First came the cascade of phone calls. One by one, our group of foreign students — along with the rest of the people in the bar — answered their cell phones: One by one, the bar emptied. These weren’t normal Friday night calls. Not far from where we were, a suicide bomber had just detonated himself.
It was a street filled with Americans, Canadians, Swiss and Israelis all sharing the same experiences — some tearfully embracing each other on the curb, some pacing up and down the street fielding the calls of frightened grandparents and some frantically calling their friends to see if anyone was there.
My friends and I at Tel Aviv University, where I’m studying abroad for the semester, always go to the Tayelet, our beachfront promenade. I have lunch right next to the site of the bombing, a karaoke bar called the Stage, a couple times a week, and my good friend Alex lives next door.
Picture if the same happened in sunny Santa Barbara: A 21-year-old man dressed as a clubgoer strapped himself with a bomb packed with nails, patiently waited in line (but in Israel he could only get as far as the security guard) then detonated himself, sending white-hot metal ripping through the crowd. Imagine the force splintering metal and bones — outside of Sharkeez or Freebirds.
New and tragic narratives were created. How many people are irreparably emotionally scarred after seeing 50 wounded young people, bloodied and dead, crying and deformed? Being injured in a suicide bombing is nothing to take lightly: mauled faces, missing appendages, brain damage. So far, five people are dead. What will happen to the victims who don’t know they lost loved ones? How, and who for that matter, will tell Linda Buzaglo, 32, that her husband Itzik was killed after she recovers from her injuries? And what about Ofir Gonen, who is still semiconscious and severely wounded in the hospital? He lost his longtime fiancée Yael Orbach — they were getting married in three weeks.
The Israeli-Palestinian narrative was changed, but to what extent is still unclear. The big question is whether the peace process has been shattered. Will this event snowball into accusations, raised tensions, military responses and more bombings? Or has it been somberly dented, this act of barbarity acting as a reminder of the urgency to move forward?
Shattered? Israel has delayed its plans to release 400 Palestinian prisoners and to hand over security responsibility of some West Bank cities to the Palestinian National Authority, while blame for the bombing has been hurled and parried everywhere from Islamic Jihad and the Syrians, to al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, Hizbollah and the Iranians. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told his Cabinet that “there will be no diplomatic progress until the Palestinians take strong action to eliminate the terrorist organizations and their infrastructures in the PNA areas.”
Dented? Most Israelis and Palestinians want peace, and they want the normalization of daily life. Many feel that radical militant Muslims are hijacking the prospect of Palestinian statehood, punctuating the peace process with acts of violence and adding to the ticking death clock. Do both peoples have to realize that the future will be a peace constantly compromised with acts of terror? Or is terrorism a curable disease? The reality is that the Palestinians and only the Palestinians — not Israeli sieges, security barriers or intelligence gathering — can stop these acts of terror.
But the challenge lies therein: Will Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) take a truly hard line against the terrorists, dismantling the terrorist infrastructure and stopping the incitement to violence and hatred against Israel, which means putting the lives of his family and those supporting him in peril? Or will he be another Arafatist, coupling strong rhetoric with little action?
In the meantime, we hope for peace. But in reality, we don’t want to fall victim to a suicide bombing, and we also don’t want to live in fear.
Adam Tartakovsky is a junior political science and environmental studies major.