Seth Freedman
The Guardian (Opinion)
March 24, 2011 - 12:00am

The deadly attack in Jerusalem on Wednesday has, inevitably, further ratcheted up the tension that has been brewing in the region for weeks. The strike at the heart of the city's teeming transport hub demands a strong response from the Israeli government, both for the sake of its own people and to warn Palestinian militants that a return to the bloodstained days of a decade ago is in neither side's best interests.

Apologists for Palestinian terrorism love nothing better than to deflect attention from their crimes by pointing the finger of blame squarely at Israel. Claiming "it's the occupation, stupid", they behave as though any act of violence, however wanton, can be breezily dismissed as nought but a Pavlovian reaction to Israeli aggression in Gaza and the West Bank.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad spokesmen sought to do just that after Wednesday's attack, referring to the slaughter as "a natural response to Israeli crimes".

For all that their liberation struggle may be justified, to refer to the killing of civilians in such a casual and reductive fashion once again reveals the militants' true colours, and it is no wonder that the Israeli government and public alike are so keen to fight fire with F16 fire.

The attack even manages to put the horrors of Itamar into the shade, since any atrocity within the Green Line is taken far more seriously by the majority of Israeli citizens who recall with alarm the nightmare of the second intifada's peak. While the butchery in Itamar sent shockwaves through the country, settlements are still seen as wild-west terrain, whereas a bomb at a crowded Jerusalem bus stop strikes far closer to home in most people's minds.

To the average Israeli, acts of terror against civilians mean only one thing: that Palestinian militants see every Israeli man, woman and child as fair game, and that their assailants have no remorse about striking at even the most vulnerable members of Israeli society. Were terror attacks restricted to military installations and personnel, the results might be no less deadly, but at least the actions would be recognised as a somewhat more legitimate method to resist Israel's perceived aggression.

Palestinian terrorists shedding innocent blood on the streets of Israel does not instantly turn the conflict on its head and paint Israel as the good guy in the decades-old hostilities. Too much evidence points to the contrary – that successive Israeli governments have sought to oppress generations of Palestinians in the name of Israeli nationalism and irredentism. However, the Israeli right's perennial assertions that the only way to keep the wolf from the door is via heavy-handed and cold-hearted measures are given a welcome fillip by acts of savagery such as took place in Jerusalem and Itamar.

Palestinians' interests are best served by sober leaders who recognise the utter futility of playing into the hands of Israeli hardliners with brutal attacks on civilians. The likes of Hamas and Islamic Jihad know full well the consequences of letting their militants loose to kill Israeli citizens, yet the glee with which they celebrate each new killing spree speaks volumes about their commitment to either the peace process or the welfare of their own people.

In the absence of such level-headedness winning the day at the helm of Palestinian politics, it is inevitable that the cycle of tit-for-tat violence will continue and that tensions will continue to escalate. Right now, the onus is on Palestinian leaders to rein in their radicals, and on the Palestinian people to demand such preventive measures from their elected officials. The alternative – a return to the near-daily terror attacks of 10 years ago – will spell disaster for both Palestinians and Israelis in the short and long term.


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