when the air force killed more than one dozen civilians in an assassination strike on a top Palestinian militant.

But Israeli observers say the current push into Lebanon is still viewed as a war of no alternative.

In a defiant nationwide address yesterday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the army would continue to hit Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon despite an international chorus calling for an immediate cease-fire.

"There is no cease-fire, and there will be no cease-fire," Mr. Olmert said.

"Citizens of Lebanon, we regret the pain caused to so many of you, the fact that you had to flee your homes and places of residence and the unintentional harm to innocents, but we do not apologize for it.

"We will not give up -- not even for a moment -- our right to protect the state of Israel and defend our lives."

The speech, delivered at a gathering of mayors and regional council heads, appeared to be well-received, political analysts said.

Earlier yesterday at a special parliamentary session convened to discuss the war, Defense Minister Amir Peretz said Israel must not agree to an immediate cease-fire or "the extremists will rear their heads anew."

Four Arab legislators were escorted out for heckling the minister, but otherwise, "you couldn't really see any objection to the positions expressed by Peretz," said Avraham Diskin, a political science professor at Hebrew University. "It's an existential war, and people understand the viciousness of the other side in launching rockets."

A weekend poll published in Ma'ariv put public support for the war at about 82 percent. About 95 percent of respondents thought Israel responded appropriately to the kidnapping of two soldiers by Hezbollah guerrillas.

Coming on the heels of a kidnapping of a soldier near the Gaza border, many Israelis felt that the country's deterrence had been eroded because of a restrained response to previous cross-border attacks after Israel's withdrawals from southern Lebanon in 2000 and from the Gaza Strip last year.

The weekend magazine of the Ha'aretz newspaper featured interviews with female activists, who helped force Israel to leave Lebanon in 2000 but support the current war.

"Despite all of the terrible pain, I still believe this war is just, necessary and critical," activist Orna Shimoni said.

"And so, I think that even as we evacuate hundreds of thousands from their houses in Lebanon, it's not only correct, it's moral. Because I don't want them killed in our bombardment. But we must bomb."