Wafa, the official news agency of the Palestine Liberation Organization, uploaded on its site a spectacular photograph of fireworks in Gaza, set off in honor of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and not in celebration of Wednesday’s shooting attack in Tel Aviv. Even if there were Palestinians who expressed joy over the attack in front of cameras which found them at exactly the right time and place, neither joy nor support would accurately describe the sentiments of most Palestinians about the shootings.
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There is generally understanding of what motivated the two gunmen from the West Bank town of Yatta, combined with appreciation for what appeared to be their daring. There is also a lot of concern about how Israel will respond.
Wafa also published a condemnation of the attack from the office of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. It would certainly not satisfy the Israelis, while at the same time anger the Palestinians for its symmetry. “The office of the presidency has expressed its repeated rejection of any action by any side that targets civilians whatever the explanations for it may be,” the statement said. It also said that the creation of a positive climate and establishment of a just peace would ensure the safety of civilians.
Abbas’ opposition to any escalation has been reflected on the ground. For example, his security forces are arresting and detaining activists who had not been arrested by Israel and who had led demonstrations opposite the separation wall in Bethlehem. So clashes at one of the major hot spots have ceased. But in his lukewarm statement, Abbas was apparently trying to avoid hurting the feelings of his public.
His Fatah movement could not condemn the Tel Aviv attack. A statement from the organization called the shooting “a personal and natural response” to Israel’s state violence. A spokesman said that state violence meant a policy of home demolitions and uprooting Palestinians from their communities, “settlers’ invasions”of the Al-Aqsa mosque plaza in Jerusalem and the “killing in cold blood of Palestinians at checkpoints.”
For its part, the Hamas movement praised the attack, while the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine called it a turning point in the current intifada and an understandable reaction to the large number of Palestinians killed by Israel. Referring to the location of the Tel Aviv attack, which happened to be across the street from the Defense Ministry, it said this constituted a challenge to the new Israeli defense minister, Avigdor Lieberman, and confirmation that armed struggle was the best way to secure Palestinian rights.
The Popular Front’s stance is closer to prevailing Palestinian public opinion than the positions of Abbas or Fatah, as reflected by a poll published this week by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research. The survey found that 58 percent of those questioned (68 percent in the Gaza Strip and 52 percent in the West Bank) believe that if the lone wolf uprising that erupted in October, mostly involving stabbing attacks, develops into an armed intifada, it would serve the Palestinian national interest better than negotiations with Israel.
Support for stabbing attacks has declined. Only 36 percent of those questioned in the West Bank supported them. In the more geographically remote Gaza, however, stabbing attacks were supported by 75 percent.
In other words, there is large declarative support by those who are distant and not involved, while those who can act are reluctant to do so.
In surveys and declarations the use of arms preserves its aura as the apex of the national struggle against Israeli occupation. But neither the PFLP, nor Hamas or Fatah have tried or dared to “upgrade” last year’s escalation to an armed struggle, either because they cannot or know it would fail, or because the public is not really interested or prepared for it.
Television broadcasts showing Israelis fleeing the gunmen in fear are familiar scenes to Palestinians. Day after day, they experience the suffocating fear of armed Israelis. Every week, hundreds of Palestinians are exposed to Israeli gunfire and flee it in fear; sometimes, they are wounded or killed. In their view, what Israelis experienced in this one attack is dwarfed by what they experience routinely.
Palestinians also feel some satisfaction with the disruption of Tel Aviv normalcy, just an hour’s drive away from the zones of personal and national despair and poverty in Gaza and the West Bank. Most seem to know very well that this disruption won’t change Israelis’ views or behavior. But then, peaceful demonstrations, diplomatic moves and media reports also haven’t turned Israelis into Meretz supporters. So all that remains is the momentary satisfaction of vengeance.