New York Times
July 27, 2001
Be Grateful: That Was No Terrorist, Just a Criminal
By CLYDE HABERMAN
NETANYA, Israel, July 25 � A car bomb exploded in the heart of town a few
days ago, and it turned out to be good news.
Good news is relative here. In this case, it meant that no one was killed,
and the apparent target was a man described in the newspapers as a local
thug. In short, signs pointed to a criminal plot, not a terrorist act.
And that is why Mirav Aichal, like a lot of people in this seaside city in
northern Israel, felt as if she had dodged a bullet.
"It was a relief that the Arabs did not do that one," she said, sitting in a
cafe at the indoor Sharon Mall. Her companion, Yehuda Madar, nodded his
agreement. "I prefer a criminal attack," he said. "They can kill each other,
for all I care. It'll clean up the city."
You know your life has changed when you take comfort in criminals' setting
off bombs on the street. For Netanya's 180,000 residents, the alternative is
infinitely worse. It can mean only that once again they are paying a price
for the grinding, so- far unstoppable violence that has kept Israelis and
Palestinians in a choke hold for the last 10 months.
Bombs set by Palestinians have gone off here with frightening regularity.
One in March killed three people. In May, a suicide bomber blew himself up
at the entrance to the Sharon Mall, killing at least 5 Israelis and wounding
more than 100.
City Hall officials say there have been eight "terrorist incidents" since
August 2000. Not every one was a bombing, and not every bomb took lives. But
each episode has made Netanya feel increasingly vulnerable.
For people here, it seems a long time since their worries were those of any
city: finding affordable apartments, getting the garbage picked up, dealing
with crime, which became something of a growth industry with an influx of
Russian-born leg-breakers. The continuing Israeli- Palestinian unrest has
made Netanya painfully aware that it lies a mere 10 miles from the West
Bank, a border that can be as porous as the sands on the Mediterranean
As terrorism's body count has climbed, residents find themselves running
through new permutations to get through the day.
Irene Zilbert, a young shoe saleswoman at the Sharon Mall, has to take the
bus to work. Now, she makes sure to watch who gets on at each stop.
When Mr. Madar drives, he keeps his distance from buses. At the mall, he
used to spend his time checking out the girls. "Now," he said, "I look at
the men, to see who's carrying what."
David Ifrak, who sells cellular phones at the mall, gives his car a
once-over before getting in. In public bathrooms, he said, "I look around
because maybe there's a bomb."
A woman with two small children at her side said she no longer felt good
about bringing them to the mall. But on this day, she could not find a
baby-sitter. She was going to do her shopping and get right out of there,
"It's not living, this always being afraid," she said.
Naturally, the big explosions take the heaviest toll on Israelis' sense of
well-being. But the spectacular episodes obscure a stream of incidents �
some weeks, they have come almost daily � that happen to do no harm and so
tend not to draw much attention abroad.
They occur all the same. A bomb set to go off is found along a bus route in
northeastern Israel. Another is discovered on a Tel Aviv road. An apparent
bombing plot is foiled in Haifa. On and on it goes.
In one sense, people adapt. They barely notice when hand-held metal
detectors are run across them as they enter a new Ikea warehouse that opened
in Netanya recently. They get so used to "the situation," as the crisis is
called, that news becomes redefined. A few years ago, the funerals of
Israeli bombing victims were automatically the top story on radio news
broadcasts, no matter what else was going on. Now, burials are not
guaranteed top billing.
It isn't as if this is the first wave of such attacks that Israelis have
endured. "It's the same story," said Mario Mikulincer, a psychology
professor at Bar-Ilan University in Tel Aviv. "But it's more intense now. I
don't think it's a difference in quality, but a difference in quantity. It's
an accumulating stress."
Life has to go on, people in Netanya say. And so it does. But it is not
quite as before. At the Sharon Mall, named for the part of the country where
it lies and not for the prime minister, the entrance that was bombed has yet
to be completely renovated. On a wall across the street, someone sprayed in
black paint, "No Arabs, no attacks."
The mall itself draws sparse crowds these days. Mr. Madar, who finally gave
up selling jewelry there for lack of customers, said he heard that business
was down 70 percent since the May bombing.
For some, there is a sense of dread, which deepens after incidents like one
this week in which the Israeli Army killed a leading Hamas figure by firing
missiles as he drove in the West Bank. Israeli officials said he had helped
plan the March and May bombings in Netanya, among other attacks, and was
getting ready to inflict more harm. But to Hamas, the militant Islamic
group, this was an assassination, and they vowed to avenge it.
Inevitably, people in Netanya wonder if they will be the ones to pay.
Mr. Ifrak looks sturdy enough, but he acknowledged having trouble keeping
the demons at bay. "You're always waiting for the next time," he said. "I'm
22 years old, and I'm thinking, `Will I be the next one?' You never know
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