"There Was a Bomb on My Bus"
Published in Teen, April 1996
"My lungs hurt badly, and I couldn't breathe. My hair was burnt off, my face was all burnt, and my shirt was burnt off. All I could smell was burning."
T errorism draws people into political violence whose everyday lives have nothing to do with politics. Sometimes, this violence touches teenagers or even younger children.
Nowhere have attacks on innocent people been more evident than in Israel. The modern-day struggle between Arabs and Jews to control the land of Palestine, on which Israel was founded in 1948, started near the beginning of the twentieth century, although borders within the region have been dis puted for many generations. The battle has included both con ventional wars fought by government soldiers and terrorist attacks. The last full-scale Arab-Israeli war was fought in 1973. Since then, Arab Palestinians have used terror attacks to try to establish their own state within Palestine.
In late 2000, after peace talks broke down between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the Palestinians began using a new weapon: suicide bombs. Pales tinians would strap explosives around their waists, hidden under their clothing, and then would walk into crowded places in Israel, such as malls or pizza parlors. The bombers then would detonate the explosives, killing themselves and whomever happened to be standing or sitting near them.
Suicide bombing was not invented by the Palestinians—fighters for the Tamil Tiger terrorist organization on the island nation of Sri Lanka had been doing it for years—but it was a new weapon in the half-century-long conflict between Jewish Israelis and Arab Palestinians. The tactic was employed shortly after a long peace negotiation process had broken down, just when the two sides had seemed about to achieve a breakthrough.
In 2001, the Palestinians added another twist to the technique: using young women as suicide bombers. In general, Palestinian women had not played a leading role in the uprising against Israel. The introduction of female suicide bombers effectively doubled the number of possible suspects (from the Israeli viewpoint) or the number of possible warriors (from the Palestinian viewpoint). Psychologically, this new development also deeply affected the Israelis because suddenly the entire Palestinian population seemed to be one big potential bomb that might explode at any moment.
Things to remember while reading"There Was a Bomb on My Bus":
- Suicide bombing emphasizes how terrorism is a form of "unbalanced warfare," unbalanced because terrorism often gives the side with the weaker conventional military force advantages that the stronger military cannot match. Since its founding as a nation in 1948, Israel has built one of the most powerful armies in the Middle East. The Palestinians, despite being one of the most resourceful people in the Arab world, consistently have been unable to mount an effective military campaign against Israel.
- Suicide bombers seemed to challenge Israel's ability and willingness to fight, for the suicide bomber is not afraid of being killed by the Israeli army; he or she fully expects to die—wants to die—for his or her cause. Suddenly, the superior military force of Israel seemed irrelevant, since it no longer could prevent Palestinian attacks.
What happened next …
In 2002, Israel responded to the continued suicide bombings with its superior military force. Armed with tanks, airplanes, and modern artillery, the Israel Defense Force invaded Palestinian refugee camps and towns on the West Bank of the Jordan River, to where tens of thousands of Palestinians were displaced after Israel was founded. Besides destroying buildings, Israeli soldiers also searched for the people that Israel claimed were responsible for sending suicide bombers into Israeli cities. The military surrounded Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat (1929–) at his headquarters in Ramallah on the West Bank, confining him to a few rooms.
Although faced with overwhelming Israeli military force, Arafat refused to back down. Other countries, including the United States and Saudi Arabia, began looking for diplomatic solutions to the conflict.
The result seemed to be a mismatched stand-off. Israel had demonstrated again that it possessed military superiority over the Palestinians. But the Palestinians showed that their suicide bombers were an effective new type of weapon that proved very difficult for Israel to defend against.
Did you know …
- Islamic suicide bombers believe that their acts will guarantee them admission to the Muslim paradise. While sad to see their children die, parents of Muslim suicide bombers also believe they should feel happy because their child has gone to a better place.
- All Israelis—men and women—are required to serve in the Israeli military for two years.
For More Information
Carr, Caleb. The Lessons of Terror: A History of Warfare against Civilians: Why It Has Always Failed, and Why It Will Fail Again. New York: Random House, 2002.
Heiman, Andrea. "There Was a Bomb on My Bus." Teen, April 1996, p.70.
Lelyveld, Joseph. "All Suicide Bombers Are Not Alike." New York Times Magazine, October 28, 2001.
Marton, Kati. A Death in Jerusalem. New York: Pantheon Books, 1994.
Sobel, Lester A. Political Terrorism. New York: Facts on File, 1975.
Sofer, Barbara. "If My Daughter and I Had Been Shopping in Tel Aviv." New York Times, March 5, 1996, p. A17.
Wallace, Bruce. "Targeting Terror: Devastating Suicide Bombings Put Israel on a War Footing and Threaten the Peace Process." Maclean's, March 18, 1996, p. 34.