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On the Bulgaria terror attack and the Israeli fear of new violence

Every terror attack brings back the horror of all the others that preceded it. The bomb that exploded a bus full of Israeli tourists in Bulgaria last night is beyond horrific – it is a physical, emotional and psychological nightmare. For the Israeli and Bulgarian families of the dead, the nightmare will never end. The rest of us revert to the state of incomprehensible shock and sadness, as our minds play out the endless loop of scenarios in which it could have been us – the process that was the norm during previous waves of violence.

Needless to say any attempt to justify terror attacks on civilians for any reason is an abomination. It would be even worse if, in this tragic moment, the Israeli leadership were to exploit the people’s pain, let it cloud their judgment and leverage its plans for war. Yet the Prime Minister’s reflexive response blaming Iran seems based less on actual evidence, Amir Oren of Haaretz argues, than on his single-minded commitment to a war in Iran. The New York Times also quotes Meir Javedanfar, a local Iran expert, urging caution about making such claims, even as the Prime Minister promised a “forceful response” to the attack – apparently against Iran.

I’ve tended to be an Iran-skeptic. While many Israelis were literally marking the month on their calendar when the war was sure to begin, I didn’t bother to “refresh” my personal defense kit. The political blustering always seemed more like bluffing and positioning, and more useful to both leaders that way, than any action would be.

But it’s hard not to recall George W. Bush in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks drumming up all the evidence, real and imagined, from the most trusted of sources and the most authoritative voices on the globe at the time, to prove that Iraq was an existential threat to the world. The very next step was the ill-fated, protracted, blood-soaked war that minor American opposition and major European resistance, was helpless to stop. It is hard not to think of the betrayal that Americans and the world felt when the physical evidence failed to materialize. And it is not unreasonable to consider that Benjamin Netanyahu would take a page from George W. Bush in terms of communication, public opinion, and downright deception to undertake a war that some have argued he desperately wants.

Bulgaria may not be related to the Palestinian issue, but while Netanyahu is focused on Iran, it’s likely that many Israelis are having flashbacks to the years of Palestinian suicide bombings, the Second Intifada and the attacks of the mid-1990s. That leads to the question: What happens in the event that the Palestinians feel their nonviolent strategies have been exhausted, delegitimized, or simply didn’t work? The UN statehood bid brought no real advances; the global BDS movement has failed to gain widespread legitimacy in mainstream policy circles (and it’s worth noting that the liberal Zionist foray into a moderate settlement-only boycott has amounted to little). The weekly demonstrations in Palestinian villages around the West Bank have registered only minor victories, many injuries and several deaths, and most recently, internal Palestinian controversy as to their effectiveness.

Will the Palestinians revert to violence once again, out of desperation and hopelessness? As an Israeli who desperately wants to see Israel end the occupation through a political resolution, I can’t stand being threatened with violence. I view the main achievement of violence as killing civilians (inevitably), and dragging along further cycles of violence. We can also count on broad swings to the right among the Israeli electorate during these times.

But that fact that I dislike being threatened with violence doesn’t mean it won’t happen. Ominously, the most recent survey of Palestinians by Khalil Shikaki for the Joint Israel-Palestinian poll (from June 21-23, nearly 1196 respondents), shows that 37 percent of respondents support a return to armed resistance in the absence of any diplomatic process. It’s true that only 11 percent supported violence strongly; and that the broad absolute majority of 61 percent in total opposed it. But the fact that only nine percent were strongly opposed to armed resistance is not a good sign either.

Some people believe Israelis make political compromises only following violence. This government must make political compromises before the next wave of violence.

Not because an agreement will erase terror; because all things being equal, we must combat terror in the framework of peace and justice, not within a protracted war.


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    1. Joanna

      “What happens in the event that the Palestinians feel their nonviolent strategies have been exhausted, delegitimized, or simply didn’t work?”

      With grief in my heart for the innocent victims of terrorism, I still have to ask why it takes an event such as the bus bombing in Bulgaria to get Israelis to ask the above question. What would YOU do if you were a Palestinian? Or is that so unimaginable?

      Reply to Comment
    2. 31st Airborne

      >What would YOU do if you were a Palestinian?
      Change a leadership? So unimaginable?

      Reply to Comment
    3. Joanna

      Agreed. Also, that is CERTAINLY what I’d do if I were an Israeli!!!!!

      Reply to Comment
    4. Palestinian

      “Change a leadership? So unimaginable?” what kind of leadershipdo do we need ? a one that gives up all our rights to make Israelis happy ?Our so-called leadership in the West Bank is the best puppet Israel can ever get .The problem isnt with leaderships but people.

      Reply to Comment
    5. aristeides

      Israeli fear, Israeli fear.

      Why don’t Israelis pull their heads out of their self-absorption and spare a thought for the people living in fear of Israelis.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Amos

      Comment edited

      @Aristeides: “Why don’t Israelis pull their heads out of their self-absorption and spare a thought for the people living in fear of Israelis.”

      Innocent Israeli Jews are murdered for no reason other than that they are Israeli Jews and you use it as an opportunity to voice your hatred of Israeli Jews.

      Reply to Comment
    7. ginger

      “It is hard not to think of the betrayal that Americans and the world felt when the physical evidence (Iraqi WMDs) failed to materialize”
      Baloney. The war was hyped by the Israeli Lobby Neocons with Israel right behind it, with the Neocons and very likely Mossad participating in the Niger Uranium Fraud, just as Israel is trying to hoax the US into a war against Iran currently.
      It was the Israeli Lobby, Neocons, and Israel itself that ‘betrayed’ the Americans – just as they are turning around and trying to do the same thing AGAIN to America

      Reply to Comment
    8. I understand the leader of Hezbollah gave a rather emotional televised speech, saying Syria is their greatest ally against Israel. It looks like he is afraid of further isolation as the Syrian regime is on the defensive; Iran must also be worried about the growing instability of Syria, once a major ally. My guess is that the Bulgarian bomber is an attempt to ignite a greater conflict by Hezbollah and some in Iran. A hardline violent’s greatest ally can be the hardline violent in the enemy camp; both want the same thing–vindication of the evil nature of their opponent. There have been signs of dissent within Iran’s elite over nuclear weapons. I suspect the recent series of violent attacks against Israelis are activated within the elite, but not as a defined policy among all foregin minstery, military, and religous elite. There is an attempt to force the hand of the top, the Supreme Leader. It is just a guess, but the Iranian economy has suffered considerably through sanction, and we know the Republican Guards (or is it Revolutionary Guards?) have business investments; internal standing is threatened, naturally leading to some, afraid of slipping, to provocative attacks. Then there is the assassination of a nuclear scientist in Iran to motivate this side.
      There comes a point where attempts to stave off violence fail. All one can do then is prepare for the aftermath. I think that’s where we are now. I don’t condemn the military response; I just watch it, waiting for the later. You mentioned the lack of WMD in Iraq. Condi Rice has said that she would invade “a thousand times again” even knowing in advance there were no WMD, as has former Vice President Chaney. Those placed in command of brutal acts see a different world, with different reasons for attack.
      Nonviolence cannot work in a socio-economic vacuum. The small successes of the brave Palestinian souls cannot go much further. The Israeli social economy will have to encroach much futher for nonviolence to work; the Israeli State, I think, knows this, and will enforce bantuization to prevent a coupled Palestine/Israel economy, thereby limiting nonviolence as a difficult, painfull, yet sometimes successful tool.
      I am very worried. Nonviolence needs victories, but they are few now. They don’t have to be massive; they just need to be real on the ground, somewhat recurring; or there needs to be a sustained action toward a specific goal where progress of some sort can be measured. Overall, Israeli policy has been pretty effective against these. As I’ve said before, although one IDF officer is quoted as saying “We don’t do Gandhi well,” actually, they have done Gandhi pretty well.
      Eventually bantuization will fail, but not till Israel is drunk with its apparent success. All one can do is point out the ideology driving settler encroachment and the State’s implicit acceptance of it. Since I suspect the PA will become financially weaker, the environment for renewed violent ideology will grow. Some commenting on the site seem to either think so little of Palestinians as to ignore the possibility of renewed violence or, flip side, think Palestinians are capable of violence and nothing else. Nonviolence must prepare for the future, its practitioners, of which I am objectively not one, must make a place to survive the onslought, to be there for the after time. That place must involve action, a beacon for others to later join.
      When there is no heart for a family rebuilding its house after demolition; when Israeli regulations are never questioned but insisted obeyed without fail; when young volunteering their time to show another world might exist past all the hatreds are ignored or scoffed; then hearts have hardened in their own pain and anger into the next missle.
      Gandhi failed, mostly. At Independence Day he refused to celebrate. Yet Einstein called him one of the most unique men known to have walked the earth. Nonviolence has a lot of failure in it. The task is to use that failure, and only those living it can find a path to that.

      Reply to Comment
    9. jjj

      “Why don’t Israelis pull their heads out of their self-absorption and spare a thought for the people living in fear of Israelis.”
      Change “Israelis” to “Palestinians” (and v.v.) and you get a much more sensible sentence.
      The fact is that the very term “Israeli” is delegitimized by you, so its all just a hoax.
      If you really wanted a peaceful Palestinian state, you’d already have it years ago.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Mitchell Cohen


      Reply to Comment
    11. aristeides

      Israelis use their fear of terrorism as an excuse to terrorize others. The world is supposed to excuse it all on account of Israelis having an exclusive monopoly on trauma.

      What do Israeli politicians do the instant they hear the news of a terror attack against Israelis? They plan their own terror attacks in retaliation. The notion that Israel has the right to retaliatory terror and no one else does is the problem.

      These attacks don’t occur “for no reason” than that the victims are Israeli Jews. There is a reason, and it’s Israeli behavior.

      I live with fear because of Israeli aggression. I live in fear that Israel is going to drag the world into another war.

      Reply to Comment
    12. Aristeides,
      “An eye for an eye leaves us all blind.”
      The Israelis killed on vacation in Bulgaria are as innocent as those killed by Israeli weapons as “colateral damage.” Once the cycle of violence begins, there are victims and culprits everywhere. Rabin, near his assassination, seems to have decided that tit for tat would prevent peace, saying, in paraphrase, “you will not keep us from peace” to bombers of that day. He was killed by a Jew, perhaps mentally ill, but on that you take your pick, for not “protecting the Jews.”
      And since Israel has had suicide bombers aplenty.
      I can understand your fear. I can understand the fear of Israelis. It is my view, of no consequence, that for true peace to take hold some acts of violence will have to be absorbed by the generic victims. I don’t know how you tell people to do that, especially when sitting half the world away with just fine police protection.
      For what it’s worth, I do not think the attack in Bulgaria is simple tit for tat, rather including a hysterical response from some elements of the Iranian elite guard and Hezbollah as Syria, their former ally, seem to topple. If correct, the question becomes–how do you respond to hysteria?

      Reply to Comment
    13. dingdang

      netanyahu is permanently fanning the flames: inside israel and outside… with verbally bringing up memories of previous attacks, the holocaust – at every occassion possible… and of dangers hovering over your heads… and outside israel, he is blaming everyone for everything, while permanently threatening – that doesnt make difficult neighbourhood-relations any easier…


      you cant be right in the head… really…

      Reply to Comment
    14. aristeides

      The real problem is the weapons in the hands of the hysterics.

      Reply to Comment
    15. dickerson3870

      RE: “it’s likely that many Israelis are having flashbacks to the years of Palestinian suicide bombings, the Second Intifada and the attacks of the mid-1990s.” ~ Dahlia Scheindlin

      URI AVNERY’S FLASHBACK: “The Dogs of War: The Next Intifada”, By Uri Avnery, Counterpunch, 9/03/11
      (excerpt)…The second (“al-Aqsa”) intifada started after the breakdown of the 2000 Camp David conference and Ariel Sharon’s deliberately provocative “visit” to the Temple Mount. The Palestinians held non-violent mass demonstrations. The army responded with selective killings. A sharpshooter accompanied by an officer would take position in the path of the protest, and the officer would point out selected targets – protesters who looked like “ringleaders”. They were killed.
      This was highly effective. Soon the non-violent demonstrations ceased and were replaced by very violent (“terrorist”) actions. With those the army was back on familiar ground. . .

      Reply to Comment