Saturday night, December 1, 2001
Dear family and friends,
We were just getting to bed tonight when we heard the news. Just want to let you know we're fine.
Tonight the Palestinian bombers really outdid themselves. Two suicide bombers detonated themselves in one of central Jerusalem's prime entertainment districts, Zion Square and Ben Yehuda Street, Jerusalem's equivalent of New York's Times Square or London's Piccadilly Circus. Shortly afterwards, as rescue workers were tending to the wounded, a car bomb exploded in a nearby side street, one of the main evacuation routes to the closest hospital.
There are no words. I don't think that I need to describe the nightmare scene one more time. Once again it's the scene from the Sbarro restaurant in August, and Tel Aviv's Dolphi Disco in June and downtown Hadera a few weeks ago and the Afula central bus station this week, the Netanya shopping mall in May, too many other dates and places to remember I think by now you know it as well as I do. Right now they're talking about well over 170 wounded, many critically, and at least 8 dead. By tomorrow the numbrs will probably be worse. Another day of funerals ahead.
I could have been there. Any number of friends, family or neighbours might have been there enjoying an evening out on this chilly, but beautifully clear Saturday night. Any one of us might have been sitting at Cafe Rimon, the Blues Brothers Steak House or the Patriot Cafe, or just window shopping or listening to buskers or watching the Breslev Hassidim hold an impromptu street concert / dance party in Zion Square.
How many times have we met up with friends at a cafe in the area, or decided on a whim to stop by for a soup on our way home from the movies or a concert. Not long ago, while they were still coming, tourists crowded these lively thoroughfares, and Cafe Rimon in particular was popular with English speaking visitors and remains a popular meeting place for foreign students. At this late hour I don't even know if or where to start phoning friends and family to check that they're OK, the list is just too long, the possibilities just too terrible to think about.
Once again the Palestinian terrorists have chosen a "soft", civilian target. They seem to revel in attacking places of entertainment, specialising in targeting Israel's youth, the kids at the disco, schoolbuses, pizzerias. Sometimes I wonder whether this is part of the Islamist message, attacking these very western symbols. Sometimes I think that it motivated by the demographic "struggle" to overwhelm Israel's Jewish population: they want to attack Israel's future mothers and fathers. Sometimes I think it is just an easy target, an easy way to kill and maim a lot of Israelis in one go. In the end it doesn't matter, the bottom line is that they want to kill, destroy and maim, and it doesn't matter if you are a newborn baby, a granny or a combat soldier; any Israeli, any Jew is a legitimate target for them, any time, any place. We might as well walk around with bullseyes on our chests saying "kill me, I'm an Israeli."
In the 14 months of this terror war, over 200 Israelis, most of them civilians, have been killed by Palestinian terrorists. On the scale of the United States with nearly 50 times the population of Israel that would be the equivalent of over 9,000 killed, or more than twice the September 11 attacks. And we still haven't even tried doing to the Palestinian Authority, which harbours and arms these terrorists, what the US has done to the Taliban and Bin Laden's cronies. Every action Israel takes against Palestinian terrorists is met by worldwide condemnation and threats of sanctions and other measures against Israel.
America and their grudging European allies are allowed to fight terrorism, but the natural order of things is that Israelis are supposed to be terrorised. Murderers of American and British civilians must be punished, even killed; murderers of Israelis must be "understood" and negotiated with. Each time we try to defend ourselves, to stop this Palestinian open season on Israelis, we are chided by the enlightened leaders of Europe and America: "All we are saying is give peace a chance". Well we've given peace a chance, however slim that chance has sometimes seemed. But since the 1993 Oslo "peace accords" Israelis have been dying in ever increasing numbers, victims of a peace process that has granted the Palestinian terrorists an army with bases next to every Israeli population centre.
Well, American peace envoy General Anthony Zinni's mission to the region is going well. Aside from tonight's bloody attack, since his arrival on Tuesday Palestinian terrorists have shot up the central bus station in the northern Israeli town of Afula, shot up several cars and a schoolbus in Gaza, Samaria and in other border areas, blown up a bus near the northern Israeli town of Pardes Hanna, opened fire on the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Gilo, and engaged in scores of other attacks. As of Thursday night seven Israelis had been killed since Zinni arrived, and dozens wounded. My hunch is that Arafat is upping the violence now to give him more "wiggle room" in declaring a ceasefire: Compared to this week's carnage, we should be satisfied if "only" one Israeli is killed a week and a dozen wounded, perhaps a few cars shot up and a few homes mortar bombed. Sounds like a ceasefire, no?
This evening, as on every Saturday evening, we made havdala, the little ceremony marking the end of Shabbat , the Sabbath. As on every Saturday night we sang traditional havdala songs wishing one another shavua tov, a good week, and the hymn listing the many blessings we pray for in the coming week, prayers for protection and well being and the hope for imminent redemption and peace.
On nights like this it is hard to have faith, hard to believe, and yet we do, somehow despite it all we still hope and pray that the nightmare will end one day. Last night the rains came hard and furiously and this morning we awoke to green hillsides and the first crocuses and narcissi. There is so much to live for. All around us the land is rejuvinated from the rains. The plants and flowers call out for our blessings, and all around we are dying and our blessings over the rain and the thunder are mixed with the prayers for the dead and wounded.
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Copyright 2001 by Leiah Elbaum.