April 28, 2002 Update

Letters from Israel

Sunday, April 28, 2002

Dear family and friends,

At the end of a peaceful and relaxing Shabbat in Modi'in, we turned on the TV last night just in time to catch the end of the news headlines. The newscaster was talking about a "pigu'a", a terror attack. My heart froze.

Terrorists had infiltrated Adora, an Israeli village near Hebron, Saturday morning.

After cutting through the chain-link perimeter fence, they split up to go house to house and then room to room, in an attempt to kill as many Israelis as possible. They shot people as they slept in their beds, and hunted down others who heard the shots and hid. Four people were killed and seven wounded before the gunmen fled.

What is it like to walk into a bedroom and shoot a husband and wife sleeping side by side? How must it feel to stand over the bed of a sleeping five-year-old and shoot her in the forehead at point blank range? What kind of man can move methodically from room to room, checking each bed and pulling the trigger? Even with all the terrorist atrocities of the last 18 months, my mind still refuses to grasp how people can do these things.

Today's newspapers greeted us with the black-bordered photo of a smiling little girl. The caption underneath read, "Danielle Shefi, of blessed memory." This afternoon we watched her parents solemnly bury her, the mourners mostly quiet, a few weeping softly. Her mother and little brother, both wounded in the attack, left their hospital beds to attend. There are no words of comfort on such an occasion, only tears and silence and mumbled farewells.

Today Palestinian organisations are vying with one another as to who deserves the credit for the bloody attack.

This isn't the first attempted infiltration of an Israeli village by Palestinian gunmen, nor is it the first "successful" one. Recent months have seen many such assaults in border areas, though most have fortunately been foiled by Israeli security: in and around Gaza, near Beit Shemesh, in the Jordan Valley. Last month, four members of one family in Eilon Moreh were murdered by a terrorist who broke into their home. Earlier in March, five yeshiva students in Atzmona were killed in the school's study hall by a terrorist with an automatic weapon and grenades.

The terrorists of yesterday's attack came from a village near Hebron, the only major West Bank city not included in Israel's recent anti-terror operation, Defensive Shield. In Hebron, the terror network remains undamaged - gunmen, explosives experts, bombmakers, along with their bombs, guns, grenades, and stolen Israeli vehicles. This is the second major terror attack to come out of Hebron in recent weeks; only two weeks ago, a suicide bomber from the Hebron area blew herself up in Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda market, killing six shoppers.

The Israeli army successfully thwarted a major bombing in central Israel last night. Terrorists in Kalkilya had planned to blow up one of Tel Aviv's tallest skyscrapers. Under American pressure Israeli forces withdrew from Kalkilya a few weeks ago before completing their anti-terror mission. Last night they were forced to go in and finish the job.

Meanwhile, the Israeli army remains in Bethlehem, hoping to apprehend the dozens of wanted Palestinian terrorists holed up in the Church of the Nativity, along with the clergymen and civilians they've taken hostage. Just last night, Israeli police managed to track down and defuse two car bombs near Manger Square, which were destined to wreak more carnage in downtown Jerusalem. One shudders to think what might have happened had Israeli forces already withdrawn from the city.

A close friend of ours was called up for reserve army duty in the Bethlehem area during the recent anti-terrorist mission. As a physician, he served as an army doctor with a combat unit. He described some of his experiences in a recent e-mail:

"In my battalion (about 500 men) there was one death from a sniper, who killed a soldier standing a mere 50 meters from me. It was a bullet through the heart so we had no chance of saving him, even though we tried. There were also numerous minor injuries.

"While I was on leave for two days, the replacement doctor was called by the Palestinians to tend toa pregnant woman. In the end the woman gave birth to her son inside our army ambulance in the Palestinian town of Bet Jalla (from where terrorists fire on the Jerusalem suburb of Gilo). We then sent her to Jerusalem's Hadassah Hospital. It turned out that the woman was first cousin to the suicide bomber in the recent Mahane Yehuda market bombing.

"During the campaign I was 'lent' to the Etzion Regional Brigade (in the Bethlehem area). During this time I was mainly tending to the 60 Palestinian terrorists who were our prisoners. Every time one of them complained of anything, even as trivial as a headache, a full medical team including a doctor was sent up to see them. I can add that they got the same food as the Israeli soldiers.

"There was also a case of a Palestinian woman who had had an appendectomy in a Palestinian hospital in Area A (under full Palestinian jurisdiction), and she had to return home to her house in Area B (shared Israeli/Palestinian jurisdiction). Under the circumstances, the Israeli army regional medical officer taxied her home in his jeep."

He is just one of several friends and family suddenly called away from their ordinary lives, putting everything on hold, going off to defend our homes. May they all return safely.


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Copyright 2002 by Leiah Elbaum.