Behind the Headlines: Site of Attack Turns into Memorial As Israelis Come to Mourn and Pray
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Behind the Headlines: Site of Attack Turns into Memorial As Israelis Come to Mourn and Pray

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Days after two bombs exploded here, killing at least 19 and wounding 62, this normally busy bus station became a memorial site. . .TX.-Cordoned off by police and cleared of most traces of the tragedy, some bloodstains remain on the cement floor and an unused military bandage can be seen lying in a ditch.

Close to the main road stands what is left of the roadside kiosk where the devastating explosions took place. Legend has it that no Israeli soldier finished his or her tour of duty without tasting a sandwich made by the Tzioni family, which ran the place. But now there are large blackened holes in the walls, and the entire structure seems unsafe. Workers are putting up a metal and barbed wire fence around it.

Hundreds of yahrzeit (memorial) candles burn at the bus stops, whose walls are covered in newspaper cuttings with photos of the dead. A hand-printed note was added, calling for divine retribution.

Flowers lay beside the candles; some wreaths, some hand-picked in a hurry. A few already are wilting under the warm winter sun. Prayerbooks lay atop a folding table. Above each bus stop hangs a sign with information on the buses and their destinations and underneath each one is a sign in Hebrew and in English: “Beware Suspicious Objects.

Those on official duty here – security personnel and municipal workers – move around busily and purposefully. Others meander around in a daze. It is quiet.

A mourner recites the Kaddish, the prayer for the dead, and others gather around to say, “amen.” Someone else begins to sob at the sight of the young faces famed in black on the walls.

Erez Bilovsky, a farmer, came to pay his respects, and “to witness the stupidity of our people.”

He is short and stocky, and does not mince words. “This makes me feel so bad. It was clear that this would happen, and it will again. Ever since we signed that stinking agreement, this is the price we pay,” he says, referring to the peace accord between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

“And we’ll continue to pay until we bring this government down! This government has its head up its ass,” he spits in anger. “Two more years to the elections, and we shall shed a lot of blood until then. But after that our time will come. And when we come to power, there won’t be a single Arab left here. We shall move them all across the river, and have our country for ourselves. I tell you, by then even those who vote Likud will be considered leftists.”

At the other end of the junction, a group of some 40 yeshiva students sit on folding chairs and listen to their rabbi. Some are attentive, others bored and sleepy. “The fate of the Jewish people is the Torah, the Land of Israel and the hereafter. And all three are obtained with great sufferings,” lectures the rabbi.

Two students sneak out, and want to speak. Amit Sterl and Amit Yedidya, both 17, are students at the Kfar Haroeh Yeshivah, a National Religious Party stronghold. They have been here since 6:30 a.m., and will stay here until after sundown to recite all three prayers of the day.

“The people are apathetic,” Sterl says, and Yedidya agrees with him. “The people must rise and do something. Just because we have skullcaps doesn’t make us fanatics, but people must do something. Their voice must be heard. If 300,000 came out in protest something will happen. It may not stop terrorist attacks like this, but something will happen.”

Yedidya says, “This government is crazy, agreeing to give up parts of our homeland. Of course I do want peace, but only peace for peace.”

Sterl disagrees. “If we don’t give up territories, there will never be peace,” he says.

Then they decide to agree again, recite their demand that the people awake and do something, and return to their lesson, in which the rabbis explains how the sufferings are meant to bring us together, not apart.

Yael, a sergeant in a base nearby, declines to give her last name, as she is not allowed to discuss politics while in uniform.

‘It is painful. It is sad. And it is so frightening. I didn’t know any of them, but what does it matter?” she says.

“What should be done next? Peace. Only peace can bring an end to things like this. There is no other way. it’s very difficult to come here and see thi and still believe in peace. But there is no other choice. There is no other way but peace,” the soldier says.

Yanai Shlomo, an Egged bus inspector, is here to help passengers find their way to the new bus stops. “I am from Netanya” he says, “and this is part of my beat. And I can tell you, what I see here is scary. I keep shivering all the time.”

Although it is rather warm, Shlomo keeps on his sweater and winter jacket. “Sometimes I am here on Sunday mornings. You should see what’s happening then: Hundreds of soldiers come here for their transportation back to their bases. Hundreds, the entire place is full with heads of young soldiers. Every Sunday morning.

“But things have changed,” Shlomo says. “We have become fearful people. Once these soldiers came here by buses or hitched rides. Now their parents bring then in their cars. The parents are afraid to let them come here by themselves. They don’t even trust our buses. What has become of us?”

A car slowly pulls out of the parking lot, displaying two stickers on its back window: “The People are With the Peace,” and “Peace Is A Different Height,” referring to the Golan Heights.

The young people inside are Mali Pinhas, from Ra’anana, and her boyfriend, Yaron Toledano, from Migdal Ha’emek. “No, we were not afraid to come here with our peace stickers. Why should we be?” Toledano asks.

‘Look, I just got out of the army two months ago. I served as a combat officer and spent a lot of time in Gaza and the West Bank. This is horrible, what happened here,” he says.

“But this is the price of peace. And peace is the only solution.

“It can be done. The right will not give us any more security. They can’t. The future, our future lies in peace. The future of our children depends on it,” says Toledano.

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