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Friday, 22 March, 2002, 18:53 GMT
Terror attacks harden Israeli opinion
Mourners at the funeral of Tsipi and Gadi Shemesh, killed in Thursday's bomb attack
Israelis were hoping for a reduction in suicide bombings
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martin asser
By BBC News Online's Martin Asser in Jerusalem

The latest suicide bombings have stung Israel, with many citizens asking how such attacks square with Palestinian participation in the US-mediated effort to reach a ceasefire.

All but the most dovish Israelis believe that their government has already made sufficient concession by ending most of the recent army incursions into Palestinian-ruled areas.

They were hoping for - if not expecting - a quid-pro-quo reduction of suicide bombings.

Jerusalem restaurant owners and shopkeepers protest the wave of violence
Israelis are asking why the Palestinians continue to target Jerusalem
But instead they have had the opposite, with three attacks in the last three days which have killed at least 10 Israelis and left people with the impression that whatever Israel does to appease the Palestinians - it is not enough.

This impression has been fuelled by the fact that Thursday's suicide bomber, who struck in the heart of west Jerusalem, belonged to a group nominally loyal to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and had been released from a Palestinian jail only days before.

Palestinian anger

This bloodshed has caused more and more Israelis to view the situation only as an issue of terror directed against them.

But a "terror-first" view discourages questions which many Israelis might once have asked about whether settlement activity in the territories occupied by Israel after the 1967 war might be the root cause of Palestinian militancy.

Palestinian women walk in front of graffiti support the Palestinian militant group Jihad
Many Palestinians support attacks on the occupying army
After 18 bruising months of the intifada, few Israelis are now able or willing appreciate how Palestinians' lives are disrupted, if not ruined, by the settlements in the West Bank and Gaza - and the security regimes which accompany them.

They also cannot see how settlement activity has fuelled support for violent struggle throughout Palestinian society.

Many Palestinians - including ones who may once have favoured peaceful negotiations - now want to see more attacks against the occupying Israeli army and the settlers, but also have few scruples about indiscriminate attacks on Israeli civilians, like Thursday's nail bomb attack.

Or Palestinian 'hate'

To most Israelis, though, the issue of settlements can be discussed only when terror attacks cease; to do otherwise would be a sign of weakness.

"Why do they kill us in Jerusalem and not the settlers, if they want to get rid of settlements?", is a common question on Israeli lips.

Two Palestinians searched at a Bethlehem checkpoint
Some Israelis raised views about improving security
So many people seem to be falling back on the notion that the Arabs are nurturing a deep-seated hatred of the Jews.

The few Israelis walking about near the scene of Thursday's blast all complained of an inherent "Arab anti-Semitism", as well as accusing the international media of portraying Israel as "the bad guy".

Less forthcoming were views on how to bring security back to Israel's streets - although vague notions about improving Palestinians' lives and increasing security were floated.

There was, however, general frustration towards Israel's principal political and military backer, the United States.

General Anthony Zinni's current mediation effort is viewed as a process of hobbling Israel to entice Arab countries to join in the next round of Washington's "war on terror" - against Iraq.

But for Israelis, the threat posed by Iraq is academic, as opposed to the real-life death and destruction which they face on a daily basis.

See also:

22 Mar 02 | Middle East
West Bank blast mars truce talks
22 Mar 02 | Media reports
Zinni fails to impress Mid-East media
16 Mar 02 | Middle East
Zinni praises Mid-East 'commitment'
16 Mar 02 | Middle East
Israel's stay-at-home culture
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