JERUSALEM (Sep. 4)
end?’ Dan Vered had planned a nice Thursday evening in downtown Jerusalem: a meal at his favorite restaurant one block from Ben Yehuda Street, a cigar from a nearby tobacconist and then a stroll up and down the pedestrian mall that is the heart of the city’s commercial area.
Vered’s evening did not turn out as pleasantly as he had planned.
A trio of suicide bombers, standing roughly 11 yards apart in the shape of a triangle, had turned “the salon of Jerusalem” into a scene of carnage and destruction.
As the casualty toll reached at least seven dead, including the suspected bombers — and more than 180 injured — residents, shopkeepers and spectators on the scene tried to make sense of the bombing as they watched police and burial-society workers clean glass, charred flesh and bits of merchandise from the street.
Teen-age girls sat on doorstoops, crying and consoling one another. A group of Orthodox Jews stepped off a bus near downtown and began praying.
Stunned civilians walked aimlessly, hands pressed to their chests. And shopkeepers on the streets adjacent to Ben Yehuda engaged in heated arguments about the political process.
“If the Israeli powers don’t go inside to the territories, there will be no peace in this country,” said Efi Hasut, standing in the doorway of his Charisma hair salon 30 feet from the site of the bombing.
“If they don’t kick Arafat out of the country it will be a disaster for this generation and the next generation.”
Outside Hasut’s shop, nervous spectators strained from behind police barricades to catch a glimpse of Ben Yehuda Street, which was littered with overturned cafe tables and chairs, broken glass and random pieces of clothing.
Workers from the Chevra Kadisha, the religious burial society, picked remains of human flesh from sewer grates, iron grills and tree branches.
Police gingerly cut a green shirt from the torso of one of the alleged suicide bombers, pulling back an orange sheet to reveal the man’s black curly hair and a face half blown away by the powerful bomb.
Policemen occasionally stooped to pick up 2-inch nails, packed inside the bombs, from the sidewalk.
“Who did we make peace with? With garbage, with the devil,” said taxi driver Yoav Zaken, gesturing animatedly to his friend Itzhak Shabbat.
Asking Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat to provide security for Israelis, he said, “is like asking the cat to guard the milk.”
“This will never end,” Shabbat responded. “They don’t want us here in this land.”
Hours after the bombing, police still were working to clean up as a crowd of people stared dumbfounded at the area.
Normally bustling in the evening hours with families strolling and tourists sipping cappuccino, Ben Yehuda on Thursday night was lit up by television spotlights and the sound of glass crunching underfoot.
“For hours afterward, I couldn’t get out of my chair. I was shaking — like this,” a woman who identified herself only as Yaffa said, fluttering her hands. “My heart is broken.”
Yaffa’s friend Aviva Shako sat in her jewelry store, three shopfronts from the deadly intersection, and pointed out objects broken in the blast.
A broken bronze menorah lay at her feet. The ground outside her store had been littered with severed body parts, Shako said, shuddering at the memory.
Across the street, Sam Henke continued serving a trickle of customers at his sweets-and-tobacco shop.
In the minutes after the blasts, Henke said, dazed victims had flooded into his store, ducking behind counters, seeking any kind of shelter. He had dispensed water and food to calm them and was now trying to come to terms with the catastrophe himself.
“We’re still in shock. We’re still not thinking straight,” Henke said, pointing out a dark stain on the sidewalk that he said had come from a chunk of bloody flesh that landed outside his store.
“Business will suffer a lot, but we’ll stay open; if we close, they win.”
Outside the store, Vered, a regular customer, said he would follow through with as much of his evening plan — dinner and a cigar — as he could.
“This is my lawyer’s office here, this is my bank, this is where I sit and drink coffee and read the paper. This is really my area,” Vered said. “The reason I came down here is to prove that they’re not going to kill Jerusalem. They can’t kill our plans, that’s the bottom line.”
Others, however, said the psychological fallout from the attack was more severe.
American Leah Colmer, who was eating lunch a few blocks from Ben Yehuda and reached the scene just after the bombings, said she would never be able to look at the area in the same way.
“I said to myself, this is happening, this is really happening. I couldn’t pretend that I was living at Disneyland just because I have an American passport,” said Colmer, who had rushed to Ben Yehuda, where she helped comfort dazed survivors.
To walk down the lively pedestrian mall “usually is a fun and social scene,” she said. “Today it wasn’t — it was a life and death experience. It cost people their lives.”