Bomb gives Israel case for the wall
A suicide bombing in Jerusalem killed seven people and injured dozens more Sunday.
JERUSALEM — Israel rests its case.
Sunday's suicide bombing here, which killed seven and wounded more than 60 people as they headed to work and school during the morning rush hour, provides all the proof Israeli officials say they need to show that separation wall Israel is building in the West Bank is necessary to thwart terrorism.
Israel has declined to participate in a controversial hearing at the International Court of Justice, set to begin Monday in The Hague, in which arguments against Israel's construction of a massive wall through the occupied West Bank will be heard.
Palestinians and various human rights organizations are at the forefront of the case against the wall, which slices through the heart of many West Bank towns and villages, effectively annexing broad swatches of territory, keeping relatives from their families and farmers from their fields, and hindering the passage of emergency vehicles.
But none of those hardships, the wall's proponents argue, can compare with what they see as a life-or-death question of how to halt Palestinian suicide attacks against Israelis.
"Life is more important than the quality of life," says Nir Barkat, a Jerusalem city councilor who saw bus No. 14 explode before his eyes Sunday. Mr. Barkat rushed out of his car to help evacuate some of the casualties.
"I was supposed to fly to the Hague tonight to protest the double standard that the world has towards us. This has to stop," Barkat told reporters as he stood near the shattered green bus with blood on his hands and feet from having assisting the injured. "It's not easy, it's not comfortable, putting up this fence, but the first thing we have to do is to find a way to stop the killing."
The Palestinian prime minister, Ahmed Qureia, or Abu Ala, condemned the bombing but noted that it does not legitimize the barrier's construction. "We refuse these kind of acts which target civilians, whether they be Israelis or Palestinians," said Mr. Qureia. "And particularly these days, it's against the interests of the Palestinian people."
The start of Monday's trial comes after many months of buildup. Israel is contesting the court's legitimacy and has disregarded international pressure to stop building the barrier, which opponents say is a move to determine Israel's borders instead of reaching a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians. In the meantime, Israel has pressed on with the construction of the separation barrier, which is in some rural areas a fence, and in more urban districts, a 26-foot-high wall. Some 110 miles of the planned 452 miles have already been built, starting from the northern West Bank and heading south toward Jerusalem. The fact that the perpetrator of Sunday's bombing, 23-year-old Mohammed Zaal, came from a village near Bethlehem - south of Jerusalem - was viewed by Israeli officials as proof that the wall is in fact having its intended effect. It has become more difficult for would-be Palestinian suicide bombers to enter Israel from areas north of Jerusalem, they say, because the wall there already exists.
"Terrorists who have been apprehended in recent weeks have admitted that the wall makes it more difficult to perpetrate attacks," says Danny Seaman, the director of the Israeli Government Press Office.
In the debate over whether the wall can really bring security, not all Israelis are on the same page. Protests over the wall's construction have included Israelis as well as Palestinians. Some Jerusalem city councilors who went out to view the construction of the wall around East Jerusalem Sunday said that building a barrier - without rebuilding dialogue with the Palestinians - would not bring peace.
"There's no choice but to build the fence, but the route is wrong, and it should only take place if at the same time the government is trying to make peace negotiations," says Sa'ar Nathaniel, a city councilman from Meretz, a left-wing party. "A unilateral step will not hold up in the long term."
The Geneva Initiative, an agreement reached last year by dovish Palestinian and Israeli figures, "shows there's a partner to talk to, and there's something to talk about," Mr. Nathaniel says. "I'm worried the public will think that this fence is a miracle cure, that they can live in a situation without peace and there will be no terrorism." Without an peace deal with the Palestinians, he says, "I think the terrorism could continue."
At the suicide bomber's home in Husan, a Palestinian village near Bethlehem, few if any of the mass of well-wishers and mourners were occupied with the construction of the barrier.
Rather, they spoke of a young father who couldn't find enough work as a day laborer to feed his family: he left behind a swollen-eyed 21-year-old wife, reportedly pregnant, and a 2-year-old son. Family members said when he left home Sunday, Mohammed Zuul said he was going out "to build a mosque."
His cousin, Amjad Zuul, said Mohammed was frustrated and destitute. "He didn't have money. The Israelis pushed us into the corner - we are like besieged animals. My cousin was not allowed to have a permit to go into Israel and so he wasn't allowed to work. Too much pressure leads to explosion," he said. "You can talk about politics, but the reality in the village is different. We can't find food to feed our people."
Many Israelis are also at wit's end. Parents say they no longer feel it'd safe to allow children to ride the bus to school - but many have no other way to get them there. Beside the ruins of the shattered commuter bus Sunday, frantic mothers wandered around looking for their children.
"She's not answering her cell-phone!" cried Ruti Montalio, whose two teenage children were on the bus and had been taken to a nearby hospital.
As hawkish demonstrators gathered at the scene of the bombing, some shouted at Tzachi HaNegbi, Israel's police minister. "Where were you this morning?" one woman yelled at him from across the street.
Another, quieter woman reading from a booklet of biblical Psalms, tugged on the sleeves of his suit. "I'm living in fear. I'm not connected to any party, I just live here," said Lily Dayan, an elderly woman in wrapped in a pink scarf against a whipping February cold. "The wall isn't the answer. You must deport them or cut off from them completely."
• Samir Zedan and Ben Lynfield contributed to this report.