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In the Shadow of Death
by Judy Lash Balint
Israel National News Commentary
December 2, 2001

After a week where funeral followed funeral, last night's terror attack on the youth of Jerusalem was too much to take.

Everyone knows that it's the kids who are out in the cafes of downtown Jerusalem at 11:30 p.m on a Saturday night. The corner where the first two explosions pierced the night was home to a popular ice cream store and a dairy restaurant under strict mehadrin kashrut supervision. The terrorist maniacs blew themselves up in the midst of groups of young people out to celebrate a birthday party. What kind of political statement is that?

This morning's newspaper headlines said it all: "The whole country is terror," writes Yediot columnist Roni Shaked. Chaim Shibi's column runs under the heading: "Life in the shadow of death." Indeed, it's becoming increasingly difficult not to feel that we're all living under that shadow.

At home in Old Katamon last night, it was the sounds of terror that penetrated the windows shuttered against the cold of a December evening. First, at around 11 p.m. the now familiar dull thuds of shelling and return fire could be heard from the direction of Gilo. Not forty five minutes later, the wailing sirens of scores of ambulances broke in to the north and east of the neighborhood. Soon, the phone started ringing with friends and family from the States who heard about the horror just as Shabbat was ending in New York.

Local and international TV crews broadcast live from the scene, a mere 10 minutes away. Watching the third explosion, a car filled with explosives and mortar shells, turn Rav Kook Street into a fireball, it was hard not to recall the experience of September 11. Rescue workers could be seen running for their lives up Jaffa Road as the fireball engulfed the side street. Dark smoke billowed up into the sky from the small street lined with historic buildings.

The coverage went on into the night, but my alarm was set for 4:45 a.m. to take a visiting friend to the airport for an early morning flight back to the States. Neither of us needed the alarm, as the evening's images were not conducive to sleep. Driving through the empty Jerusalem streets and along the quiet Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway, we made it to the airport in little more than half an hour.

Instead of turning around and heading home to mournful Jerusalem, I decided to go on to Tel Aviv to walk on the beach to try to erase some of the images of the night. The full moon still shone in the sky over the Mediterranean as the winter waves lapped the soft sand. A few lone walkers and runners strode close to the shore, paying little attention to the hardy, older Russians who could be seen taking their morning swim in the bracing water.

Planes bank low overhead, flying in and out of nearby Ben Gurion airport, as if all were normal. But today, Israel is far from normal. Walking south on the beach, it's impossible to miss the Dolphinarium. Once a lively nightspot, all that remains is a triangular stone memorial at the site where 15 young revelers lost their lives six short months ago. The motto inscribed on the stone in English, Hebrew and Russian could just as well read as an epitaph for last night's victims in Jerusalem. "In memory of innocent citizens. Among them many youngsters whose lives were cut off by murderers in a bloody terror attack on Friday night, June 1, 2001. May they rest in peace." Fresh flowers and wreaths adorn the site where the victims families and survivors gather every Friday morning for mutual support.

Just across the street to the north is the anonymous grey concrete building housing the American Embassy. Security guards lounge on the white trucks strategically parked to block the entrances. A new guard house is under construction to further scrutinize incoming visitors.

All along the beach, people go about their morning tasks listlessly, laboring under the shadow of the endless parade of death. The owner of one of the cafe/bars that sits on the sand looking out over the sea, pulls tables and chairs out from under their overnight covers and stares off into the horizon. As the sun rises from the city to the east, casting a warm hue over the water, there's none of the lively anticipation of another beautiful day at the beach that would accompany a cafe proprietor in Miami Beach, say.

As the traffic starts to build, I leave the beach in search of one of the new Starbucks cafes opened in Tel Aviv a few weeks ago. I find it across the street from another painful spot. It's at 70 Ibn Gvirol Street. The outdoor tables look out at the spot on Kikar Rabin where Yitzhak Rabin was murdered in 1995. Inside, the few patrons who can afford a $3 cup of coffee are exchanging comments on the Jerusalem tragedy.

Driving back to Jerusalem, I can't resist turning on the radio for the news. I'm holding my breath waiting for the names of last night's victims to be announced. Instead, there's a bulletin about another attack near the southern community of Alei Sinai. One woman is dead, several injured. This is where a young couple was murdered two months ago when terrorists broke into the village and went on a killing rampage. The father of one of the youngsters, Liron Harpaz, is interviewed. I listen to his pained words as we pass the Har Hamenuchot cemetery at the outskirts of Jerusalem, where fresh graves are being prepared for last night's victims.

The radio anchor reads off a few of the faxes listeners have sent in. They all voice similar sentiments: Let the IDF get on with it. We've had enough.

I can't help thinking about a pamphlet I read over Shabbat. It was found by a friend in a second hand bookstore here. It's a small item published in 1919 by the Central Office of the Zionist Organization in England, entitled: A Report on the Pogroms in Poland. In its 36 pages the author describes in detail, community by community, the extent of the pogroms that spread across Galicia in 1918. Synagogues defiled, women raped, Jews murdered. A Jewish Self Defense Corps of one thousand men was formed, the author notes, but they were quickly disarmed and disbanded by the Polish Military Authorities leaving millions of Jews defenceless against the base hatred of their neighbors.

How much have we progressed, I wonder? Today we have a Jewish army, reputed to be one of the best in the world, yet its hands seem to be tied and it is rendered powerless to protect the citizens it is charged to defend. I'm sure the Zionist Organization of 1919 could never have imagined such a scenario--Jews being murdered in the Jewish state because they are Jews despite the presence of a strong Jewish army. Everyone acknowledges the large number of attacks that have been foiled by good IDF, police and intelligence work, but the specter of Jewish power restrained as the daily murder toll climbs is still too much to bear.

Arriving home, there are more calls to make to friends to make sure everyone's OK. The next radio bulletin: another bus bomb in Haifa. 10 dead, 40 injured this time, 17 in critical condition.

Now the names of the victims of the Jerusalem attack are released:

Yuri Kurganov, 20 years old.
Yosef Elezra, 18 years old.
Moshe Yedid Levy, 19 years old.
Golan Tourjeman, 15 years old.
Assaf Avitan, 15 years old.
Nir Heftzdi, 19 years old.
Michael Moshe Dahan, 20 years old.
Adam Weinstein, 14 years old.
Guy Vaknin, 19 years old.
Yisrael Yakov Danino, 17 years old.

May their memories be for a blessing. The friends who watched them die will live forever under the shadow of death