We are all liberals, in the very best meaning of that word. We are quick to anger when we think the strong
bully the weak. The sight of heavy tanks moving against what appear to be civilian populations disgusts us.
Our deepest instincts lead us all to side with the oppressed against the oppressor. What has been happening in the Middle East in recent days has done terrible damage to the image and reputation of Israel. I fear there will be worse to come.
But that's one of the problems of news as transmitted by TV We see the images - grim and stark - but are given no context with which to explain them. We side with the man in the street against the men in the tank without anyone reminding us why he's there or what his purpose might be.
Let me tell you a little story which might help you understand why, to use the leader writers' favourite word these days, Israel is being so 'intransigent' - refusing to jump to attention and obey when the world, sickened by the violence it sees on its TV screens, criesâ€™ Halt!'
In May 2000, after considerable international pressure, Israel withdrew from northern Lebanon. It had gone there in the first place to protect its borders against Palestinian guerrilla organisations winch had previously occupied the frontier zones and almost daily attacked Israeli communities in range of their big guns and mortars.
Before leaving, Israel asked the United Nations to define the exact border between Lebanon and Israel - now called the Blue Line - so there could be no future misunderstanding. It sought and received assurances that it would not be attacked.
Some hope. Though repeatedly told that all the Lebanese Shiite Party of God (Hezbollah) wanted was to regain Lebanese territory, on the day (not the following day or the following week) that the Israelis moved out Hezbollah fighters moved in. Immediately, with arms imported from Iran, they once again launched attacks on Israel, killing residents and kidnapping Israeli soldiers. They have placed 8,000 Katyusha rockets on the border. Last week alone they launched 400 mortar bombs on Israeli targets. And the Blue Line? The much-vaunted Saudi Arabian peace initiative demands, among other things, that Israel leaves 'remaining occupied Lebanese territory'.
If one accepts the internationally agreed ,UN-sponsored Blue Line, there is no 'remaining occupied Lebanese territory'. If one doesnâ€™t, what should Israel negotiate make of those international agreements they are constantly being urged to sign up for?
This is not a small point. it goes to the very core of this terrible and bitter dispute. Israel wants peace - needs peace. As every Israeli knows to the core of their being, the Arabs can lose war after war after war and live to fight another day. By contrast, the first war Israel loses will be the last it will fight because Israel, the world's first Jewish state for 2,000 years, will simply cease to exist.
It cannot, therefore, afford to do what the world urges it to do - sign up for peace, accept Arab good faith and hope that all will work out in the end.
True, a lot of combat-weary Israelis would like that to happen. A lot of Jews in this country agree. It is hard to go on fighting. It is easier to follow the line of least resistance and pray that somehow things will be all right in the end. But governments can't operate on a wing and a prayer.
One does not need to love Ariel Sharon, and I most certainly do not, to understand what Israel is doing.
Look at the 'Declarations of Principle' which Yasser Arafat and the assassinated Israeli leader Yitzhak Rabin agreed in Oslo and shook hands over on the White House lawn on September 13, 1993.
Central to that agreement was that Arafat's Palestinian Authority would confiscate unauthorised weapons and outlaw terrorist organisations. It would cease incitement against Israel in the Palestinian media and at public meetings. There was nothing very novel in that. The British Government insisted absolutely that before any talks could start with the IRA there had to be a sustained ceasefire. It may be unfashionable to say so but democratic governments cannot negotiate at the point of a gun.
Arafat hardly tried. His bad faith was evident from the start.
Occasionally, under pressure, he has denounced the obscenity of the suicide bombing campaign but never in terms which even begin to do justice to the abhorrence which all decent people must surely feel for a campaign specifically designed to kill ordinary people - women, children, anyone in range. There is evidence that some of the bombers have been supported by his organisation. I had planned to list those suicide attacks in this letter. I don't know how many you remember, but I take a close interest in the subject and I thought there may have been about 20 at the outside.
The actual number is 67, of which no fewer than 29 have taken place since that most terrible of suicide missions, September 11, 2001. I'd need about three pages to list them all.
No wonder Israeli public opinion accuses the world of double standards. The difference between flying an aeroplane into a New York skyscraper and getting on a crowded bus in Tel Aviv with a bomb strapped to one's body is only one of degree. The carnage has been truly awful. Since September 2000, 470 Israelis have been killed in terrorist outrages. That would be the equivalent here of more than 4,000 people.
Hardly any Israeli families are not directly affected.
Unable any more to rely on Arafat, who they believe is actually actively encouraging terrorism, the Israelis have moved into the West Bank to sort things out for themselves, root out the terrorists, destroy their infrastructure, take their weapons and either capture or kill their leaders. It's not pretty Our soft old world recoils from such a show of military power but the Israelis think there is no alternative.
The Palestinians are adept at manipulating Western journalists who eagerly swallow their stories of massacres by Israeli soldiers, of ordinary civilians murdered by brutal invaders. All I ask you to do is suspend judgment consider who the real killers are likely to be. Would these be soldiers from a democratic country whose standards of discipline though of course not perfect stand comparison with the very best of what we'd expect from our military or would they be people who have a record of total disregard for the values which we hold dear?
Western journalists have not been allowed to go into places like Jenin with the Israeli Army and are outraged claiming that this evidence means it has something to hide. Can anyone point to me a single instance in the past 30 years of an Army patrol going out in northern Ireland accompanied by newspapermen or the TV cameras? Are the Press with the Royal Marines in the mountains of Afghanistan?
There was no massacre. Artillery and aircraft were deliberately not used even though this put Israeli lives at risk. A huge number of stories which have appeared in Western newspapers picked up from Palestinian ones are demonstrably false.
The truth is that building after building in Jenin were booby trapped, sometimes with people inside. Some local Palestinians, were used by their own side as hostages held in these places. Even though old people and-- children were being used as human shields, the Israeli troops took the greatest care not to harm non-combatants. Incidentally once areas were declared safe from booby traps ambulances were allowed through.