They Lived Together, Died Together: Arabs, Jews Among 19 Dead in Blast
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They Lived Together, Died Together: Arabs, Jews Among 19 Dead in Blast

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Had the restaurant not been turned into a charred husk of twisted metal and broken glass, Maxim’s staff would have spent Sunday quietly packing up for Yom Kippur — Jews and Arabs together readying for a day of rest, for some, and reflection, for others.

But on Saturday a Palestinian suicide bomber from a group sworn to Israel’s destruction ended almost four decades of political tranquility at the Haifa beachfront restaurant, which was as famous for its Arab and Jewish owners and clientele as it was for its mixed grill, a tasty meat dish.

“We always assumed Maxim’s would be immune from this sort of tragedy,” said architect Naomi Herzog, a restaurant regular. “The only question remaining is where the bombing was deliberate or opportunistic, though neither option is a comfort.”

The bombing, on an otherwise quiet Shabbat afternoon in this largely secular city, killed at least 19 people and wounded 45. Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attack.

The bomber, a Palestinian woman named Hanadi Tayseer Jaradat, reportedly was a law student from the West Bank city of Jenin. She reached Haifa by circumventing the as-yet-uncompleted security fence that separates Israel from the densely populated Palestinian areas of the West Bank, the Ha’aretz newspaper reported.

The blast came as Maxim, at the southern entrance to the city, was packed with a Saturday-afternoon crowd. Both Jews and Arabs were among the dead in the attack, including three children.

Among the four Israeli Arabs killed was the doorman who failed to spot the lawyer-turned-terrorist in time. The security guard likely thought Jaradat was just another customer seeking to enjoy the sea breeze and Maxim’s ambience of ethnic coexistence.

Authorities suggested Jaradat and Islamic Jihad probably chose the target based on the relative ease with which an Arab-looking woman could enter the restaurant. The location also could have afforded Jaradat’s handlers a quick getaway via the nearby coastal highway.

Immediately after the attack, as Zaka volunteers went about their grim task of collecting victims’ body parts for burial, condemnations of the bombing came from all corners of the globe.

They came, too, from the West Bank, where Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat issued his routine tepid statement of criticism, which he typically expresses following terrorist bombings in Israel.

Spokespersons for Arafat — who is mindful of Israel’s threat to remove him as an “obstacle” to peace — denounced the attack as playing into the hands of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s government. The official Palestinian news agency said Arafat considers the attack “a serious attempt to compromise the national consensus in a critical situation.”

With a death toll that included Christian Arabs, other Palestinian officials went further, telephoning village elders at Fassouta, the Christian Arab town outside Haifa where two of the dead lived, to offer condolences.

Until Saturday’s bombing, 10 Israeli Arabs were killed in attacks during the intifada.

The bombing also wiped out large parts of Jewish families. Five members of the Almog family were killed, including members of three generations: two grandparents, a son and two grandsons, ages 9 and 11. Five members of the Zer-Aviv family, of Kibbutz Yagur, also were killed in the blast, including a grandmother, her son and daughter-in-law, and their two children, ages 4 and 1. A young couple in their 20s, Mark and Naomi Biano also were murdered in the blast.

A family restaurant, Maxim’s was founded 40 years ago by Shabtai Tayar — a Jew — and his Christian Arab partners, Salim Matar and Abu Sharval. The fears and tensions stoked by four Middle East wars and two Palestinian intifadas failed to shake the amity at the restaurant.

“The Christian families who run the restaurant are the salt of the earth,” Tayar’s daughter, Orly, told Ha’aretz. “We are more than partners, we are family. My brother, Muli, was killed in the War of Attrition and it never affection our relations,” she said, referring to the attacks by Egypt on Israel following the 1967 Six-Day War.

“When my sons were drafted in the military, the Christian women lit candles for their safety and good health in church,” she said.

Saturday’s attack was the fourth in Haifa since Palestinians launched the intifada three years ago. The city is 30 percent Arab and one of the few Israeli cities considered a haven of ethnic coexistence.

“It is irrelevant that this restaurant was under Arab ownership,” said Issam Mahoul, an Israeli Arab Knesset member from Haifa. “Terrorist attacks are wretched and criminal in all cases, but all the more so in Haifa. I have faith in this city, that can go through all this and not lose its sanity.”

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