the 90th minute

Until September 2007, when my oldest daughter was born, this blog covered daily life and politics in Israel, as well as Hebrew-English linguistic issues, from the perspective of an American-raised journalist and translator living in Israel. Now it mostly serves as the SmunchMonk&Bear news agency, a portal into the bizarre universe of the little people. Read more at:

Thursday, October 5, 2006

Out in the Wild Mideast

Almost a week ago, a bomb exploded in Rishon Letzion, near Tel Aviv.

Those outside the country, and even many people living in Israel, might not have heard about it. That’s probably because it wasn’t a terror attack perpetrated by Palestinians against Israelis. It was merely a bomb that killed Yossi Afriat, a “reputed underworld debt collector,” as Haaretz calls him in this article about the police force’s poor record when it comes to solving underworld killings in Israel, like the one that took place last Friday.

The blast also wounded 14 passersby, including a baby and a 12-year-old boy on a bicycle. The casualty count could well have ended up higher, police said.

"We can say that a major disaster was averted since had the car exploded further down the street, where there were many people, there would have been more casualties," Central District police chief Major General Dudi Cohen was quoted as saying.

Then why is it that I breathed a sense of relief as soon as I found out that the explosion was not a terror attack?

For one, there is a certain grim, death-toll logic to the stark distinction typically made between terror bomb and underworld bomb (or attack with a “criminal background,” as a literal translation of the Hebrew term would have it).

True, bystanders are sometimes the unintended targets of underworld killings. For instance, three people were killed in a 2003 bombing in Tel Aviv aimed at assassinating Ze’ev Rosenstein, an alleged mob boss who has been extradited to the United States to stand trial for charges related to the distribution of more than a million ecstasy pills.

But overall, while these mafia-type folks are pretty bad guys, they’re mostly trying to kill, maim or scare one another. When the terrorists bring a bomb into Tel Aviv, though, they’re doing their damnedest to find the most crowded area they can get away with entering and kill as many Israelis as they possibly can.

At a deeper level – and perhaps this is a key element of why terrorism, from its point of view, is so successful – there is just something inherently shattering about being an intended victim of people who are actively trying to kill you because of your nationality and/or ethnicity. And even though there isn’t much of a peace process going on at the moment, and even though another terror attack is always an all-too-real possibility in this country, there remains this intractable, unwarranted hope that maybe, against all odds, that last terror attack that took place really was the last terror attack. This thinking has the disadvantage of lending undue significance to every terror attack, regardless of the tangible damage it wreaks, but it's hard to escape that pit-in-the-stomach feeling of, “Oh no, here we go again.”

And so some relief at the prospect of underworld bombings makes a certain kind of sense, much the way it makes a certain kind of sense that Israelis can’t get it in their heads that their bad driving kills more people than terrorists do.

But when it comes to detonations, the time has come for Israel to get over the criminal/terrorist distinction. Because a bomb is a bomb is a bomb, and Israeli mobsters should not be excused for blowing up Israeli cities just because they’re not Palestinian. Unless the police tackle the underworld problem with full force – and are given the resources needed to do so – then we can expect to see more shootouts from the cowboys out in the Wild Wild Mideast.


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