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The Aftermath
by Judy Lash Balint
Israel Insider
November 22, 2002

Kiryat Arba/Hebron-- Yossi Zarman and David Marguiles don't look as if they would be friends. Yossi, is a native born Israeli in his late twenties. He is handsome, soft-spoken, with short dark brown hair, clean-shaven dark skin and eyes that are deep with sorrow and pain. Yossi wears a dark blue pea coat over a sweater and jeans and no headcovering. David, a French immigrant, is younger. Tall and thin, with long straggly blond hair and payot (sidecurls) he's dressed in baggy cotton pants and shirt and a large knitted kippa.

But in the aftermath of the ambush between Hebron and Kiryat Arba last Friday night, Yossi and David are "brothers, not only friends," as Yossi says. They are both members of the Kiryat Arba civilian emergency response team called out when a terrorist started shooting at the IDF jeep that escorted worshippers walking between the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron and their homes in nearby Kiryat Arba.

The two men are standing in the lobby of Hadassah's Ein Kerem hospital. Miraculously, neither one was injured in the firefight. They are here, as I am with Rabbi Avi Weiss who has flown in for the day from New York, to visit the four wounded men recovering at the hospital.

It's evening, and we have all spent the day in Hebron at the site of the tragedy. The words spill out of Yossi's mouth. "What hurts us most is the portrayal of who we are and the media's horrible spin on things," he says, his large brown eyes staring off into the distance. "Look at us--we're not crazy religious fanatics. We ran from our homes to save soldiers, to defend Kiryat Arba. We didn't think twice about it--we just ran forward."

In Yossi's opinion, the Kiryat Arba-Hebron attack was one of Israel's most difficult battles. "It's not always about numbers. The Arabs were shooting from every side. I know that they must have been preparing for a long time for such a fight. They must have rehearsed it and prepared for months. There's no way the people living all around there didn't know what was happening."

He goes on to describe the horror of that night. "I saw my friends lying there mortally wounded with death in their eyes. All I could think of was how can I go back home without my friend, my brother?"

David says that now they just want to be busy--not to have to think about what they saw in the battle.

As they talk, I try to picture the scene, but it's hard to square the images painted by David and Yossi with the activity I saw earlier that day in the area between Kiryat Arba and Hebron. At first glance, driving the short distance between the two cities, all looks normal. Arab kids play by the side of the dusty road as if nothing out of the ordinary had occured there. But when we turn onto the path that Kiryat Arba people used to walk back from Hebron, the scene is far from normal. The football field size area is a hive of activity. A Beit Midrash (study hall) is in full operation. Dozens of teenagers sit around plastic tables learning. One area is set aside for prayers. A few feet away, a few tents have been pitched and further on, three or four freight containers have become temporary homes to young couples who have moved down from Kiryat Arba. On one slope above the site, the apartment buildings of Kiryat Arba are visible--Arab houses sit atop the other three sides of the hill. Media crews, foreign and Israeli, are scattered around, trying to grasp the idea that anyone would want to live in a container as a reaction to the murder of other Jews.

The Christians I was with got it instantly. Roberta Combs, president of the Christian Coalition of America, and five other leaders of the organization, insisted on visiting Hebron when they arrived in the country just after the ambush, on a 4 day visit. "We're not afraid of terrorists," Ms. Combs said, in her southern accent. "We understand this response to terror. Y'all just have to stand your ground," she told some of the young people who gathered around as the group walked through the area. Hugging a shy young boy, Ms. Combs announced that Hebron would be in her prayers when she returned to the US.

A couple of hundred yards away from the encampment is the alley where the gunfight took place. An IDF jeep blocks the entrance, but in the house next door, an Arab family is sitting on the balcony. Arab houses are on both sides of the ally, and it's easy to understand what Yossi Zarman had explained. "What happened on Friday night was a carefully planned military operation, " he said. "They must have rehearsed it and run through it several time--there's no way the people living in those houses could not have known what was going on."

Back at Hadassah Hospital, Moshe Frej lies sedated in intensive care. His brother, a teacher at Kibbutz Shaalvim, sleeps fully clothed on a bench in the waiting room. He hasn't left the hospital in four days, since Moshe was brought in. A few floors up, Alex Benzikry's mother sits by her son's bedside waiting for a positive word from his doctors. On the second floor, the son-in-law of Kiryat Arba Yeshiva head Rabbi Eliezer Waldman, lies quietly in his bed. He too is a member of the civilian emergency response team called away from his Friday night meal to rescue soldiers under fire. He hopes his leg wounds will be sufficiently healed so that he'll be back home for this Shabbat.

There wasn't really time to digest the aftermath of the Friday night ambush before the cowardly murderer from El Khader blew up Egged bus #20, full of grandmothers and schoolchildren the following Thursday. Just hours after the bombing, the Christian Coalition group decided to ride that same #20 bus route the other way--toward Kiryat Menachem, the site of the attack. I went with them to Hadassah--to visit victims of indiscriminate hatred--again.