April 18, 2006

Gush Shalom on the Tel Aviv bombing

We had just heard about the explosion and were busy making phonecalls: "Wanted just to know you are okay. You heard about the bombing, did you?" Then we saw an email coming from overseas to the Gush Shalom mailbox, a very short one:
"Any comment on the latest terror attack assholes?"
As a matter of fact - yes.


One o'clock. In the noon news magazine on the radio, the commentator speaks in a rather bored way of the ongoing army raid into Nablus, words nearly identical to the reports of yesterday and of last week: "The Palestinians claim that the boy shot in central Nablus was unarmed... The soldiers assert that they had shot only at armed militants, as per orders... This is part of a continuing operation to root out terrorists in Nablus and Jenin, which is already going on for several weeks... When soldiers arrive, dozens of youngsters start throwing stones, which complicates the detention of wanted terrorists..."

Suddenly: "We interrupt this report. A large explosion just occurred at the Old Central Bus Station in Tel-Aviv. Dozens of casualties. Stand by for further details"

The Old Central Bus Station. The least fashionable part of Tel-Aviv. The lively dirty streets which are the haunt of migrant workers one jump ahead of the notorious Immigration Police and the most poor and disadvantaged among Israel's own citizens. The place where people have again and again to endure suicide bombings, too. Today, once again.

As always, the dilemma: Should we go there, to the scene where six people have just perished and forty others wounded, a place which is just a short bus ride away and where we just a few days ago went to buy sandals? Go there, as Israelis and human beings and and peace activists - but to do what? To say what?

Sure, we are horrified by the senseless random killing. But we have also something to say about why it happened, how it might have been prevented, how the next one can still be prevented. But how to say it on this day and in that location? How to make comprehensible, to shocked and angry and traumatized people, that the occupation is the root cause of our suffering as well as the Palestinians'? How to explain convincingly that we must dry at source the oppression which makes young Palestinians don explosive belts and throw away their lives together with those of others?

In the end, we don't do anything except stay tuned to the non-stop broadcasts on radio and TV. At least the extreme-right people, who in past years used to rush to such scenes with their hate placards, are not there either today. It seems that they no longer find the public so receptive to their simplistic "solutions".

The flood of news reports continues. The number of fatalities has grown to nine, and doctors at Ichilov Hospital are still fighting to save the life of a very severely wounded sixteen year-old boy. At least two of the women killed were foreign migrant workers, and the Israeli consulate in Romania is trying to locate the family of one of them. Responsibility was claimed by the Islamic Jihad, and the perpetrator was a young man from the West Bank town of Quabatiya. In the Gaza Strip, a Palestinian boy (age not mentioned) was killed in an Israeli artillery bombardment (probably, somebody again instructed the artillery to decrease the range to the Palestinian inhabited areas...)

The bombing had targeted the very same cheap restaurant which was attacked in the previous Tel-Aviv bombing, three and a half months ago. Three and a half months ago. Nobody seems to remember the time when suicide bombings were taking place every week, or also several times each week. Nobody mentions that that had been when Hamas was the main initiator of suicide bombings. Nobody mentions that Hamas has been carefully keeping their one-side truce for more than a year now, that Jihad is a small organization with limited resources, that the Hamas self-restraint has saved the lives of quite a few Israelis in the past year.

A TV, reporter speaks smugly from the scene of the bombing: "The police had carried out massive detentions of Palestinian workers. Illegal Palestinians were found in all the restaurants and workshops around the site of the bombing. Why couldn't the police arrest them before it happened? (Because they had absolutely nothing to do with the bombing, because they came to Tel-Aviv for no other reason than to feed their families - but nobody says this on the air...)

In Jerusalem, the swearing-in ceremony of the newly-elected Knesset goes ahead as scheduled, and is broadcast live. The eternal Shimon Peres is Acting Speaker. Not always our favourite among politicians. But in his speech today, he at least admits that the Palestinians are not solely to blame for the absence of peace, and that some Israeli mistakes also have something to do with it. This is not nothing, especially on such a day.

The late night news is sometimes less tightly controlled than the prime time. The commentator reports about Defense Minister Mofaz holding consultations with his generals on the coming military response, and remarks: "So, there will be a retaliation, and the Palestinians will retaliate to the retaliation, and we will retaliate again, and then what?" No answer was forthcoming.

Adam Keller
April 17, Tel-Aviv

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