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Date posted: February 05, 2008
By Caelum Moffatt for MIFTAH

At 10:30 on the morning of February 4, two Palestinians walked into a shopping center 10 kilometers from Israel’s main nuclear reactor in the southern town of Dimona, with explosives attached to their bodies. What followed was the first suicide attack on Israeli territory since January 29 2007 when 3 people were killed in a suicide attack on a bakery in the southern resort of Eilat.

One female resident of Dimona was killed while Soroka Medical Center in Be’er Sheva reported that one person was injured seriously, two moderately and eight managed to escape with only light injuries. There could have been more casualties but the second bomber, thrown by the first explosion, was shot by Israeli police before he could detonate the bomb strapped to his chest.

Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin, speaking on February 3, warned that with the recent and forced opening of the Rafah crossing, which allowed Gazans to enter Egypt over the space of 12 days, it was only a matter of time before Israel became subject to an attack. Diskin also underlined that even with Salah Eddin and Brazil crossings closed, there were at least 30 points available along the 150 mile Sinai-Negev border where Palestinians from Gaza could enter Israel. On February 2, Egyptian security forces had already reprimanded Hani and Rami Hamdan, two brothers from Gaza caught wearing explosive belts in Sinai four kilometers west of Rafah. Furthermore, 15-armed Palestinians were arrested in Sinai, as were a splinter group of 5 others who were stopped at Taba.

As to the identities of the perpetrators, they were initially thought to have been Raji al-Kilani and Iman al-Hadayan, however as the thorough investigation progressed it was revealed that the two men involved were Gaza residents Luai Aghawani [22] and Moussa Arafat [24].

The Al-Aqsa Brigades, the loosely affiliated armed wing of the Fateh party, quickly claimed responsibility for the attack with some Fateh sources even declaring that the two men had left for Dimona from the West Bank. The situation was soon cleared up by Al-Aqsa spokesman, Abu Fouad, who stated that the two Palestinians represented a branch of the Al-Aqsa Brigades called “the Army of Palestine” who executed the attack in conjunction with the Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades [the military wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine]. The attack, according to Abu Fouad had ostensibly been planned for a month and was made possible when the armed Palestinians blew open the border crossing at Rafah on January 23. Hiring the help of “private contacts”, the two managed to sneak from Sinai into the Negev. In a possible attempt to offer an added boost to the efforts of the group for eluding Israeli security and therefore keep the Israelis guessing over the effectiveness of their supposed meticulous systems, other Al-Aqsa officials in Gaza have denied that the two even infiltrated Israel from Egypt.

This account of the identities and origins of the bombers received further credibility when a video was found in which Luai Aghawani declares that his actions are in response to the violent siege of Gaza [though speculation has ensued since images from Israel Channel 10 of the second bomber showed that he resembles neither of the individuals on the videotape]. Accompanied with an Al-Aqsa banner draped behind him, the 22 year old said that he hoped his death would “restore dignity to the Palestinian people” and beseeched Hamas politburo chief, Khaled Mesha’al “to end the internal division”. Luai Aghawani’s mother, Ibtissam, whom he had called while in Al-Arish, mentioned that he had ventured into Egypt three times while the crossing was open but sobbed inconsolably as she told reporters that she had no idea of the mission her son had decided to embark upon.

As expected, the bomb in Dimona attracted commentary from all sides, to the extent where the microcosmic town of 40,000 in southern Israel had managed to epitomize the conflicting opinions on the current situation between Israelis and Palestinians.

Fateh officials in the West Bank adamantly asserted that the group which carried out the attack was not linked in any way to the President’s party. President Abbas personally voiced his “full condemnation” with respect to the attack but highlighted that he also condemned the Israeli assault on the West Bank earlier on February 4, which killed two members of Islamic Jihad. Mahmoud Habbash, a representative of the Presidential office, reiterated Abbas' sentiments as well as stating “we are against anything that would take us back to a cycle of violence”, but at the same time stressed that “we hold Israel responsible for this escalation”.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad, on the other hand, did not do themselves any favors in the international sphere, conforming to people’s expectations concerning their continuing refusal to stop their violent endeavor against the Israelis. Although allegedly not associated with the attack, members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad fired guns in the air at Rafah in celebration of the event. Islamic Jihad praised the “heroic martyrdom” while Hamas spokesman Ayman Taha also lauded the bombing as a demonstration against occupation.

On the Israeli side, the Dimona bombing has called into question some serious security concerns with the public invariably demanding answers. Eli Yishai, Chairman of Shas as well as Labor, Trade and Industry Minister, has already threatened to take his 12 seats away from Olmert’s coalition government if the prime minister chose to make concessions to the Palestinians on Jerusalem. After Winograd, which was surprisingly lenient on the prime minister, Olmert has froze settlement expansion in areas of north Jerusalem and has hinted that he is willing to release prisoners with “blood on their hands” in order to push the peace process along. Neither of these measures sit well with Shas and now, under pressure from influential groups such as “The Campaign for Saving Israel”, who blame Dimona on Shas as they “breathe life into Olmert’s government”, Yishai has now insisted that Olmert cease negotiations with the PA.

Yishai declared, “The construction of a fence on the border with Egypt is an urgent need in order to deal with hostile terrorist activity and infiltrators”. Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who is also under heavy pressure after he broke his promise to abandon the prime minister and call early elections after Winograd, also advocates this idea.

Olmert addressed the bombing in Dimona by emphasizing that Israel is involved in a “constant war…a war of terror against us and our war against terror, this war will continue, terrorism will be hit. We will not relent”. Israeli President Shimon Peres also spoke out claiming that these “despicable terrorists” aim to murder innocent women and children. Will their words be enough to satisfy the individuals who hold the fate of Olmert’s future in their hands?

MIFTAH does not condone the behavior of the two Palestinians in Dimona and categorically denounces any act of violence that deliberately targets innocent civilians. The events on the morning of February 4 were devastating and tragic, however, the actions of these activists must be placed in context. Palestinians are victims of iron-fisted occupation. Gaza is an enclosed prison of humanitarian disaster while the West Bank, although not as prevalent in the media as their Palestinian counterparts in Gaza, live in a land in which 38% is off limits, plagued with checkpoints, walls and settlements. Under such restrictions and a stagnated peace process, some believe albeit wrongly, that this is the only avenue available for them to vent their anger.

Walls and fences are not the answer - they are just pseudo effective and divisional instruments which create a more intense atmosphere in which polarization manifests, thrives and prevails. If a group is committed enough, they will always find a way through. If Shas leave the government, early elections take place and Likud's Netanyahu succeeds Olmert, the attacks will no doubt become more frequent.

The disaster at Dimona has so far received a wealth of international coverage. On February 4, one Israeli woman was killed in a horrific suicide bomb attack. She was probably abiding by her daily routine and in all likelihood had no interest in politics, in Hamas or in the ramifications of Winograd for Olmert. Similarly, last month, over ten innocent Palestinians were killed during Israeli air strikes in Gaza. They probably had nothing to do with firing Qassam attacks into Israel and didn’t concern themselves with the differences between Fateh, Hamas or the peace process with Israel, but were just performing their daily rituals. Why are shouts for retribution louder for Dimona than Gaza? Why is there suddenly more urgency to act? It is as if the stigma and connotations behind the phrase “suicide bomber” in Western media immediately compels one to associate it with Islamic fundamentalism and therefore makes it inherently worse. If these two young men were combating for a joint Fateh / PFLP group, it should be noted that none of these groups are Islamic groups but secular groups fighting against Israeli occupation for a Palestinian state. What’s the difference between the oppressor that drops a bomb from a fighter jet and the resistor who chooses to use his body as the launching device? What the international community deems legitimate or justified? Surely the juxtaposition reflects the methods available to the respective parties and their differing situations.

In any event, both are heinous acts that contradict one of the founding principles of humanity. Who has the authority or the right to take life?

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Arye Mekel, promised, “Israel will continue to fight against this murderous lever as it is its duty and responsibility to secure the safety and security of Israel”. Just hours after the attack, Israeli forces assassinated a leader of the Popular Resistance Committee in Gaza. It is unknown whether this was an act of retaliation but one can be certain that their will be one – the Israeli public expects action. Meanwhile, people waving Fateh flags, praising the heroic deeds of her son and urging her to have pride for his contribution to the cause surround Ibtissam Aghawani’s house. Will the cause, once or if attained, bring back her son?

Wasted lives have yet again been claimed on both sides and will keep on inundating the headlines unless a crucial fact is recognized. Violence simply begets violence.

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Source: MIFTAH
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