Timing is a funny thing. Yesterday, while I was talking with my friend Heidi, we got to the topic of the Intifada (a common topic in this part of the world). She was saying that, having lived here for a few years, she’s seen how quickly the relative calm, and the peace negotiations that accompany it, can be shattered by one act of violence. Hopefully it won’t happen again anytime soon, she said, and we both murmured “insh’allah,” Arabic for God willing, before we went back to complaining about the rigors of Hebrew class.
A few hours later, I got back from shabbat dinner with my friends and hopped online to check my e-mail. The Washington Post Web page came up bearing the headline “Israeli Fire Kills 7 Beachgoers.” Hmmm, I thought. This can’t be good. However, the headline seemed, sadly, pretty mundane for a day in the Middle East. Everybody’s killing everybody else all the time, and although you can’t deny the tragedy of human loss, it’s hard to not be desensitized after a while.
However, the more ominous information was buried deeper inside the article: that Hamas has called off its fragile 15-month cease-fire with Israel, and has publicly stated that Hamas-sponsored suicide attacks on Israel, the hallmark of the Intifada, will resume. In short: the war is back on, effective immediately.
There are many different levels to this, and all are hard to explain. The first and most obvious is the security issue: although Islamic Jihad has carried out suicide bombings during the cease-fire, theirs have not been as frequent, tightly coordinated, or deadly as Hamas’. During the Intifada, Hamas carried out a bombing almost once a week, and each one had victims in the double digits. Busses, restaurants, shopping centers, Hebrew University: any civilian target was fair game. According to their statement, snipets of which were quoted in the New York Times, “‘The earthquake in the Zionist towns will start again and the aggressors will have no choice but to prepare their coffins or their luggage…The resistance groups … will choose the proper place and time for the tough, strong and unique response.'”
Gulp. Luggage or coffin? I’ll pick luggage, thanks.
That part is terrifying: knowing that all bets are off; that no place is truly safe, and they’re all being cased as potential targets. It’s the “unique” that gets me. I know how to avoid good suicide bombing targets: no crowds, no busses, no restaurants or stores without security checking bags at the door. Even that is far from foolproof, and who knows what these guys have up their sleeves now. People tend to assume that terrorists are crazy, easily influenced, and not the brightest crayons in the box. It’s not true. They know exactly what they’re doing, and if some degree of creativity–something unprecedented in the counter-terrorism world–is coming into the picture, we’re going to have a problem. Either way, creative tactics or not, we’re going to have a problem.
Aside from the obvious fear, though, what really gets to me is that this whole shelling incident was an accident. The IDF was in no way aiming for the beach; speculation is that it was either a misguided shell or a dud that landed and exploded on the beach. Regardless of what caused the accident, the fact remains that it was an accident. Not a deliberate killing, not a targeted assassination, not a provocation.
However, that’s how bad relations are between the Israelis and the Palestinians: despite an immediate apology, suspension of operations, opening of an investigation into what went wrong, and offers of medical aid from Israel, the distrust and hatred brewing between Arab and Jew are strong enough to override the obvious. On the Palestinian end, it looks like an open act of war and a deliberate targeting of civilians: because in their eyes, that’s what the Israelis do. On the Israeli end, the Palestinian reaction looks like a deliberate attempt to misconstrue evidence and use it as an excuse to attack Israel. Because in their eyes, that’s what the Palestinians do. Both sides are too wrapped up in their fury to bother with pragmatism and restraint, and so it all will begin again soon: the bombings, the reprisals, the polemics, calls for revenge, and vitriol from both sides.
The call of the muezzin woke me up this morning, as he called the faithful into morning prayer. I normally love hearing the call to prayer; it sounds beautiful, and I normally use it as a chance to offer my own thanks to the Man Upstairs. (I figure that, hey, it’s all going to the same guy.) But this morning it gave me chills because I knew that along with the call to prayer there was going to be a call to arms, and another call to revenge. I usually can go back to sleep after hearing the muezzin, but not today. I laid awake for another hour, my heart pounding as I formulated my “make it home alive” strategy. Hamas has given me the choice of my luggage or my coffin, and I’m going to make damn sure it’s choice A.