I just got back from the bombing of a restaurant in downtown Jerusalem. My family is here on vacation, and my sister had gone downtown with some friends to get something to eat. Then, a little while ago, I heard on TV that a bomb had torn apart a popular pizza parlor downtown filled with kids.
In Israel, it is the known obligation of every child to call their parents if they were expected to be in an area where a bomb goes off. But as tourists, my sister and her friends did not have a cell phone. Twenty minutes after the explosion they had not yet called in. I assured my mom that she would be fine, that there were a hundred places to eat and that she just hadn't called because the phone lines get overwhelmed after every attack. But I was also scared, so with a heavy sickness in my stomach, I ran the few blocks from my apartment to the area of the bombing.
When I arrived, the emergency services had closed every avenue off leading to the site. All I could do was go from group to group huddled behind the security tape and peek into the deserted shops looking for Eliana. She was nowhere to be found. Everywhere, people were on their mobile phones. Others, closer to the scene of the bomb, were crying, huddled on the ground in the burning sun, some vomiting. From one vantage point I could see the utter destruction of the restaurant -- blackened pillars askew, fragments of chairs piled up, shattered glass covering everything.
People were crying, huddled on the ground in the burning sun, some vomiting.
Finally I had searched everywhere I could think of, and she was still not to be found. I waited in line to call my mother and grandparents and see if they had received any word yet. In front of me at the phone were a line of people trying to deal with their disruption in their lives -- one reassuring his grandparents that he was safe, one discussing the impossibility of getting home with her shopping, one foreign worker quickly describing the bomb scene to her loved ones back in Thailand, perhaps just for posterity.
Finally, I was able to get to the phone and reach my mother. Eliana and her friends were safe, having gotten into a cab a block down from the restaurant to go home a few minutes before the bombing. My mother thanked me profusely and then began to weep with relief over the phone.
ON THE INTERNATIONAL STAGE
Now that I knew my sister was safe, I was able to sit down, shaking, and have a drink. I looked at the crying people and wondered how many of them were not blessed with the sense of relief, maybe even euphoria, that was now flooding my system. I could imagine how the bile that had been in my stomach, had been in theirs, and sunk to the depths of their soul as they realized that the worst was true, that their brother, mother, child, lover was never coming back.
Then, as I calmed down some more, I thought about the people who had no personal interest in the situation -- the reporters and foreign politicians who viewed the scene not as a human tragedy, but as one chapter of a large and intricate play being acted out on the international stage. I thought about how the newspapers would describe me and the torn, bloodstained children in the ambulances behind the tape.
It seemed impossible now, looking at them, but I knew that those children and parents who were having a pizza lunch would become the aggressors in tomorrow's rationalizations of the murder by papers like Britain's Guardian and Independent. The man who walked into the shop, stopped and looked at the kids eating around him for a moment before detonating his bomb will not be called a terrorist but a "militant." Perhaps even an "extremist."
The people who recruited this person for this specific act, who told him it will guarantee his entrance into heaven, who lovingly and carefully prepared the bomb on the killer's body, who ensured that it contained just the right amount of nails and bolts and ball-bearings to tear through the victims’ faces, will be called "activists" by these newspapers. "Activists" -- bringing to mind positive connotations of concerned people who take action, like those who save the whales or hand out AIDS information on the street.
All this, while the ink is still dry on the Independent's searingly self-righteous editorial claim that it will continue to label Israel's preemptive moves to avoid suicide attacks as "assassinations" rather than "targeted killings," because, and I quote: "We see no reason not to call things by their proper name."
They will add him to the official number of "Palestinian dead" in the intifada, so that his death, even as a statistic, will help his cause.
And the justifications? People like Robert Fisk and Suzanne Goldenberg and Phil Reeves and Ewan McAskill of the aforementioned media outlets will do their best to explain that what I witnessed was not mass murder or, God forbid, terrorism, but "resistance to occupation." They will go on to discuss the underlying phenomenology of this "resistance," and how it is not caused by Arab hatred of Israel, but by the election of Ariel Sharon and existence of Israeli settlements over the Green Line.
They will sympathize with the bomber as a person, detailing his frustrations at Israeli roadblocks and the corruption of the Palestinian Authority, his efforts to find work in his chosen profession, his anger over preemptive Israeli attacks on his explosive brethren. They will add him to the official number of "Palestinian dead" in the intifada, so that his death, even as a statistic, will help his cause. They will remind readers, in each article, that there are settlers who abuse Arabs. They will surely take at face value the Palestinian spokespeople's vague declarations against civilian casualties, and go to great pains to excuse the Palestinian Authority of any responsibility by stating as fact that Yasser Arafat has no control over these "activists" or their "activities."
ALL MY FAULT
Just as importantly, there is a long, long list of things of things that the media will not say, now or ever: About Arab terror before the settlements or Sharon government ever existed. About Palestinian schoolbooks and summer camps exhorting little children to grow up to be big martyrs. About the moral difference between people killed blowing up civilians and those killed as their victims.
Faced with this presentation of fact, readers will, no doubt, throw up their hands at that point and say, "Well, what do those Jews expect?"
It was difficult for me to remember all these things as I sat in the sun drinking my drink of relief, and looking at the blood and glass that outlined the life's anguish of hundreds of others. It was difficult to remember that it was, in fact, all my fault.
Readers will no doubt throw up their hands and say, ‘What do those Jews expect?’
My fault as a Zionist, because Zionism, alone among all national aspirations on earth, is racism, as the UN has notarized and the rest of the world are about to reaffirm in Durban.
My fault because I am living in a neighborhood that the Arabs fled after their failed attempt at exterminating the Jews of Palestine. My fault because I would have preferred that the Israeli Army take out this indescribable beast before it reached its target and blew up those children.
So I came home to write this, and to watch the rest of the world discuss how I am at fault. Maybe they will have sorted it out by the time I "cause" the next restaurant to explode.
Yes, there is something you can do. See 7 Ways You Can Help Israel. Also, the children victims of terrorist bombings love to receive letters. Write to them! Most of them can read English (be sure to print clearly or type), and for those who can't, we'll be happy to translate the letters. Do not send Emails. A real letter that they can hold in their hands, perhaps on nice stationary, will mean so much to them.
Please address your letters to a specific kid, and send them to that child c/o of:
PO Box 14149