Shattered Semi-Solitude: Reflecting on the January 8 Attack
I was awakened from my reverie this afternoon, from this semi-solitude of lulls you become accustomed to in between periods of intensity bursting at the surface. I know this lull is a privilege, to live my life with mostly normal, non-conflict related challenges, and I know many of my fellow bloggers do not have this luxury. I know that some weren’t simply shaken from their afternoon tasks to collective empathy and anguish at the loss of life of those whose beautiful faces we see on the news, but do not know; instead their hearts dropped to their stomachs because it was their friends, their children who were among the soldiers on this outing to overlook the capital city’s hills and views. And then there’s the life and sorrow of the ones we don’t often consider, the attacker’s mother, wife, children and other family and friends who also lost a loved one. A loss is a loss is a loss is a loss, rippling outward, touching far too many with its painful talons.
I drove past the site of Sunday’s attack that evening as I went to visit a friend who lives in the area. A few hours had passed since the incident and night had fallen. Multiple media stations were set up, reporting from the site while a few remaining police vehicles marked off the boundaries of the area with lights flashing in the darkness. I caught a glimpse of someone waving an Israeli flag out of the corner of my eye. I turned onto a main road. Ribbons of leftover police tape marked off the main entry and exit road to the site of the attack, and it fluttered in the chilling wind of the cold winter evening.
A large vehicle began to approach behind me on my right and I tensed slightly, instinctively, in light of the afternoon’s events. I thought it was a truck at first, but it was a bus. This feeling is back, I thought with a sinking heart. I’d had the same feeling for a few tense months after the series of tractor attacks in the city.
I turned the radio on and read the news, as many of you also likely did. How quickly this tragedy is spun in so many directions.
One of the tour guides at the site of the attack who was involved in stopping the truck by shooting the attacker immediately politicized it, citing what is now being called the “Elor Azaria effect” where soldiers are afraid to react quickly and shoot as a result of Azaria’s recent conviction. How can this be, I thought, sick to my stomach. Azaria shot an apprehended Palestinian 11 minutes after he was already tied up on the ground. How is this the same? Yet pundits took up this quote and repeated it again and again. The response to the truck attack was quite fast, in spite of the fact the soldiers who participated in this outing were not combat soldiers.
Hamas is trying to trend on Twitter with #Truckintifada, handing out candies to celebrate the demise of these young people who symbolize the enemy. I know it’s routine for Hamas, to issue statements of bravado and victory, but it sends a slight chill over me to read their spokesman’s words calling to “escalate the resistance,” and "it may be quiet, it may linger, but it will never end."
Netanyahu immediately tried to associate the attack with recent European attacks, saying the attacker might have been connected to ISIS and our terror is the same terror that the rest of the world faces. Another typical sound-byte from Netanyahu, quite routine as well. Yes, an act of aggression and violence and loss are painful, but they happen in different contexts and addressing them requires reflection and inquiry into the underlying issues. Officials failed to mention the occupation or the disparity between East and West Jerusalem, East Jerusalem being the home of the attacker.
The attacker’s sister just released a statement saying she is happy, and “It’s the most beautiful martyrdom.” This too is another routine response. Is she really happy? Or is this just what you say when you have a family member participate in an act of terror and you hope to receive some sort of financial assistance after this person’s death?  Perhaps his sister is truly happy, and it’s part of her religious worldview to rejoice in the death of a “martyr.”
Yet another commentator on the radio dismissed the Elor Azaria effect and ISIS connection, stating it seems the soldiers were afraid and took cover. There’s no way we can compare it to Azaria’s act of murder, in violation of army protocol. Perhaps the response of the soldiers on the promenade was a little slow, but it was likely due to the fact one officer ordered them to take cover, and they were not sure if it was an accident, if the truck had mistakenly run off the road. Only when the truck reversed back toward the group did they know it was intended.
One official used this as an opportunity to speak of finishing the Separation Wall and routing it between East and West Jerusalem neighborhoods. More checkpoints, more concrete blocks, more barriers. It was my end of the year wish in 2014 that we put these behind us, yet here we begin 2017 with a new round of violence and reprisal and separation.
I find myself looking at my young children, thinking of the attack but not wanting to tell them. We’ve enjoyed many outings to the same park, the site of the attack. It’s been a place to bike, picnic, stroll and meet with friends, Israeli and Palestinian. I notice that my jaw is tight and I check the car mirrors much more frequently to avoid large vehicles approaching mine. My heart is heavy and with all those who have lost a loved one, and with all who, like me, hug your loved ones a little tighter, knowing that you never know when the worst may happen.
 The PA offers monthly stipends to families of terrorists who commit violent acts, to civilian non-combatants killed by Israel and to those who are in Israeli jails for committing nonviolent acts. Officially, Israel calls this an “incentive to terror” or “incentive to murder” and views payments as an encouragement for Palestinians to commit acts of aggression or terrorism against Israeli soldiers and civilians. On the other hand, Palestinians see these payments as part of a social program to care for those who have lost family members who were important to contribute to the family’s income. Palestinian NGOs that discuss prisoners’ rights argue that the family is innocent in the acts, and the payments allow the children to live respectably and attain an education, thereby avoiding extremism. See this article by Naomi Zeveloff for more, “Exclusive: Does Aid to Palestinians Subsidize the Families of Terrorists?”