Israelis feel besieged  but undeterred


JERUSALEM, Aug. 21 (JTA) — When Stephanie Glick and her fiance, Yehuda Herman, came to downtown Jerusalem to look for engagement rings, they consciously avoided the corner of Jaffa and King George streets.

It was there that a Palestinian suicide bomber stepped into a crowded Sbarro pizzeria earlier this month, detonating a bomb packed with nails, screws and bolts that killed 15 people, six of them children. Another 130 were injured.

Among the dead were the Schijverschuurder family, who lost a mother, father, two sisters and a brother.

Lily Shamilashvili and her 8-year-old daughter Tamar, new Russian immigrants, also were killed; Lily left behind a husband and 3-year-old son.

Tzvika Golombik, 26, was supposed to introduce his parents to his fiancé’s parents that afternoon, but didn’t quite make it.

Their stories sent a shiver down the nation’s spine — not just because of the horror of that day, but because Israelis always know they could be next.

“I just couldn’t walk by,” said Glick, 34, a Jewish educator who lives in Jerusalem. “I haven’t stopped going downtown, because I’m not going to let anybody tell me where to go. But I get on a bus to go to work, and I look around and everybody else is looking around and we’re all thinking, ‘Is this going to be our last bus ride?’ ”

It is a common fear, and a potent one. If there was a bombing in Sbarro’s, why couldn’t there be one in Aroma, a popular Jerusalem coffee shop? If Palestinians bombed the Dolphinarium disco in Tel Aviv, why not the Ha’oman 17 club in Jerusalem?

As if to underscore that fear, a small bomb exploded Tuesday beneath a parked car in Jerusalem’s popular Russian Compound area of restaurants and pubs. It caused no injuries, but police commanders who arrived at the scene said a serious disaster was averted when a second, much larger bomb discovered in the trunk of the car failed to detonate.

Jason, a new immigrant from England, was writing an e-mail in a nearby building when he heard the explosion on Tuesday.

“I’m still trying to get over it,” he told Israel Radio. “I was in one of the buildings typing on a computer. It was rather frightening. I thought, here we go again.”

What the recent bombings have emphasized is that terror can strike anywhere, anytime — which makes almost all areas equally dangerous, and equally safe.

“There’s concern because it’s random terror and you don’t know which areas to avoid,” said Richard Berger, 34, who recently moved to Ra’anana from Jerusalem. “Yet if there were five Sbarros every day, it would be a whole different level of terrorism. The odds of it being you are still relatively narrow.”

Nevertheless, the Sbarro bombing was a benchmark event for many Israelis. It was as tragic as the Dolphinarium disco bombing in June, which killed 21 youth out celebrating the end of the school year, yet the lunchtime tragedy struck a different chord, taking place at a familiar intersection in the heart of western Jerusalem.

The next day, everyone reluctantly bought their weekend newspapers, anticipating and dreading the graphic, heartwrenching, poignant stories about the victims, their families and those who narrowly escaped.

Escape, however, has become a relative term. No one really feels completely safe anymore, but they play the odds, looking for alternate routes or restaurants, seeking respite from the threats of the Palestinian intifada.

“You can’t let it take over your life, so you use your own artificial logic to make sense of the world,” said Stu Schnee, a sales manager at a high-tech company in Kfar Saba.

“After you hear about a bombing and begin realizing the enormity of the tragedy, you become absorbed in mourning mode, watching the news nonstop,” he said. “But then you learn to go forward with a little bit of a limp. It’s almost like an odor in the room, or a toothache that’s with you all the time.”

Schnee lives in Jerusalem but travels an hour each day to his job in Kfar Saba. An upscale suburb of Tel Aviv, Kfar Saba also is near Kalkilya, a Palestinian town in the West Bank that has produced its fair share of suicide bombers.

“I look out the window at Kalkilya, and it’s frustrating to me,” Schnee said. “There’s a hornet’s nest of terror five seconds from here. But we’ve made it clear that you can’t break us with terror.”

Many Israelis take the attitude that “life must go on.”

After a terrorist attack they slowly return to the cafes, restaurants and shopping malls. They meet friends for a café hafuch — “upside-down” coffee, a local version of cappuccino.

They see the latest movies at malls where security has been beefed up with guards and metal detectors. If it is considered unsafe to take the bus, they hail a cab instead. If a crowded restaurant seems a potential target for a bomber, they opt for an emptier one.

But they don’t return to their schedules without noting the ironies of their new reality.

For Glick, even her recent engagement has taken on a bittersweet taste. Friends and family call to wish her mazal tov, but then start discussing whether they feel safe coming to the wedding, which will be held in November or December.

And then there’s the matter of her Palestinian friends, who were the contractors on Glick’s apartment several years ago. They’ve already called to congratulate her, but can she invite them to a wedding in Jerusalem in these days?

“If this was a year and a half ago, I could have seated them with anyone, even my more right-wing friends,” said Glick, who once lived in Tekoa, a West Bank settlement. “But today, things are a lot more bitter. I’ve been rude to Arabs after terrorist attacks, just based on who they are.”

She isn’t the only one. In one incident last week, a Druse couple and their baby reportedly were assaulted at a Haifa mall. Tib Anan, a 25-year-old Druse who serves in the Israel Defense Force in the Golan Heights, was called a “stinking Arab” and his son’s stroller was sent crashing into a wall, sending the toddler to the hospital.

While the government and organizations like the Anti-Defamation League have denounced such incidents, the sting remains, as does the sense of distrust.

People have become more focused on their own welfare, and less concerned for the average Palestinian.

Even the Israeli army policy of destroying a terrorist’s home doesn’t elicit the sympathy for the Palestinians that it used to.

“Maybe blowing up somebody’s house is going to spare the angst and pain of one Israeli mother,” said one young woman, who asked that her name not be used. “It doesn’t sadden me, because that’s the reality I live in.”

For Nora Berger, the entire intifada appears to have confirmed her suspicion that peace was never possible.

“I’m not happy to feel vindicated. I feel depressed,” said Berger, 34, an Israeli who moved back to Israel from the United States with her husband Richard last summer. “Attitudes have changed, and that’s the biggest price we’ve paid so far.”

At the same time, Richard, who is American, decided to make his aliyah official just last month.

“It’s a little bit crazy but we’re not living in the West Bank,” said Berger, who grew up in Long Island, N.Y. “Your brain sometimes tells you that you’re crazy, but if you give into it, you’re letting terrorism win.”

(JTA correspondent Naomi Segal contributed to this report.)

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