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Jewish World Review March 24, 2004/ 2 Nissan 5764

Richard Z. Chesnoff

Richard Z. Chesnoff
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I'm not shedding any tears for Sheik Ahmed Yassin |
The Hamas leader, whom I had the dubious pleasure of interviewing twice, was one of the most ruthless and unyielding of all Palestinian terrorists. The bushy-bearded sheik hid behind the label of "spiritual leader" but he was a cold-blooded killer. He was as much a man of true religion as Yasser Arafat is a man of peace.

Critics say Israel's decision to hit Yassin was a strategic error - it was bad timing and will provoke more violence. I disagree. There is no good time for such a strike, and terrorists need no excuse to kill the innocent.

It was Yassin who sanctioned or personally ordered almost every one of the major terrorist raids in Israel in recent years. Nearly 1,000 Israeli men, women and children died on buses, in cafes, in synagogues or in their own homes. It was Yassin who taught an entire generation of young Palestinians to hate, inspiring teenagers to abandon their families and become human bombs. It was Yassin who gave the stamp of approval to using female suicide bombers in violation of his religion's tenets.

I remember my first interview with him. It was winter 1988, during the initial intifadeh. With the help of an Arab journalist, I had tracked down his secret home in one of the countless alleys and warrens of Gaza. It was a cold, wet day, and the quadriplegic sheik, surrounded by a handful of his faithful, was huddled in his metal bed, all but buried beneath an enormous pile of blankets and comforters. Only his head stuck out.

Maybe that's why his speech was so particularly fiery that day and the message so chilling.

I remember asking him what Hamas' conditions were for peace and whether Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza would be the first step toward a settlement.

At first, I heard what was almost a giggle. Then his squeaky voice grew sharper and louder: "Make no mistake, there will be no peace as long as there is a Zionist-Jewish state. Our holy goal is to liberate all of Palestine, and if the Jews do not go, they will die. All of Palestine is Islamic land - every inch."

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There it was - Yassin's spiritual philosophy in a nutshell.

It was the same the next time we met: No peace with Israel. That position never changed. It is still the core of Hamas policy, as well as of other terror groups like Islamic Jihad. They will never rest until Israel is destroyed.

That is why I believe that while moderate Palestinian leaders like Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia may be shedding public tears for Yassin, they should privately rejoice. Hamas and the other terror gangs represent the greatest challenge to their authority and should have been arrested months ago.

With the evil sheik dead, the Palestinian Authority has an opportunity to consolidate its power and crack down on terrorism. It also may be the moment for reasonable Palestinian political leaders to find a way to rid themselves of that other great hindrance to peace: Yasser Arafat.

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JWR contributor and veteran journalist Richard Z. Chesnoff is a senior correspondent at US News And World Report, a columnist at the NY Daily News and a senior fellow at the Washington-based Foundation for the Defense of Demoracies. A two-time winner of the Overseas Press Club Award and a recipient of the National Press Club Award, he was formerly executive editor of Newsweek International. His latest book, recently updated, is Pack of Thieves: How Hitler & Europe Plundered the Jews and Committed the Greatest Theft in History. (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR. )

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