December 11, 2018

On the Firing Line

On Salah a-Din Street, the main street on the Arab side of thecapital, the spirit was very different. People kept their heads down,aware that they were being watched, aware that the Jews weren’t toofond of them these days. But if they were expected to feel remorsefulabout Mahane Yehuda, some did, while others felt roughly theopposite.

“Most Palestinians are not sad about these things,” said Ibrahim,a 26-year-old electrician, sitting outside a cafe. “On a personallevel, they’re afraid it will hurt them, make their lives harder,make it harder for them to work in Israel.”

He added that Palestinians are also afraid of revenge attacks byJewish terrorists. (A Palestinian man was shot to death on Sundaynear a settlement south of Hebron. A Palestinian eyewitness said thatthe killer was wearing a yarmulke.)

“But, on the other hand,” Ibrahim said, “Palestinians think thisis the only way to fight against the Netanyahu government. They feellike they have nothing to lose. So, in the end, they support thiskind of action.”

Ibrahim himself didn’t think it was right to blow up civilians,saying, “If you want to fight, you should fight soldiers.” But hesaid that most of his friends supported the bombing of Mahane Yehuda.

Standing near the Old City’s Damascus Gate, William, 32, ahospital employee, said: “This is not the right way to build ourstate. These were innocent people — they have nothing to do with thegovernment’s actions. It wasn’t right, and this is not the way toachieve peace.”

A couple of high school students, who didn’t give their names,voiced the same opinion.

Mohammed, the owner of a hummus restaurant on Salah a-Din, said:”It was right and wrong at the same time. I’m against bloodshed ingeneral, but the Palestinians are still under occupation, and theyhave the right to fight against it anyway they see fit.”

Danny Rubinstein, perhaps Israel’s leading journalist onPalestinian affairs, wrote in Ha’aretz: “It’s doubtful that any otherterror attack has brought out such feelings of sympathy among peoplein the territories. The reason for this is undoubtedly the buildup ofbitterness and rage among all sectors of the Palestinian populationtoward what they see as the Netanyahu government’s destruction of anyhope in the peace process.”

Rubinstein wrote that a few hours after the bombing, “onlyexpressions of satisfaction” were heard on the streets of Arab EastJerusalem. The local newspaper, Al Kuds, printed condemnations andexpressions of sympathy from Yasser Arafat, Hanan Ashrawi and otherPalestinian leaders, but Al Kuds editors privately derided theseremarks as “false, put-on, lip service,” he wrote.

Yet Dr. Khalil Shkaki, widely considered the most reliable trackerof Palestinian public opinion, said that he believes mostPalestinians are uncomfortable with the Mahane Yehuda attack, even ifit expressed the political disillusionment they feel.

“It’s one thing to say you ‘understand’ the act, that youunderstand people’s frustration and despair, but it’s another thingto say you actually support that act,” said Shkaki, director of theCenter for Palestine Research and Studies in Nablus.

When the center conducts its next survey of Palestinian publicopinion next week, Shkaki said that he expects to find that theMahane Yehuda bombing has reversed a rise in popular support forterror.

It went down to about 20 percent when Netanyahu took office, butclimbed up to about 40 percent after the Hasmonean tunnel riots latelast year and stayed at that level after construction began on HarHoma.

“It’s easier for people to say they support violence in theorythan it is for them to say it after they see the faces, the blood,the death,” he said.

Asked how he reacted when he saw such images from Mahane Yehuda,Ibrahim said: “It’s difficult. It’s difficult to see such painfulthings. But if you see pictures from the intifada, it is moredifficult. Israelis did things to us that were even worse. I had afriend who was killed in the intifada. We Palestinians have adifficult past too, and we don’t forget it.”

Shkaki went on to predict that the bombing would not translateinto political gains for Hamas or Islamic Jihad. “Despite the factthat people are frustrated, Hamas can’t mobilize popular support;they can’t capture people’s imagination,” he said.

Palestinians are primarily concerned with improving their economicwelfare and with ending the corruption and abuse of their humanrights by the Palestinian Authority, but “Hamas isn’t dealing withany of these issues,” he said.

The impression from Palestinians on Salah a-Din Street was offluidity of opinion, of contradiction. Ibrahim, who said that “itwasn’t right to carry out such an explosion among people,” also saidthat when he first heard of the bombing, he was “happy.”

“Yes, I was happy,” he said, “because it showed that while thegovernment of Israel is doing everything it can to stop such actions,it cannot succeed.”

Mohammed, who insisted on the Palestinians’ right to fight theoccupation “anyway they see fit,” also said that when he first heardof the Mahane Yehuda attack, he felt “very bad. It showed that thingsare starting up all over again. It ought to stop. There should besome peace so that we can all just try to live.”

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