Bombing Kills Gilo Residents, Neighborhood’s Sense of Normalcy

A young woman, a dedicated bus driver, a woman who worked with several presidents.

The 19 Israelis killed when a Palestinian terrorist blew himself up on Egged bus 32A on Tuesday morning were a cross section of Israel and of Gilo, the Jerusalem neighborhood where most of the victims lived.

Among the victims identified so far were Boaz Aluf, 54; Leah Baruch, 59; Gila Nakav, 55; Shiri Negari, 21; Liat Yagen, 24; Rahamim Zidkiyahu, 51; Yelena Ivan, 33; Tatiana Braslavski, 41; Galila Bugale, 11; Mendel Berzon, 72; and Baruch Gruani, 56. All were Jerusalem residents.

Tuesday’s bombing also killed something else: the belief many Gilo residents had that their lives were finally returning to normal.

For the past year and a half, residents of this neighborhood on the southern outskirts of Jerusalem had weathered Palestinian gunfire from the direction of Beit Jalla, next to Bethlehem. Several months of recent quiet had fostered hope that perhaps life was returning to normal.

Yet a cloud of grief descended over Gilo on Tuesday as staffers at the local community center fielded seemingly endless calls with news and funeral details of residents who were among the 19 victims of a suicide bus bombing.

While not all the names of the victims were released Tuesday, reports said 14 of the 19 people killed were residents of the community.

Final preparations had been under way in Gilo for a festive dedication ceremony for a new sports center. As it turned out, the stage would have to be used instead for memorial services.

“We lived through one and a half years without so many physical injuries, though certainly sustaining emotional ones,” which led residents to believe “that somehow we would get through it,” Yaffa Shetreet, a staff member of the neighborhood council, told Channel Two news. “We believed we had a sort of communal invulnerability. But it’s all been shattered.”

Shiri Negari, who was two weeks shy of her 22nd birthday, was on her way to work in a bank when the bomber struck on the 32A bus. She was wounded and died of her injuries in hospital.

Family members described Negari as warm and smiling. Since returning to Israel from a trip to South America, she was full of plans, and was due to begin university in the fall, they said.

“All of this crying doesn’t suit her,” Negari’s sister, Sheli, told Channel Two. “She was so happy. So strong. Someone who does things. Especially after she came home from South America, there were so many things she wanted to do.”

Her sister recalled the deliberations that had preceded Negari’s return to Israel.

“Everyone said she should come back, we had several weddings over the summer,” Sheli Negari said. “I told her that if she’s having so much fun, maybe she should stay there. My mother said the situation here is so bad that maybe she should stay there, because it’s difficult to say where it’s safer.”

Negari was conscious when she was admitted to hospital after the attack. Just before she was to undergo surgery, however, it became apparent that her injuries were more extensive than initially thought. She later succumbed to them.

“I’m studying medicine, and I’d like to believe that a person can be strong and help. But actually, we’re nothing,” her sister said. “When someone is really hurt, you can’t help them.”

Negari is survived by her parents and four siblings.

Rahamim Zidkiyahu, the driver of the bus, was not supposed to be driving the that the suicide bomber boarded on Tuesday. But a colleague was late and Zidkiyahu, who wanted to finish the route in time to catch a World Cup soccer match, insisted on taking the earlier route.

“All he wanted to do was finish in peace,” Rami Yitzhakov told Channel Two. “He wanted to get back in time to watch soccer. It was six fateful minutes.”

Colleagues described Zidkiyahu as hard-working and dedicated, a warm person who loved to laugh. An Egged employee for 27 years, they said he knew many of the passengers on the line. He was married and a father of four.

“He was full of life, young at heart,” a relative was quoted as saying. He was “an exemplary father who always wanted to help others.”

Despite the difficult security situation — and even after terrorist attacks — Zidkiyahu showed no fear of driving, colleagues said. He insisted that it was a duty to continue serving the public, they said.

Tuesday’s attack exposed the apprehensions of drivers, who realize that buses are prime targets for terrorist attacks. Many attributed their survival to luck.

“How do we know if it’s a terrorist?” one driver, identified only as Amnon, told Channel Two. “If he doesn’t explode, he’s not a suicide bomber.”

Leah Baruch, 59, boarded the bus Tuesday morning on her way to the president’s residence, where she had worked for the past 23 years.

“Leah was an asset,” colleague Sima Shariki told the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot. “Among those she worked with were the presidents the late Chaim Herzog, Ezer Weizman and Moshe Katsav. They all loved her.”

“She was a wonderful woman, always ready to give of herself. If she saw an injured cat, she would take it in,” Shariki continued. “She loved plants and animals. She loved life.”

Baruch was described as an avid reader. She was divorced and is survived by two children. President Katsav spoke at her funeral on Tuesday.

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