(update: On Saturday night, February 8th, a man was killed in a car bomb in south Tel Aviv’s Kfar Shalem neighborhood, details to follow)
On Monday night the Israeli public was treated to amateur video of a car engulfed in 10-foot high flames, as a man screams out “Shema Yisrael” while he’s burned alive in the middle of a quiet suburban street.
The explosion that left two men dead in Petah Tikva on Monday morning was a familiar scene: a shattered and scorched car on a leafy suburban street, cops in white forensic jumpsuits picking up the pieces, neighborhood kids with iPhones taking pictures of the blast site.
The wording of the police statements was also familiar – the first one mentioned an “explosion inside of a car in Petah Tikva” (playing it safe and not calling it a bomb, even though cars don’t tend to spontaneously combust like Spinal Tap drummers), a later one read that the “background to the incident is criminal” and a third read that the men are “known to police”.
For those keeping score at home, Monday’s fatal blast was the eighth time that a car bomb exploded in an Israeli city in the 15 weeks since October 24th, when a remote-detonated bomb in Ashkelon left Jacky Benita dead and blew off the left leg of Avi Biton, a top associate of mobster Shalom Domrani. That blast brought the problem of underworld violence to the forefront (if temporarily), with the issue building at a steady pitch until two weeks later, when an explosion tore apart a jeep belonging to a Tel Aviv prosecutor known partly for working organized crime cases. The eight car bombs do not include the frag grenades and flashbangs thrown at houses or affixed to cars on a near-daily basis across Israel.
The Tel Aviv blast and the specter of organized crime targeting law enforcement (not a new thing, but still) led the police and the government to “declare war” on organized crime, vowing to stop at nothing. So far mainly language has felt the impact – mob violence is now often called “terror plili” (criminal terror) and police press releases begin with the words “the unyielding war against serious and organized crime.” Public Security Minister Yizhak Aharonovitch also stood meters from the charred jeep and called for the use of administrative detentions against organized crime figures, though where this stands today isn’t clear.
By any standard, today’s bombing, even if it was simply a “work accident” (the lukewarm term for people wounded or killed when the bomb they’re transporting goes off prematurely) and not a double murder it is still every bit as grave as the ones that caused such short-lived public outrage in the fall. Come to think of it, so was the car bomb at the Yarkonim junction in Petah Tikva in July 2013 that left two men dead and the drive-by shooting in the city in June in which two men were killed. In the latter incident, just like Monday’s, two men lost their lives in an act of brutal violence only meters away from two day-care centers. Actually, in almost all of these incidents there’s a school, a kindergarten, a synagogue or a bus stop nearby, and it’s typically a surprise that bystanders aren’t wounded or killed.
While it’s true that the men hurt in these acts of violence are typically low-lifes, criminals, or worse, the cruelty of these attacks should not be shrugged off.
On Tuesday, four men arrested in connection to Monday’s bombing will be brought to the Petah Tikva Magistrate’s Court for a remand hearing. If experience is any indication, they will remain in jail a few days and then be released without an indictment. Also, chances are in a few days or a couple weeks or so the scene will repeat itself again somewhere else in Israel.