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.