Thursday, March 21, 2002
Dear family and friends,
I guess you realise that if I'm writing this then I'm fine.
Well, a few hours ago I briefly felt like screaming or howling at the moon, but now my calm has returned. That cold, quiet calm of resignation and resolve which has come to replace the initial feeling of shock that used to come with news of an attack.
Thursday as you know is my Jerusalem day. At about 4:15 on a Thursday afternoon I am usually in downtown Jerusalem. My classes finish at about 3:30pm and then I take a bus to the central bus station, often stopping off in the city centre to take care of a few errands or to meet a friend for coffee before getting my bus home, usually the 5 or 5:30pm.
Today however I was home because the Pesah (Passover) vacation began two days ago, and even though I have things I need to do in Jerusalem, I decided to wait until Friday when I can go in with Jason by car.
That's why I wasn't in central Jerusalem today when the bomb went off.
Any other Thursday, odds are I would have been in the area. Thank God not today. Thank God I was home cleaning the house for Pesah today.
Sometimes when I'm doing housework I like to have some nonsense on the radio or TV to keep me company. This afternoon I turned on the TV around 4:30pm, in time for some daft American daytime soap. Just as it was supposed to start the ominous news programme theme music came on. My heart sank. Unscheduled news updates are never a good sign.
The glorious Al Aksa Brigades of Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement did it again this afternoon. One of their psyched up incredibly brave suicide bombers stood outside a store in central Jerusalem and blew himself up in a crowd of shoppers.
What courage, what a hero, he had the guts to go and detonate himself in the middle of a group of unarmed civilians.
Three Israelis killed, over 60 wounded. Or as the idiotic foreign media are reporting it "Four Dead in Jerusalem Bombing", as though the bloody suicide bomber is the same as his victims.
The explosion destroyed a store on King George Street, just across from the Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall. That's a few doors down from a couple of hat stores I like, several fabric and sewing supplies stores I shop at, a nice bakery where I like to pick up a few things for dinner when I in the area and numerous other familiar shops and eateries. Old Jerusalem establishments and brash new chain stores side by side, now bloodied and broken.
Today's bomber it turns out was a Palestinian policeman. He was on the list of wanted terrorists that Israel asked the Palestinian Authority to arrest as part of the farcical "security cooperation" America has encouraged Israel to continue. Yasser Arafat's security forces claimed that they had indeed arrested said wanted terrorist.
Well, they did, briefly. He was planning to blow up a shopping mall in the Israeli town of Ra'anana around the time he was arrested in the Palestinian town of Nablus/Shekhem. Then the Palestinian security forces claimed that they had no secure holding facilities in Nablus/Shekhem and they asked Israel to facilitate moving him to a secure facility in Palestinian controlled Ramallah, north of Jerusalem.
Once in Ramallah, the terrorist was released, re-equipped with the explosive belt he was arrested with and today he was out blowing up Israeli civilians in downtown Jerusalem.
None other than Arafat's buddy Marwan Barghouti, head of the Fatah Tanzim militias in the Ramallah area, appeared on TV crowing about today's attack in Jerusalem. He said that it wasn't only an attack on Israel, but also a retaliatory strike against America's attempt's to broker a ceasefire. Barghouti's office is in the same neighbourhood as Arafat's Ramallah compound.
Good thing American special envoy Anthony Zinni is here brokering a ceasefire.
Yesterday another brave young "militant" (as the foreign press refers to terrorists) blew himself up on a passenger bus in northern Israel killing six Israelis and wounding 25. A few days ago another heroic Palestinian "militant" opened fire on a bunch of schoolchildren in down town Kfar Saba killing a girl and wounding many more. That same day another "militant" blew himself up near a bus in Jerusalem, wounding twenty more Israelis.
Each day merges into the day before. It's hard to even remember which attack took place yesterday, let alone that last week Hizbullah terrorists infiltrated across the border from Lebanon and ambushed civilian vehicles on a road in northern Israel, murdering six Israelis and wounding a dozen. Was that only last week? It's hard to even think that far back, so much has happened in only the last couple of days. Even as we're burying the victims of yesterday's attack, more people are being killed. Tomorrow will be another day of funerals.
So far this year there have been 15 terrorist attacks in Jerusalem alone. Last year there were 50 terror attacks in the Israeli capital. Do the math yourself, roughly one a week. Since the Palestinians attacked us in September 2000 there have been about 11,000 terrorist attack in Israel. 11,000 attacks. Seventy percent of Israelis killed have been civilians, and out of the remaining 30% who were police or soldiers, many were off duty, on leave, or just happened to be waiting at bus stops, eating in cafes or doing some shopping on the way home.
Sometimes I think we ought to make the Palestinian terrorists' jobs easier - we could just have a lottery, perhaps arranged by the enlightened states of western Europe, say France, or perhaps Norway, and that way they could equitably decide how many Israelis on any given day should be killed or maimed, and that way we could save the Palestinians the trouble of trying to kill us. There was an episode like that on Star Trek once. I seem to remember that Captain Kirk was horrified by the lottery system, but the local people explained that it was much more efficient as it only killed people but didn't damage buildings.
On second thoughts we are already living that lottery every time we venture out of our homes.
Today should have been such a nice day. It was Jason's birthday and I'd planned to take him to a jazz or klezmer concert tonight. He had to work late though, so we couldn't do it. Instead I took him out to dinner at a nice Italian restaurant close to his office in Herzliya Pituah, just north of Tel Aviv.
The Herzliya industrial zone almost feels like a foreign country with its flashy glass office buildings, trendy storefronts and hip eateries which would be quite at home in London or New York. The locals are a mix of fashionably dressed people in fancy cars and more ordinary lowly high tech employees and their more mundane company cars.
Each restaurant, each swanky hotel, each glass office building has an armed guard outside and everyone is inspected before being allowed in.
As we ate dinner flashing blue lights from were reflected in the restaurant windows at regular intervals as a police car circled the block every few minutes. In the chic noodle bars, sushi joints and seafood tavernas people noticeably avoided the seats closest to the windows - just in case a terrorist should come by and shoot up the place, as happened in a Tel Aviv restaurant a few weeks ago.
The popular kosher Italian restaurant we dined in was half empty, even though Thursday night is the start of the weekend here, not to mention that with Pesah less than a week away, this is the most popular time of year for kosher people to eat out. I've never seen the place so empty.
After dinner we walked down to the beach. War or no war, the sea is still beautiful in the moonlight, the sand and the seashells glinting in the silvery glow. Behind us some teenagers were sitting around in the park, someone strummed a guitar, a few girls played at sliding up and down the grassy slope. For a while we almost forgot the war.
There is something comforting about being near the sea, being faced with something so eternal, so ancient, something so certain in all this uncertainty.
As I watched the sea a poem kept going through my head, one that almost every Israeli child learns at school, "A Walk to Ceaserea":
"My God, my God may there be no end
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Copyright 2002 by Leiah Elbaum.