Behind the Headlines: Stunned by Wave of Terror, Jerusalemites Question Peace

Emotions of fear, anger, shock and helplessness surged through the Israeli capital as Jerusalemites again buried the victims of another Palestinian terrorist attack – the third in this city in eight days.

Exactly one week after a suicide bomber blew up a No. 18 bus, killing 26 and wounding scores more, Israelis awoke Sunday to learn that a nearly identical attack had taken place in the heart of the capital city.

Sunday’s bombing of another No. 18 bus, also on Jaffa Road, in which 19 people, including the bomber, died pushed a city already on edge nearly past the breaking point.

The bombing was the third terror attack in Jerusalem, and the fourth in Israel, in the not-so-distant past.

Also Feb. 25, a suicide bomber struck at a hitchhiking post in Ashkelon, killing a soldier. The next day an Arab American plowed his car into Jerusalem bus stop, killing one, before he was shot dead by bystanders.

As if caught in a recurring nightmare, people here again frantically phoned friends as family after the most recent bus bombing to see whether they were alive or dead.

On television news, Israelis again saw the skeleton of No. 18 bus standing crippled as black-coated men from the burial society Chevra Kadisha scraped body parts off the sidewalk.

After the victims were rushed away and the twisted metal remains of the bus were removed, local shopkeepers were allowed to size up the damage.

Closed at 6:25 a.m. – the time of the blast – many of the stores, cafes and kiosks were nonetheless damaged beyond recognition.

“This isn’t peace,” said Shlomo Dalbari, a 55-year-old cafe owner whose small restaurant was destroyed in the explosion.

But Dalbari did not express anger, just shock and bewilderment.

Dalbari, a passenger on the ill-fated No. 18 bus, escaped injury.

“I was on the bus that blew up, but I got off just in the nick of time,” said Dalbari, standing outside the remains of his cafe. “Usually, the bus driver, who I know very well, lets me off right at my cafe, but for some reason I decided to get off earlier.”

“I heard a huge blast and saw the bodies,” he added. `I can’t say any more.”

For Dalbari’s son, Shai, the day’s events were too much to absorb at once.

“I was on the bus behind the 18 and suddenly it exploded,” he said in a shaky voice.

“I knew [my father] was on the bus and I jumped off to try to find him,” Shai Dalbari said. “I couldn’t find him anywhere and I was frantic. I’ve never known such fear.

“Then, 15 minutes later, I found him, alive and well. It is impossible to describe my feelings at the moment.”

“My cafe is destroyed,” the elder Dalbari said suddenly. “But that’s not important now.”

Broken dolls from a toy store, designer pillows from a fabric shop and oranges from a fruit-drink kiosk lay intermingled with the shattered glass that littered the street.

Three floors up, office workers surveyed the damage from blown-out windows, pondering what carnage the bomb might have caused had the attack occurred an hour later, when the streets and buildings along Jaffa Road are usually packed with people.

While many agreed that things could have been worse, most Jerusalemites lining the blast site expressed anger.

“The government is doing nothing to protect us,” charge 16-year-old Mazzie Hanoni, a high school student. “Last Monday, when a car rammed into people waiting at a bus stop, the government initially said it was an accident, not a terrorist attack. They’re afraid to tell us the truth.”

Nothing that her father is a bus driver, Hanoni said, “Last week, when we heard about the blast we didn’t know where my father was. I hope no one ever has to feel the fear we felt.”

Batya Walker, a teacher who has five children, said she is worried about her family’s safety.

“I’m sad and angry and I want the government to do more,” she said. “A week ago I spoke to an official in the police department about tightening security and she told me that if the terrorists stop attacking in the police department about tightening security and she told me that if the terrorists stop attacking buses they will simply attack someplace else. What kind of answer is that?”

Walker, who emigrated from New Jersey 25 years ago, said the government “ought to start issuing magnetic cards for Israeli citizens, and this could go a long way toward preventing terrorism.”

Echoing the Cabinet’s decision Sunday to implement a plan to separate the Israeli and Palestinian populations, Walker said, “What we need is a total division” between Jews and Arabs.

Instead of attending a school Purim party, 16-year-old Estie Levi decided to rush to the site of the blast.

“I was getting ready for school, for the party, when I heard about the attack. I just couldn’t face going to school today,” she said.

Tears in her eyes, Levi said, “Do you know the saying `the month of Adar is a time to rejoice’? Instead of happiness, all we feel is horror. It’s as if a second Holocaust has befallen Israel, and the government remains silent. I was in favor of the peace process, but now I know that peace between Jews and Arabs is impossible.”

Rina Michaeli, a 40-year-old postal workers, said she was still in shock.

“The bomb went off right outside and it was total chaos when I arrived from work soon afterward. I was bodies everywhere.”

Speaking from the central post office, just a few yards from the bomb site, Michaeli, too, said she had lost hope in the peace process.

“Of course I want peace, but look what’s happening. There is one attack after another, blast after blast – this is the action of a people that wants peace? My son, a soldier serving in South Lebanon, called this morning to see if I was injured. He told me that it’s safer in Lebanon than in Jerusalem.

Walker said the peace process “is being handled in a slapdash way, as if some child were in charge. It’s been poorly planned and Israelis are scared and uninformed. If I planned Shabbat dinners the way our government has planned the peace process, my family would be starving.”

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