March 5-8, 2002 Update

Letters from Israel

Tuesday, March 5, 2002

Dear family and friends,

I awoke at 6.30am to news of a terror attack at a Tel Aviv restaurant. By 8:30 this morning, and four terror attacks later, five Israelis had been killed, and over a dozen wounded. Good morning Israel, again.

The radio announcer doesn't even end his show with his usual "have a good day". It would sound too ridiculously trivial in the circumstances.

News that the Modi'in-Jerusalem highway was attacked later this morning was a minor aside in comparison with the fatal attacks in Tel Aviv, the northern city of Afula and the Gush Etzion highway, just south of Jerusalem.

For Modi'in region residents the attack on our road to Jerusalem is a jarring local reminder that with the current escalation in Palestinian attacks nothing can be taken for granted, and that includes the slightly blinkered notion that somehow our road was perfectly safe by day because all the shootings had so far taken place at night.

Wake up call for Modi'in, today a Palestinian gunmen fired at an Israeli car in broad daylight, lightly wounding the driver. Maybe now we'll get bullet proof buses. More likely our buses will now take the long detour they take at night, by day as well.

Wednesday, March 6, 2002

Today I was woken up in the early hours of the morning by the distant sound of shooting. I turned on the radio to check the news, but no mention of anything in the Modi'in area. I turned over and went back to sleep, figuring that I must have dreamt the whole thing.

Turns out however that I wasn't the only one in Modi'in who heard shots last night. Checking my e-mail this morning I noticed that there were several people on the local Modi'in e-mail list who had also heard gunfire night before. Thank God it happened to be a false alarm, not a terrorist incursion.

In recent days the security situation has become the focus of the local e-mail lists, with the usual requests for baby sitters and reliable plumbers taking a back seat to threads with headers such as "Shooting on 443 - no one hurt" or "Makkabim Roadblock" or simply "Security."

Later this morning there was more shooting. A car matching the description of a terrorist's vehicle drove up to the Makkabim checkpoint, just east of Modi'in, and failed to stop for inspection. The alert police on duty opened fire, wounding the car's occupants. A bomb disposal unit then moved in and gingerly inspected the car for explosives.

Only after all these checks did it become clear that the vehicle and its occupants were Israelis, apparently foolish Israelis, but not terrorists.

As I noted recently, checkpoints have become a target of choice for Palestinian gunmen, so police and soldiers are on very high alert right now, and that means taking no chances with any vehicle that seems even remotely suspicious. The driver of that car has had a serious lesson in what happens if you act as though you're trying to charge through a roadblock. Especially in light of yesterday's shooting on the road, and another attack yesterday evening,

There have been a lot of helicopters overhead recently, something else that sometimes wakes me up in the early hours of the morning. Sometimes they are just police spotter helicopters, occasionally they are civilian. Lately they are often military attack helicopters. Several times I've turned on the news to find that Israeli helicopters have attacked Palestinian terror bases in the Ramallah area. We always hear the helicopters first.

Thursday, March 7, 2002

I was woken up again by helicopters but managed to get back to sleep.

Yesterday the road to Jerusalem was closed for much of the day, but today the bus takes Route 443 as usual. The soldiers are hunkered down behind concrete and sandbags, M-16s at the ready, pointed at all the vehicles passing through.

As I walked into the beit midrash (study hall) after lunch this afternoon a fellow student sitting across from me looked up and asked whether something had happened. Puzzled, I replied no. "Well", she said "it's just that sitting out on the balcony at lunch we heard a loud bang and then lots of sirens, and it sounded like a pigu'a (terror attack)".

I rushed out and called Jason to see if he had heard anything. All he could tell me was that the radio traffic report mentioned that roads around Emek Refaim Street, in the German Colony neighbourhood not far from my college, had been cordoned off by police. We figured it was just another false alarm, a suspect package or car.

From the beit midrash we could hear the odd distant siren and helicopters passing overhead.

A few hours later I was on my way to Jerusalem's Central Bus station, sitting with another classmate on the number 18 bus. The route takes us through the German Colony, right past Emek Refaim Street. This afternoon the area was blocked off with traffic backed up in all directions and the driver trying to work out alternate routes through nearby narrow residential streets.

As the news came on the driver turned up the bus radio full volume and suddenly all conversation stopped, the passengers tense and alert like rabbits picking up the scent of a fox.

"It is now four o'clock, here are the headlines:"

A suicide bomber blew himself up in the town of Ariel, east of Petah Tikva, wounding 14 Israelis.

An attack was prevented on Jerusalem's Emek Refaim Street this afternoon when a suicide bomber was caught preparing to blow himself up.

No false alarm here, just a miracle.

Just a miracle.

A brave young waiter at a café on Emek Refaim Street noticed someone suspicious entering the eatery and pushed him away, grabbing the suspect and preventing him from detonating himself.

It took me about three hours to get home today. A journey that should have taken an hour and a half. I didn't care though. Thank God Jerusalem streets were blocked off because police were safely disposing of a huge bomb - not because the huge bomb had exploded on a crowded Jerusalem thoroughfare.

I was shaking a little when I got home this evening. Not because I had actually been in any danger. No, there is just a limit to the number of explosions and shots you can hear in a week, without it jarring your nerves a bit.

On the evening news we learn that there were more miracles. In the northern town of Pardes Hanna-Kurikur a local resident, Sasson Partush, noticed a suspicious youth wandering aimlessly, carrying a small dovecote. Partush challenged the stranger, who frantically pressed a handheld detonator in an attempt to blow himself up along with the doves. Failing to explode, he fled, leaving behind the dovecote.

When the police arrived they discovered that the dovecote contained a massive bomb, which they later detonated safely in an empty field. The explosion could be heard up to 30 kilometres away.

Later tonight I was in the car with Jason when we heard that Palestinian gunmen ambushed an Israeli car near the Palestinian controlled town of Nablus/Shekhm, in Samaria, seriously wounding the driver. The reporter interviewed the first person on the scene, a man from a nearby Jewish village who was driving home from Jerusalem with his wife and children.

I recognise the voice before the name is mentioned. He's a family friend and the man who introduced me to my husband. On several occasions Jason and I have ridden with him and his kids in his battered station wagon along that same stretch of road. Tonight he is quite literally the Good Samaritan who saved the life of the shooting victim.

Unbelievably by this week's standards, this is not a particularly bad day.

Friday, March 8, 2002

It's nearly 2am now. I couldn't sleep. As I write this the radio is reporting on the incursion of a Palestinian gunmen into an Israeli village in Gaza. So far they're talking about 4 dead Israelis, 24 more wounded, including 3 in critical condition. Most were young men mown down in the beit midrash of the village yeshiva (religious academy).

Tomorrow morning's headlines are going to be worse.

I have to get up in a few hours. A friend and I are renting a stall at the fortnightly local arts and crafts fair in Modi'in. Perhaps I'll sell some of the jewellery I make. Life has to go on. Somehow.

Shabbat shalom.


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Copyright 2002 by Leiah Elbaum.