Since the awful, homophobic attack in Orlando on Sunday, the news agenda has moved on from Tel Aviv. But when I first heard about the Sarona shooting last week, it was all I could think about. I was standing outside a radio station, getting ready to plug my new novel, Chains Of Sand – a fictional exploration of the most recent Israeli-Palestinian conflict – and it felt horribly salient.
Sarona, the cultural hotspot where the shootings took place, appears in the book. It is where a romance grows, where a British Jew and an Israeli artist find love. Where normal, ordinary Israelis gather to shop, and visit galleries, and eat pizza. In real life, I have taken my daughters there. Their cousins live nearby. It could have been them.
It could have been us.
Amid the broad-brush conversations about peace efforts in the region, or the usual scrutiny of Israel at the height of each conflict, this is a part of the struggle that is often forgotten. The part that thrusts real, deadly terror into the lives of innocent civilians. It is the reason for the fence. The reason for the hatred. It is indefensible, unjustifiable terrorism, nevertheless praised and extolled by Hamas.
Yet, even before there was time for a breath last week, things grew more complicated.
Already, within hours of the incident, permits for 83,000 Palestinians from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip were suspended. This included 204 relatives of the attackers, while the entire village where the gunmen were from went into lockdown – nobody allowed to enter or leave other than for humanitarian or medical reasons. Perhaps this seems understandable.
There is certainly some pragmatism to it. It may well be the best chance to foil further potentially related attacks. And there have been warnings from Hamas to Israel to expect more, to expect worse, during the imminent holy days of Ramadan.
But imagine for a moment it was a Birmingham shooter attacking a London café. Would we lock down Birmingham? Or, let’s be more specific, more to the point – imagine it was an Islamic extremist from a specific, Muslim-dominated housing estate. Would we deny movement to everybody on that estate? Would we demolish the attacker’s family home?
Is that the plan in Orlando?
It is hard to imagine that kind of collective punishment happening in Florida, or in the UK. Because we have not yet, not quite, reached a place at which the world consists of Us and Them. Our political exchanges may sometimes suggest the opposite, but I hope we still believe that the sins of the father cannot be the sins of the son. (In Orlando, the father of the gunman has already been allowed his own, separate, voice.) And the sins of a man cannot be carried by his whole village. Yet that is the nature of the Israeli occupation. And with every such injustice, another terrorist is born.
There is no excuse for what occurred in Tel Aviv last Wednesday. The murder of innocent people is heinous and dreadful and devastating. Watching it on the news, in a place I know, a place I love, a place I could easily have been, is frightening and gut-wrenchingly sad. But if there is ever to be a break in this perpetual cycle of conflict, we must at some point resist the facile response of finger pointing.
Instead of holding each atrocity up as proof – look, look what they did, see, this is our reason – we must search for more ways for the great mass of ordinary peace-yearning people, on all sides, to unite against extremism. Crimes should be punished, and criminals. Terrorism should be fought, and terrorists.
Discrimination should be challenged, and those discriminating. Not a whole nation boycotted. Not a whole people or faith blamed.
Bibi may, for a moment, hold some sympathy from a world that is increasingly exposed to and fearful of terrorist attacks in its own cities, against its own people. A sentiment painfully illustrated by the Orlando massacre. And it is important that this element of the conflict is felt and understood. It is a real and oft understated part of the complex whole.
But if Bibi continues to fill positions of power with right-wing yes-men, and persists with inflammatory policies that ignore the frustrations of Palestinians, and most Israelis, that sympathy won’t last long.
Because soon we’ll be back in Gaza, sending more bombs, killing more people.
And round and round we go…