Sunday, March 9, 2008

Terrorism In My City

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Sorry if this post is upsetting. This is life, and life can be that way.

In case you didn't hear, we had a terrorist attack here in Jerusalem. You may be thinking, "what's new, it's Israel and the Middle East." But actually, we haven't had an attack here in the capital since late 2004, when two police stopped an 18-year-old Arab girl from approaching a crowded bus stop, but weren't able to prevent her from exploding the suicide bomb belt. The police officers were killed. The girl was long dead, considering her intent.

The terrorist attack on Thursday was the worst Israel has had, in any area, since the April 2006 bombing of the old central bus station in Tel Aviv. I was living in Tel Aviv at the time, as well.

I'm going to reproduce here what I wrote in my notepad on Thursday night, so you can get my original first thoughts.

"...An Arab from East Jerusalem entered Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav [a male seminary], one of the biggest yeshivas in Israel, and opened fire with an AK-47 and a handgun on a study hall containing about 80 children. Eight were killed (confirmed as of now), seven wounded. That is bad.

"They are celebrating in Gaza, handing out sweets to children, firing jubilant machine guns towards heaven, and going to the mosques in "thanksgiving," as one of the newstations put it.

"I was working when it happened. I work on my computer at home, but I kept hearing sirens from all types of cars: military, police, ambulance, fire. It was quite obnoxious, and the websites didn't have anything to tell me. No one had reported it by the time I got on a bus to go to the center of the city. I wanted some falafel, having worked for 6 hours without a meal, and there was nothing in the cupboard. I guess I should have known something was wrong when I kept hearing automatic gunfire from the Arab neighborhood across the valley from me. It seems to have been happening a lot lately, so I only made a comment to my flatmate about how irritating it is, without making any connection. Actually, when I walked out of my place there was a thick layer of smoke in the air, and it smelled like any old burn. I assumed there was a fire, and that was that. The smoke, however, was from the Arab neighborhood - fireworks. I saw the display while I was on the bus, thoroughly confused. I had been looking for a fire somewhere on the hills, to no avail.

"Something just did not feel right. The fireworks. The empty bus that should have been packed. The heavy air pressing me into the asphalt with each step. The emergency vehicles, which are common here, but just not in those numbers and not with that frantic driving. I had a clue that it wasn't a fire when the bus pulled up to a stop light, and to the right I saw a mini-market's TV showing ambulances and a crowd of people gathered around some authority figure. Obviously something happened.

"Eventually I got downtown, still not clear that there was a terrorist attack. In fact, I really wasn't sure at all. At all. My heart knew it, my gut knew it, but my mind only knew that "something wasn't right." I honestly did not think "oh, there must have been an attack." Maybe I'm still naive.

"I walked down a side street to my bank's ATM, and I was a little surprised to see two soldiers heavily checking cars at a makeshift street blockade. Again, not a main street, and usually they only give cursory glances at these things. I actually thought, "oh, there must be some kind of an event, or a politician is here." Things cleared up rather quickly.

"A mini-market TV, which are always pointed out to the street to get you to stop by their place, a phone call from my mom...

"You OK?"

"I took a glance at the TV, saw about 30 men huddled around some authority figure, read the Hebrew caption: pigua. Attack.

"Instantly my heart dropped, instantly my soul felt a rare pain, instantly I realized that my city, my people, my way of life has been violated. Times Square was also attacked today (a bomb around the corner, no injuries). Both my countries attacked in one day.

"Danny, where are you?"
"I'm in the city. I just got here from my apartment."
"Do you know what happened?" My natural instinct was to say 'of course,' in the attitude that a young man has when he chooses to do something as wild as move to another country. You just act like you know everything, that you are the most informed, that nothing gets by you. But, in a situation like this, I just wanted information.
"No, Mom, what happened?" I sat down on a brown bench to brace for the news.

"What a strange atmosphere. A normally noisy city, a boisterous and excited, affected people, reduced to sullen faces, eyes that have seen too much, mouths turned downward too often, shoulders drooped from years of disappointment, backs hunched from the burden of terror. I tried to hide the grief I was carrying, but ended up finding comfort in the faces of my fellow street wanderers. The same face of disbelief, shock, the same sense of despair, of abuse, the feeling as if we ourselves were killed tonight.

There is none of the religious-secular divide tonight. Though this terrorist attack happened in a yeshiva, everyone relates to it in the same way. It was directed against the religious nationalist ideology, but it was an attack on all of Israel."

That's what I wrote the night of the attack. I didn't want to post that in order to write a play by play, to say "hey, look, I was here!" I just want to relate my experience and observations to whoever reads this. To relate what it is like to live in a city during a terror attack, and more so what it is like to live in Israel in times of distress. I want to relate how Israelis react. I want to show our souls, that we are victims.

That night the city was desolate. The streets were blocked off, the buses were rerouted, security was tripled. The normally bustling Ben Yehuda Pedestrian Mall was reduced to about 100 people - not a tenth of the normal amount for a Thursday night. Normally loud liquor stores were hushed, everyone crowded around a TV. At the Internet cafe, everyone was reading the exact same thing. The face of a typically animated 16 year old goofball was solemn, and some tear streaked. I normally find great fault in myself for not feeling the level of emotional affection that I assume I should be feeling during a terrible time. Something bad happens, and I only pay lip-service to the event. Someone dies, and it sucks, but it doesn't touch me. That night, Thursday night, I was beneath the ground I walked on.

I think we were all just shocked that first night. Now that we've had the weekend to mull it over, and now that we have more details on it all, we are just ANGRY. I really do think we are angry. I think that's the consensus, at least from what I've witnessed first hand.

For example:

1) The terrorist was a young man in his 20s who was engaged to be married.

2) His family is a rich Arab family, one of the richest in East Jerusalem. All that "they do this because they are poor and have no other way to express their outrage with the Israelis" crap is bunk. It always has been. This is a case in point.

3) As I was riding the bus today, three strangers began discussing a newspaper article about the attack. They had all the pictures of the boys lined up side by side. A woman started saying "what a shame, what a shame. Why? What a young kid. A baby! 17? 16, why? 15?! Oh no no no." Then the moderately religious man (a white kippa) said "and in a house of God!" The woman says, "you know, look at me, I'm not that religious. But that doesn't matter! I have no problem with you all studying Torah and Talmud, I don't even care if you don't do the army!" The highly religious man (a black kippa, black suit), whispers "it shouldn't have been in a yeshiva. They found them dead with copies of Torah and Talmud in their hands." The woman retorts, "it doesn't even matter if they were religious or not! It has happened everywhere." She ended it all with a very interesting expression to hear from a non-religious person. As she was standing to get off at her stop, she said, "we are all B'nei Yisrael, anyway. This happened to all of us." She said we are all the Children of Jacob, our Patriarch.

4) When we discussed it in class today, which we did for the first 30 minutes or so, someone said something along the lines of "the terrorist, that man..." Our infinitely kind and sweet teacher cut him off by saying, "man? No, not a man, a ba'al chaim" An animal.

5) Everyone is very upset that Jordan actually had the guts to dismantle the "mourning tent" that this terrorist's uncle in Jordan constructed, a ritual that Muslims perform for the dead, but Israel has decided to actually allow the terrorists family to keep theirs up here in Jerusalem. Apparently we made them take down the Hizbullah and Hamas flags today, after allowing them to fly for the past few days. Doesn't this prove what kind of democracy Israel is, what kind of humane country we are? We get murdered by this fool, and then we allow the family to publicly mourn their fool, praise martyrdom, with anti-Israel signs all around, and cheer on the murderer in the very city that he committed his atrocity! All in the name of giving the "Palestinians" a fair deal and equal standing.

6) The UN Security Council was blocked by Libya from decrying this attack. Now, if I remember correctly, Israel is condemned quite regularly for their targeted assassinations of terrorists, guys that organize these types of crimes... But no condemnation for when a guy opens fire on Israeli 15 year olds?

If our allowance of freedom to mourn in this circumstance isn't democracy and humane treatment, those ideals don't even exist in theory. We are letting them keep up their public display of thanksgiving, joy for killing seven teens, and even one 26 year old immigrant that fled from persecution in Ethiopia when he was eight. I have to admit, when my teacher called the guy an animal, not a human, I looked at my friend and said, "wow, that's pretty harsh." How do I feel, though? Angry. Sick. Disturbed. But, somehow these incidents only strengthen my resolve to serve this land and this nation.

Take a look at the victims, the supposed perpetrators of crimes against innocent Palestinians, and tell me if you think a human being could kill these boys, as they sat in a library studying 2,000 year old texts. 15, 18, 19 years old, and those last two are some of the oldest that were murdered.


Anonymous said...

That was a Hezbollah attack in revenge for Israel killing Mughniyeh in Syria, look here:

Israeli by Day said...

You see, this is the kind of person, the kind of people that:

A) Believe targeted killings of high level planners and perpetrators of terrorism is one and the same as killing innocent children -- as long as the innocent children are Israelis. It doesn't work the other way around, of course, because Israelis aren't animals like the perpetrators of terrorism we have to our right and left.

B) Well, believe conspiracy theories, just like that link he provides. I know all about Basically it's a "Judaism is really based on paganism," "Israelis killed ..." You get the picture.

There is no proof that Israel had ANYTHING to do with Mughniyeh in Syria. In fact, it is widely noted that he had become somewhat estranged from his supporters, and many wanted him dead. There were a hundred other groups that wanted him dead, so Israel has no particular EXTRA reason to be suspected.

There is no proof whatsoever, and so just because this terrorist that shot these 15 year olds was from a new group calling themselves after the "martyrdom" of Mughniyeh... that's not proof.

You support this shooting, Alex?

Israeli by Day said...

Alex, maybe you're just saying "this was the claim" of the group... but considering your link, I suspect your logic goes like this:

1) Israel killed Mughniyeh
2) This terrorist supported Mughniyeh and Hizbullah.
3) These boys are part of religious zionism, which basically believes that Jews shouldn't give away any of the Holy Land, since G-d said "it is your land."
4) They were therefore not innocent, since they perpetrate the subjugation of Arabs.
5) His act was in retaliation for the Israeli attack on Hizbullah's second in line, Mughniyeh.

Tanya S. said...

Hey Danny,

I was in Israel when this happened staffing a Birthright trip. I could not believe it myself when it happened :( We were in Negev traveling to Massada for our sunrise hike the next day when we got the word about it. Telling my group about this event was harder than dealing with what happened at VT last year when WM was upset about the events.

Israeli by Day said...

Tanya. Yes, it is very difficult to accept it yourself when it happens, but to have to be the bearer of the news -- that's a different ballgame altogether.

Tanya S. said...

I'm going to be back in Israel this summer staffing another Birthright trip. We will have to catch up. You'll be proud of me, when I was there I bought some Kosher 4 Passover Vodka at a store near the Shuk in Tel Aviv. I totally thought of you! :) We'll be maintaining the tradition of K4P Vodka at the Passover Seder this year :)

Best wishes!

Israeli by Day said...

Sounds like I started a tradition.