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'Wave of Palestinian terror'? Not exactly

It’s pretty difficult to pinpoint anything resembling a starting point for the latest violence; prior to last week, Israeli forces killed 19 Palestinians since July, compared to four Israelis who were killed. The violence is neither unilateral nor arbitrary.

Damage after a bomb exploded on an Israeli bus in the Tel Aviv suburb of Bat Yam, December 22, 2013. A policewoman’s eardrums were damaged in the attempted attack. (Photo: Israel Police)

The latest escalation between Israel and the Palestinians has taken lives on both sides over the last week. The Israeli media is now describing the violence as a new “wave of Palestinian terror.” Commentators have said that it’s not clear yet whether this is a third Intifada, indicating an organized uprising, since the attacks appear to have been perpetrated by individuals. But they are unquestionably acts of terror.

Israeli media tells a very simple story: the attacks are happening to us unilaterally and unpredictably, their arbitrary nature makes life in Israel terrifying and fragile. The only possible explanation for the uptick in Palestinian violence, observed Israeli officials such as Police Commissioner Yochanan Danino and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, is that Palestinian extremists hate the peace negotiations currently underway.

Consider the main violent events over the last week. The IDF ambushed and killed two Palestinians on Thursday, December 19, in separate incidents that took place in Jenin and Qalqilya. The army told news agencies that the men were wanted for shooting at soldiers, which Palestinians dispute in at least one case.

The next day, Friday, December 20, IDF shot and killed a Gazan civilian and wounded his brother, both in their 20s. Ynet quoted the IDF spokesman saying the two had approached the fence in an attempt at sabotage, and did not respond to warnings. Haaretz later reported that the wounded brother said the two were collecting plastic and metal scraps. The report added that they were known in the neighborhood as having made their living collecting plastic and metal shards from the dumps. Garbage scrounging is a familiar source of income for some Palestinians, in the West Bank as well, so this is not an unreasonable prospect.

On Sunday, an Israeli passenger noticed an unattended bag on a municipal bus in Bat Yam, a working class suburb of Tel Aviv. He alerted the driver, who ordered everyone off the bus and called the police. Ten minutes later, the bag exploded. The bomb was apparently mid-sized, blowing out windows and injuring the eardrums of a policewoman due to the noise. There has been no definitive information on the perpetrators, nor claim of responsibility; as of Wednesday evening, Israeli television reported that authorities are still exploring possible criminal as well as “nationalist” motives. Hamas and Islamic Jihad expressed support for the attack via Ma’an news but stopped short of claiming responsibility.

The next day an Israeli policeman in the West Bank was directing traffic when he was stabbed; he phoned his brother while the knife was still in his back, and told him to tell their mother, gently, what had happened. He underwent surgery to remove the knife and is recovering.

On Tuesday, a Palestinian sniper in Gaza shot and killed an Israeli worker contracted by the Defense Ministry who had been repairing parts of the wall separating Israel from Gaza that had been damaged by the recent storm. Saleh Abu Latif was a young Bedouin man from the town of Rahat, and his family claims that he was sent to work in the dangerous area without a mandated bullet-proof vest.  In response, Israel launched airstrikes on six different targets in Gaza, accompanied by ground fire, killing two Palestinian civilians, the Times of Israel reported: a father and his three-year old daughter – and nine wounded. I wasn’t able to find out how many people in Gaza had injured eardrums. But Haaretz reported that in a totally separate incident the same day, a man was shot and wounded by IDF forces in the northern part of Gaza strip, apparently for approaching the security fence. Wednesday night, the IDF said it killed two people who it claimed were in the middle of planting a bomb along the Gaza/Israel border intended to strike Israeli army forces.

This roster highlights several things. First, it’s pretty hard to pinpoint anything resembling a starting point for the violence. Prior to last week, 19 Palestinians had been killed since July, compared to four Israelis. Second, if the general definition of terror involves violence against civilian targets for political aims, the “wave” of Palestinian terror is not an accurate description unless Israel counts Palestinian attacks on soldiers and police as terrorism, and discounts its own attacks on civilians. Third, the violence is neither unilateral nor arbitrary, if one follows events on the ground.

Finally, announcing yet another settlement expansion during peace negotiations as Netanyahu is expected to do will not only crush any trace of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s credibility – it is sure to encourage further violence. That Israeli President Shimon Peres argued “Gaza is not under any occupation,” implying that there is no fathomable reason for discontent in Gaza, is simply baffling. It means that the Israeli head of state has completely failed to grasp Palestinian political consciousness. Occupation in the West Bank is occupation in Gaza. It’s not that hard to understand.

‘Israeli troops shoot Palestinian teen in back near Ramallah’ 

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    1. Richard Witty

      The attacks are unrelated to each other. Solos, maybe a group of friends, maybe a background bomber testing up again.

      They are not nothing, and the bus bombing is attempted mass murder, as all terror incidents are.

      They are BOTH a cause and an affect. Treating them as only an affect, will itself cause escalation.

      When the reality is that we co-create our world, Israel and opponents.

      The means chosen are significant, and to date, excepting genuinely non-violent writing and demonstration, and Fayyad’s institution building effort, Palestinians have chosen means that are on a continuum of violence.

      BDS for example is a violence. A shunning of a people is NOT a progressive act. It should fall on deaf ears among thinking progressives. Rock-throwing is not non-violence. Certainly killing policemen is not non-violent, and attempting to blow up a bus is not non-violent.

      The practical danger for Paletinians is that this incremental violence is EXACTLY what the right in Israel want to happen, those 35% that do secretly (or not so secretly), want an opportunity to annex Area C, permanently.

      You asked “what other options are there?” I sent you a facebook message outlining my proposal. You didn’t respond.

      Hopefully you will consider that there are other options than BDS and certainly than more aggressive violence (though BDS can get quite cruel).

      Reply to Comment
      • Morgan

        Shunning a state and its institutions is far less violent than allowing its systematic violence to continue. If I, as an American citizen, can’t stop the flow of U.S. military aid that makes this peace process such a farce, you bet I’m going to use institutions where I hold leverage to try and withdraw my participation in that violence. There may be fear, and alarm, and hurt feelings, but Stephen Hawkings didn’t injure anyone by staying home. Boycotting is a passive act.

        Reply to Comment
        • Richard Witty

          The boycott of Israel is not a passive act. It is an aggressive act.

          Intended as so by proponents, and perceived as so by Israelis and most Jews.

          Reply to Comment
    2. The case of the Bedouin is interesting. Is it part of “divide and conquer”?
      In the 1950’s Sephardim were used like that. They were put in abandonned Palestinian villages without protection from the army, in the hope that attacks from the Palestinians would stop any possibility of normalization with their Arab brothers and sisters.
      The Druse are already taken into the army, Netanyahu wants Palestinian christians to fight their muslim friends.
      The Bedouin man’s family was right. It’s just another attempt by the Zionist thugs to create animosity among people that could very well live in peace together. But more and more people are willing to see what is happening, every attempt at hasbara only makes things worse.

      Reply to Comment
      • Richard Witty

        You seriously consider blowing up a civilian bus admissable dissent?

        Reply to Comment
      • BOOZ

        I do not condone agressions on Dieudonné’s fans.

        This being said, how come you didn’t mention that Dieudonné is not just any stand-up comedian , but the former co-head of an anti”zionist” party and that he has been sentenced several times by French courts for a total 36,000 € fines for anti-semitic slurs?

        You have cheap heroes, my friend…

        Reply to Comment
      • BOOZ

        I do not condone agressions on Dieudonné’s fans.

        This being said, how come you didn’t mention that Dieudonné is not just any stand-up comedian , but the former co-head of an anti”zionist” party and that he has been sentenced several times by French courts for a total 36,000 € fines for anti-semitic slurs?

        You have cheap heroes, my friend…

        Reply to Comment
    3. I think Witty, above, is right that if the bus bombing had become mass murder it would have been very hard not to attribute some kind of group blame. We are prone to do this. We are also prone to see our opponents as more calculating and prepared than ourselves. These psychological tendencies make it possible for rouges to create the world they think, want to exist. And once the attributions begin, they reciprocally snowball, on all sides, until they indeed are reality: labeling some event as by group X, X is attacked; group X responds via similar labeling; finally all actions are group responses–which is war.

      We commentors on this site do this as well. Everyone is part of some faction, my faction is righteous, the others not, let me show you. Then reply, reply to reply, etc. I’ve played it.

      A social network frame, seeing some individuals attached to others but not in a necessarily exclusive sense, helps slow this psychology down. But there comes a point where the psychology will be right: groups have solidified into some kind of warfare. Apart from my love/hope of the law, the reason why I keep stressing Yesh Din on this site is that its very methodology short circuits reification into exclusive groups: what is this wrong, here, now; what proximate factors lead to it, how can it be redressed, how can the proximate factors identified be dampened if not prevented for the future?

      Nationalist ideology makes reification quite simple. Recall two Palestinian pre-teens (say 15 under) shot, one killed, a week or two ago. I can envision someone in Gaza decided to shoot at some Israeli worker in retaliation, perhaps ordered to do so, perhaps some sort of network push event, perhaps even totally alone in decision. Much of this conflict, overall, is played out by employing and manipulating our psychology of group attribution, justified in self reference by saying “the other side” is doing so, so we must too. All is always in righteous defense, but only one side is ever righteous.

      I am not saying the conflict is in our heads in a simple sense, nor that therapy will make us all brothers. I do believe, however, that the mental apparatus of both sides are rather similar most of the time. Understanding this should make escalation harder (not impossible). And there is always a point where escalation cannot be deflected. That bus passenger noticing a bag may have given everyone more time; mass murder demands an attribution–one tactical reason it is employed.

      Reply to Comment