That uneasy calm of Jerusalem broken
These are not the best of days in Israeli-Palestinian relations, and matters will not be helped by this: the first terrorist attack in Jerusalem since 2008 and the city's first bus bombing in almost a decade.
Friends in Jerusalem used to always point out to me where terrorist attacks had taken place before.
With a slightly detached air, they would refer them out like they were any one of Jerusalem's other famous landmarks. Some of these locations will be familiar to even the most casual of visitors: the sidewalk outside one of the trendy cafes where the young like to hang out, along the city's main thoroughfare of Jaffa Road and so on.
Further down that main Jaffa Road is Jerusalem's Central Bus Station, a busy interchange used by those coming in and out of the city. Long-distance buses stop use the complex as a terminal, while outside, services running between the city and its outskirts stop. On any given day, you see lots of people there. Soldier boys and girls with their rifles slung across their shoulders, orthodox Jews in their black top hats and full conservative attire, families doing their shopping at the Yehuda produce market just a stone's throw away, just to name a few.
A couple of hours ago, a bomb went off right there at one of the bus stops outside the bus station where these people wait. As of now, more than 20 people are reported to have been wounded.
Watch the AP coverage of the blast scene here.
Jerusalem is a city that was familiar with bus bombings, especially during the Second Palestinian Intifada that started in 2000, when Palestinian suicide bombers were blowing themselves up on public buses. The last ones were just in 2004. 20 dead in three attacks. It is not hard to imagine the memories this latest one evoked.
Israel journalist Didi Remez made this point on Twitter:
“Note to Jerusalem bomber(s): Not only have u perpetrated a crime against civilians, u have also given the Status Quo Lobby a rare gift.”
In a tweet, he summed up the whole situation.
So far, no fatalities have been reported in the Jerusalem blast, but according to reports, between three and six are in critical condition.
No one has claimed responsibility yet, but suspicion naturally falls on the Palestinians. Not one of the militant groups, specifically. Just the Palestinians as a collective.
A week and a half ago, a Jewish family, including their three young children were stabbed to death in their home. The culprit too has not been caught, but for all intents and purposes, eyes were cast towards the Palestinians. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lost no time in demanding that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemn the killing.
Since then, Palestinians have been targeted in revenge attacks.
In Hebron, a Palestinian man was stabbed repeatedly by an attacker suspected to be a nationalistic Jew. Masked men launched themselves on Palestinian construction workers in a Jewish settlement and doused them with pepper spray. In Safed, cars belonging to Israeli Arabs were vandalised.
If that was not enough to heighten tension between the two sides, militants have been launching rocket attacks from Gaza on Israeli cities close to their common border.
No casualties there either, on the Israeli side that is.
The Israeli Army retaliated as expected and Palestinian civilians have been killed during three days of reprisal strikes. Israel acknowledged four civilian deaths which Netanyahu expressed regret for. The Palestinian Maan News Agency counted five deaths in a single day of attacks.
Dark days ahead?
None of this is going to be helpful in resolving the deadlock between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Struck by two attacks on civilians in the short span of two weeks, coupled with increased rocket fire on its southern cities, there will be pressure for the Israeli government to act, retaliate and not to seem weak. Security is an extremely sensitive issue in Israel, and as much as terrorist attacks have lessened over the last decade, the trauma of terrorist attacks remain in the general consciousness.
It will take a bold decisive and visionary leader to come out and say, we need to stop this senseless cycle of violence.
There doesn't appear to be any Israeli leader coming forth to say that.
No, punishment will be on their minds.
Not peace, and especially not compromise.
This is a victory for those on both sides who have no intention whatsoever of negotiating with the other side. For the likes of these, it is either “us” or “them”.
The extremists, the ultra-nationalistics, the terrorists, they are the ones who win in this potential escalation of violence.
The Israeli and Palestinian people? They look to remain locked in hostilities for some time to come.
The worst part of this? Innocent lives will be continue to be lost and sacrificed, like they weren't worth the land they live on.