Israel – ‘Tel Aviv bus bomb injures at least 10 people’ (Guardian, 2012)

By Amy Whitehead (2013)

Critical Analysis of the Guardian article: ‘Tel Aviv bus bomb injures at least 10 people’

On Wednesday 21 November, a bomb was detonated on a bus in Tel Aviv, injuring ‘at least ten people’[1]. This bombing came amid a period of intense fighting between Gaza and Israel. Israel had been relentlessly bombing Gaza as part of Operation “Pillar of Defence”, and this bus bombing took place on the eighth day of the offensive amid peace talks which the US and Egypt were both heavily involved with.[2] Hamas did not initially claim responsibility for the attack, but instead blessed the bombing. It has been claimed almost a year after the attack however that Hamas were indeed responsible.[3]

The article in question is careful to appear from a neutral standpoint. It does not automatically describe the attack as being a terrorist attack; it instead quotes the Israeli Prime Minister as claiming this incident is of a terrorist nature. The article in fact focuses on the possible ramifications of this attack, which includes the peace talks between Gaza and Israel being ‘derailed’, as well as detailing actions of both sides during the Israeli operation “Pillar of Defence”, which preceded this attack. The article is also careful to detail Israel’s actions which may have sparked this attack, including their bombing of a refugee camp, and their targeted bombing of news organisations. The article also concentrates on the relative death toll, which is far higher for the Palestinians than the Israelis. The article uses emotive language by detailing that 34 Palestinian children are among the dead and that a refugee camp – containing innocent, desperate people – has been bombed.

The angle the article takes in terms of the international response is an interesting one, it focuses on America in a positive manner as a mediator, with Hilary Clinton helping to negotiate and initiate peace talks between the two sides. In contrast Al Jazeera’s article of the same event details how the White House’s released statement actually came out in full support of Israel and condemned the attack.[4]

Firstly the reason for this attack and who was responsible will be addressed. Secondly whether this was a legitimate attack, taking into consideration just war theory, will be discussed. Thirdly, the definition of terrorism and whether or not this example can be classed as a terrorist attack will be looked at. Fourthly the different classes of terrorism which are involved in this particular situation will be noted, considering both Israel’s and Hamas’s actions. Fifthly, the intended outcome of this action and the response to this outcome will be discussed. Lastly, the media article will again be concentrated on, with particular focus on the report of the US’s role in this situation and also the adequacy of the article in terms of the report of the attack.

Hamas eventually claimed responsibility for this attack.[5] This attack was part of a response to the eight days of bombardment Gaza had endured from Israel, as part of their operation “Pillar of Defence”. This attack also came amid peace negotiations which involved Egypt and the US. It was perhaps these peace talks which were the reason for Hamas not initially admitting responsibility for this attack, but instead waiting until almost a year after the attack to reveal that they were in fact responsible. Had Hamas admitted their responsibility at the time it may have led to Gaza losing credibility at the peace talks, and appear as the aggressor, when in fact the violence perpetrated by Israel had been on a much larger scale.

This violence could be described as legitimate, as although both Israel and the US condemned this as a terrorist attack; it was in fact an attack in response to the violence being perpetrated by Israel. Seeing as Hamas controls the Gaza strip which is an area being attacked by Israel, and is the organisation responsible for this attack it can be seen as a justified response. However the question of whether this attack comes within the confines of the just war theory is a pertinent one, seeing as the attack purposely aimed at non-combatants. Just war theory states: ‘non-combatants are immune from belligerent attack’[6]. Therefore the legitimacy of this attack could be called into question, however it is also true that during Israel’s bombardment its rockets did not discriminant against civilians or soldiers. In addition, ‘the obliteration bombing of enemy cities is equally reprehensible’[7], as terrorism. The death toll is also very telling: ‘the death toll in Gaza since the start of the operation “Pillar of Defence” rose on Tuesday to 138, including 34 children…the total number of Israelis killed by Gazan rocket fire since the start of the operation to five’[8].

In terms of whether this act can be called terrorist or not, there are a number of factors to take into consideration. Firstly, the definition of terrorism is a much discussed issue, with many variations appearing within the literature. Terrorism is defined here as ‘the use or threat, for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause, of action which involves serious violence against any person or property’[9], which involves ‘the deliberate creation and exploitation of fear through violence or the threat of violence in the pursuit of change’[10]. Therefore in accordance with this definition, this incident can most definitely be described as terrorism. This definition is used as it involves all types of terrorism, including religious, state and dissident and does not limit the term terrorism to particular groups which are often stereotyped as terrorist. By allowing a state to be described as terrorist it also ensures that violence is not condoned, simply because it is perpetrated by the state. Indeed, Tolstoy describes governments as ‘instruments of violence…from which humanity’s greatest evil flows.’[11]

The operation “Pillar of Defence” could be described as state terrorism by Israel. This form of terrorism ‘is the most organized, and potentially the most far-reaching, application of terrorist violence.’[12] The rockets fired into Gaza by Israel, aimed to disable Gaza’s capability to fire rockets into Israel. This rocket fire also specifically targeted Hamas headquarters, and therefore also aimed to thwart Hamas’s ability to organize further threats to Israel. Martin defines the goals of official state terrorism as ‘to preserve an existing order and to maintain state authority through demonstrations of state power’[13]. The goal of Israel in its attacks on Gaza is most definitely in line with these aims, leading one to believe that what they perpetrate is in fact state terrorism.

In addition, Israel’s attacks on Gaza could also be classed as counterterrorism. This has been described as when ‘nations sometimes resort to the use of conventional units and special operations forces to wage war against terrorist movements. The goal is to destroy their ability to use terrorism to attack the nation’s interest.’[14] By attacking Hamas’s headquarters and disabling their ability to fire rockets into Israel’s territory, Israel were most definitely also applying a policy of counterterrorism in this situation. In addition, economic sanctions are another tool which Israel has used in order to suppress the terrorist threat from Gaza. The economic blockade has led to severe restrictions on Gaza’s imports as well as their exports. Indeed in past blockades, the Israeli military has calculated how many calories a typical Gazan would need to survive, in order to determine how much food to supply Gaza with.[15] This was as part of Israel’s plan to ‘keep Gaza’s economy on the brink of collapse while avoiding a humanitarian crisis.’[16]This has led to a dire situation in Gaza, with high unemployment rates as well as seventy percent of the population being in receipt of humanitarian aid.[17]This situation is one which would arguably fuel the popularity for terrorist acts against Israel.

In this case, the act committed was most definitely a case of religious terrorism. ‘Hamas’s roots lie in the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood’[18]therefore there could be a religious dimension to their beliefs and acts. In addition, in terms of religion, Hamas has been described as having a ‘dynamic relationship between the religious thought that frames the movement, provides its ideological reference, and regulates its general political rhythm on the one hand, and its application on the ground on the other.’[19] There is also the Islamic sense of endowment- waqf- because the lands of Palestine are considered to be sacred. Both the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas espouse that the ‘land of Palestine is Islamic is in accord with the legal positions of the companions of the prophet Muhammad and the early scholars’[20]. Therefore the religious identification with Hamas is strong, however, as the organization has developed and particularly since it became elected in the Gaza Strip in 2006 it has become less hard line and more flexible in its rhetoric. Furthermore, as well as Hamas having a definite religious dimension to their actions, Israel also has a strong religious aspect.

However, in this category of terrorism there is also the factor of whether religion is the primary motive for the terrorist behaviour or is it in fact a secondary consideration. Gus Martin suggests that ‘for many ethno-nationalist and other revolutionary movements, national independence or some other degree of autonomy forms the primary motivation for their violent behaviour.’[21]This can be used as an accurate description for the case with Hamas. It is not merely religion which drives Hamas to commit acts of terrorism, it is more their desire to hold on to their homeland, and it is with good reason that they react to Israel’s treatment of them. This want for land is a natural one, as Tolstoy identifies ‘if the working man has no land…(he) does not possess the most natural right of every man’[22]. Chomsky has described the Israeli occupation of Palestine as having ‘adversely influenced human development’[23], and that Israel has reduced Gaza to ‘the largest and most overcrowded prison in the world in which over a million Palestinians can rot, largely cut off from contact with the outside by land or sea, and with few means of sustenance.’[24] These extremely strong statements reflect the extent of the situation in Gaza and perhaps give some justification for the above terrorist act.

The intended outcome of this terrorist act was a sign to Israel that they could not continue to bully their smaller neighbour, and suffer no consequences for it. This act came as a shock to Israel, as ‘the city experienced its first terrorist bombing in years’[25]. Therefore in this respect, Hamas achieved what it expected to with the attack, it led to Israel having a new sense of vulnerability. In addition, during the time of the attack, as the Guardian article mentions, there were on-going peace talks concerning operation “Pillar of Defence”, involving the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas, and Hilary Clinton, as well as Mohamed Morsi, the Egyptian President.[26] This is an important factor to consider as Hamas has been accused of seeking ‘to undermine the peace process’[27], in the past. Hamas has used bombings and attacks as a way of ensuring that peace talks between Israel and the more moderate representative, Palestinian Authority are undermined. By resorting to violence, Hamas illustrates that it is very difficult to broker a peace deal, when this will have little implication on Hamas’ actions, as the Palestinian Authority has no bearing upon Hamas’s actions. This bus bombing did indeed lead to the on-going peace talks being unable to reach an agreement when they were expected to. Therefore if this was one of Hamas’s outcomes they did indeed achieve it.

The response to this attack was that Israel immediately condemned the attack as “terrorist” and placed the city’s police on a state of high alert. The police combed the surrounding area looking for suspects and a gagging order was also placed upon the details of the investigation.[28] This reaction conveys how serious a threat it was perceived to be, particularly seeing as there had not been a terrorist bombing in Tel Aviv, the commercial hub of Israel for several years previously. In addition to Israel’s reaction, the US outright condemned the attack, announcing ‘The United States will stand with our Israeli allies, and provide whatever assistance necessary to identify and bring to justice the perpetrators of this attack’[29]. This statement was reported in an Al Jazeera news article, about the bus bombing, however the Guardian article chose not to focus on this response and instead detailed how the US had been heavily involved in peace negations between Israel and Palestine. The US’s involvement in Israel’s foreign policy is interesting, and arguably inappropriate. Chomsky claims that the US has some sway over Israel’s actions, for example it must do what the ‘boss-man’ deems to be appropriate[30]. This relationship also has a huge impact on Palestine. How are Palestine meant to have as much of a say in the region when the strongest power of the globe is effectively always on Israel’s side in any conflict between the two powers. The US are condoning Israel’s actions towards Palestine and always support them in their offensives, citing Israel’s right to ‘defend themselves’.

This media report is guilty of failing to identify the level of relationship and effect that the US has on the region. It dwells on the US’s involvement in a positive light with Hilary Clinton as mediator. The Egyptian President, who played just as big a part as Clinton did is mentioned less in the article despite his arguably bigger role in the situation. The article also failed to mention that the US reaction to this terrorist attack was to condemn the attack, and identify their loyalties with Israel. Perhaps this is due to ‘public opinion and government pronouncements (setting) the agenda for how the news will be spun.’[31] Conversely, the article is not as keen to portray Israel in a solely positive light. The levels of Israeli attacks perpetrated compared with those of Gaza, are compared in an unfavourable light, making Israel seem as if it is the aggressor. The casualties from both sides are also compared, with most of those dead being Gazan, which also reflects badly on Israel. Additionally, it is alluded to within the article that Israel has been concentrating their bombing towards media facilities, ‘Reporters Without Borders…condemned attacks on news organisations as war crimes.’[32] This is a serious accusation and one which suggests that Israel is not a nation which embraces the Western ideals of freedom of speech. Therefore this part of the article does use language which condemns Israel’s actions.

The article’s analysis of the cause of the incident is comprehensive. Considering the article is written and published immediately after the attack, it would be expected to have only the basic facts of the incident in question. However there is also a detailed description of the events that led up to the bus bombing – operation “Pillar of Defence” – as well as an analysis of the possible ramifications of this incident. With regard to the language used, the article does describe this incident as a terrorist attack, though only as a direct quotation from the Israeli Prime Minister. The use of this word and dramatic descriptions of the previous ‘bombardment’[33] of Gaza, as well as using emotive facts such as ’34 children’[34] being among the dead adds to the drama of the article, which is perhaps a device used to sensationalise the incident and guarantee higher audiences.

In summary, the people who were present on the bus which was bombed on the 21 November 2012 in Tel Aviv were the victim of an attack because of underlying tensions between Israel and Palestine. This attack can be deemed a terrorist attack when taking into account the definition mentioned previously. However it was most definitely a terrorist attack in response to the state terrorism perpetrated by Israel previously, though both attacks cannot be ascribed legitimacy as they both aim at non-combatants, which does not follow the ideal of the just war theory. The article is sufficient in a most aspects, however it is lacking in deeper analysis, though this can be forgiven for the immediacy of it with respect to the attack.


Abu-Ishaid, O, ‘The dialectic of religion and politics in Hamas’ thought and practice’ (PhDThesis, Loughborough University, 2013).

Calhoun, L, ‘The injustice of “Just Wars”’, Peace Review: a Journal of Social Justice, Vol.12(3), (2000): pp.449-455.

Chomsky, N, Failed States, London: Penguin Books, 2007.

Coady, C.A.J, ‘The Morality of Terrorism’, Philosophy, Vol.60, (1985): pp.50-59.

D.Byman, ‘How to Handle Hamas’, URL: (accessed 9 December 2013).

D.Halevi and E.Benari, ‘Hamas Claims Responsibility for 2012 Tel Aviv Attack’, URL: (accessed 9 December 2013).

H.Siddique, ‘Tel Aviv bus bombing injures at least 10 people’, URL: (accessed 9 December 2013).

Hoffman,B, Inside Terrorism, New York: Columbia University Press, 2006.

Kershner, ‘Explosion on Bus in the Heart of Tel Aviv Kills No One but Reopens a Wound’, URL:// (accessed 9 December 2013).

‘Israel Counted Minimum Calorie Needs in Gaza Blockade’, URL: (accessed 9 December 2013).

‘Many injured in Tel Aviv bus explosion’, URL: (accessed 9 December 2013).

J.Masters, ‘Hamas’, URL: (accessed December 7, 2013)

Martin, G, Understanding Terrorism: Challenges, Perspectives, and Issues, London and New Dehli: Sage Publications, 2003.

R.Wright, ‘When Will the Economic Blockade of Gaza End?’, URL: (accessed 9 December 2013).

Terror attack in Tel Aviv: Bomb explodes on Tel Aviv bus, at least 28 hurt’, URL: (accessed 9 December 2013).

‘Terrorism’, Security Service MI5, URL: (accessed 9 December 2013).

Tolstoy, L, Government is violence, London: Phoenix Press, 1990.

[1] H.Siddique, ‘Tel Aviv bus bombing injures at least 10 people’, The Guardian, 21 Novermber 2012.


[2] Ibid.

[3] D.Halevi and E.Benari, ‘Hamas Claims Responsibility for 2012 Tel Aviv Attack’, 23 October 2013.


[4] ‘Many injured in Tel Aviv bus explosion’, Aljazeera, 21 November 2012.


[5] D.Halevi and E.Benari, ‘Hamas Claims Responsibility for 2012 Tel Aviv Attack’, 23 October 2013.


[6] L.Calhoun, ‘The injustice of “Just Wars”’, Peace Review: a Journal of Social Justice, Vol.12(3), 2000, p.449.

[7] C.A.J.Coady ‘The Morality of Terrorism’, Philosophy, Vol.60, 1985, p.50.

[8] H.Siddique, ‘Tel Aviv bus bombing injures at least 10 people’, The Guardian, 21 Novermber 2012.


[9] ‘Terrorism’, Security Service MI5,


[10] B.Hoffman, Inside Terrorism, (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006), pp.2-3.

[11] L.Tolstoy, Government is violence (London:Phoenix Press, 1990), p.87.

[12] G.Martin, Understanding Terrorism: Challenges, Perspectives, and Issues, (London and New Dehli: Sage Publications, 2003), p.81.

[13] Ibid., p.101.

[14] Ibid., p.351.

[15] ‘Israel Counted Minimum Calorie Needs in Gaza Blockade’, Project Censored,


[16] Ibid.

[17] R.Wright, ‘When Will the Economic Blockade of Gaza End?’, The Atlantic, 19 November 2012.


[18] J.Masters, ‘Hamas’, Council on Foreign Relations, accessed December 7, 2013,


[19] O.Abu-Ishaid, ‘The dialectic of religion and politics in Hamas’ thought and practice’ (PhDThesis, Loughborough University, 2013), p.9.

[20] Ibid., p.180.

[21] G.Martin, Understanding Terrorism: Challenges, Perspectives, and Issues, (London and New Dehli: Sage Publications, 2003), p.188.

[22] L.Tolstoy, Government is violence (London:Phoenix Press, 1990), p.82.

[23] N.Chomsky, Failed States, (London: Penguin Books, 2007), p.170.

[24] Ibid., p.193.

[25] I. Kershner, ‘Explosion on Bus in the Heart of Tel Aviv Kills No One but Reopens a Wound’, International New York Times, 21 November 2012.


[26] H.Siddique, ‘Tel Aviv bus bombing injures at least 10 people’, The Guardian, 21 Novermber 2012.


[27] D.Byman, ‘How to Handle Hamas’, Foreign Affairs, September 2010.


[28] ‘Terror attack in Tel Aviv: Bomb explodes on Tel Aviv bus, at least 28 hurt’, Hareetz, 21 November 2012.


[29] ‘Many injured in Tel Aviv bus explosion’, Aljazeera, 21 November 2012.


[30] N.Chomsky, Failed States, (London: Penguin Books, 2007), p.179.

[31] G.Martin, Understanding Terrorism: Challenges, Perspectives, and Issues, (London and New Dehli: Sage Publications, 2003), p. 285

[32] H.Siddique, ‘Tel Aviv bus bombing injures at least 10 people’, The Guardian, 21 November 2012. URL:

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ibid.

One thought on “Israel – ‘Tel Aviv bus bomb injures at least 10 people’ (Guardian, 2012)

  1. Very good structure – clear and coherent throughout, with good signposting and paragraphing, a good intro, and a good conclusion.

    Excellent analysis too. A few questions or claims could have been probed critically a little further, but the analysis does already cover a wide range of arguments and covers it well.

    The essay is also very well researched, in depth and breadth, and demonstrates excellent and remarkably balanced knowledge and understanding of the case study and its context.

    The English is very good, apart from the use of ‘their’ when referring to a state or government.

    In short, the odd claim could be probed and discussed a little more critically, but this is an excellent essay already.


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