It has been nearly a week since the Sabbath massacre in Itamar, but even with the passage of time the sense of horror and revulsion it evoked just will not abate. The mind refuses to believe and the heart cannot fathom the sheer devastation inflicted on the Fogel family, whose only crime was a desire to live as proud and free Jews in their own land.
Though I never met them, I continue to be haunted by the photos of the three Fogel children who were murdered along with their parents, their precious smiles forever erased by the depraved act of a Palestinian terrorist.
The carnage left behind three orphans younger than 12, and a nation in shock at the brutality of our foes.
Unlike some in the media, I have no interest in trying to understand the motivations of the savage who committed this cruel act, nor do I care what political grievances – real or imagined – he may have had.
A man who raises a knife and plunges it into a three-month-old child is evil, pure and simple. The perpetrators have forfeited their humanity, and Israel should hunt them down with all the determination and resolve it can muster. The terrorists must be made to understand in no uncertain terms that they cannot act with impunity, and that their day of reckoning will surely come.
But the butchery in Itamar cannot and must not become just another entry on the long list of Jewish victims of Palestinian terror. It must be a turning point, both in how we view the peace process and, more importantly, how we view ourselves.
FOR FAR too long we have tolerated the intolerable, from bus bombings to rocket attacks to the kidnapping of soldiers. We have allowed not one but two terrorist entities to take shape alongside us: the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah and the Hamas regime in Gaza. And we have kowtowed and capitulated to international pressure to refrain from toppling them.
The slaughter in Itamar is a stark reminder of the degeneracy of our foes. Indeed, the spontaneous reaction of many Palestinians was to take to the streets and celebrate, handing out candy as if their team had just won the Super Bowl or World Cup.
This says a great deal about Palestinian society, and especially about its leadership, which is willing to tolerate and even countenance such behavior. Clearly, these are not people with whom a serious agreement can be forged, however much we might wish to believe otherwise.
So let's stop the charade and discard the delusions that have guided our policy since the failed 1993 Oslo Accords. It is time to admit the obvious: The Palestinians aren't ready for peace nor do they truly want it. And we must stop pretending otherwise.
After the attack, the government was right to highlight the systematic incitement to violence in the Palestinian media and educational system, which foment an atmosphere of hatred and loathing and set the stage for still more terrorists to emerge. But what went largely unsaid was the role of the international community, which also bears part of the blame for what occurred in Itamar, if only because of its ongoing delegitimization of the Jewish communities of Judea and Samaria.
Just last month, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went out of her way to declare that "it's been American policy for many years that settlements were illegitimate."
Labeling the Jewish population of the territories "illegal" and "illegitimate" plays directly into the hands of the terrorists, in effect painting a large target on the backs of every Jewish "settler." If Jewish families in Itamar are repeatedly branded as "occupiers," is it any surprise that there will be those who will see no problem in attacking them?
AND THAT is why we must vigorously assert and defend the justness of our cause, and rebut the slander that Judea and Samaria are "occupied."
But there is another lesson to be learned from the events of the past week, one no less important to our future. As much as we just love to draw distinctions among ourselves, be they social, economic, political or ethnic, the reality is that in the eyes of our foes we are all settlers.
While some in Haifa might wish to believe that they are categorically unlike those in Hebron, it is a distinction without a difference, at least as far as the terrorists are concerned.
In responding to the massacre, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu wisely chose to underline Israel's determination by approving the construction of several hundred new housing units in Judea and Samaria.
"They shoot, we build," he told the grieving members of the Fogel family during a shiva call.While this will help to strengthen the Jewish presence in these areas, it still falls short of what can and should be done. After all, the new homes approved for construction are in communities such as Ariel and Gush Etzion, which everyone agrees we would hold onto as part of any final settlement.
A stronger message could have – and should have – been sent by authorizing the establishment of new settlements as well as expanding Itamar itself. In our struggle for this land, we must make clear to the Palestinians that any attempt to extinguish Itamar or other communities will only result in their further growth and development.
Or to put it even more bluntly: The sweetest revenge is to build. Let every destructive Palestinian act of terrorism be met with a constructive and overwhelming response. For at the end of the day, the key to peace lies not in removing the settlers, but in disavowing the Palestinians of the notion that our presence here is temporary. Only once they internalize this message will peace have any chance of breaking out.