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Among Israelis, Terror Attacks Spark Gloom, Despair — and Resolve to Go on

September 10, 2003
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Basel Street — a trendy, cafe-lined boulevard that attracts the young and hip crowd — is usually hopping till well past 12:30 a.m. closing time, on any given weeknight.

But on Tuesday night, following two suicide bombings in Rishon le-Zion and Jerusalem that killed at least 13, there are about 10 customers total at all the cafes put together. Cafe Basel, the largest cafe of all, is completely deserted and already closing.

One lone couple is sitting at Cafe Ashtori.

“We are used to this situation,” says Karen Amar, a software engineering student. “To my sorrow, every other day we have terror. We can’t just stop living.”

When suicide bombings first started, she says, the entire country would have a day of mourning for the occasion. Now, however, “it’s impossible to stop the entire country every time it happens.”

“I hope a bombing will not happen here,” says Michal — a waitress at Cafe Ashtori, and a psychology student. “I try to be very conscious of who is around, to be on the alert for anyone who looks suspicious.”

“I try to ignore the attacks,” says Ofer Salinas, the bartender at the cafe. “But my feeling is if these attacks continue, I don’t see myself living here.”

Walking down Ibn Gvriol, a main thoroughfare known for its all-night cafe life, there is only a smattering of customers, and a cafe that is usually open until 3:00 a.m is already closed and dark by midnight.

At Caffe Neto, about 12 people are gathered in four different groups.

Like Amar, Yanir Harir, a law student, is out on this night because “we have lived in this atmosphere for a number of years already. This is the only way we can continue with our lives — to go out and have fun. We can’t just stay home. The way to express that we are against terror is going out and continuing to live.”

Harir’s friend, Tal Gabay, a recent law graduate, has a less political reason for being out on this night:

“My girlfriend and I just broke up,” he shares, “and my friends said I have to get out.” He pauses and laughs. “Right now it’s more dangerous for me to be at home alone than outdoors.”

Ironically, it is Cafe Hillel — the same name of the cafe in Jerusalem’s Germany Colony that was targeted Tuesday – – that has the most people — around 30.

While sitting with her friends at the cafe, Nurit Tsuberi, a designer, got a call from a friend informing her of the terror attack at Cafe Hillel in Jerusalem. The friend “wasn’t sure if we were at Cafe Hillel in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem,” explains Avital Lieberman. “She was concerned.”

Lieberman also echoes the sentiments of others enjoying a cup of coffee tonight: “They won’t frighten us,” she says. “We have a message: The people of Israel are strong, and we won’t let them break our spirit.”

Lieberman is eager to encourage Americans to support Israelis in this stance, by coming to visit. “They should not be afraid,” she insists.

Marak Toashe, the security guard at the cafe for only two weeks, does not feel particularly afraid. “I could be crossing the street and get hit by a car,” he reasons.

Besides, he adds, the feeling of quiet is relative. “Even with all the military strength, as soon as a terror organization decides to send a suicide bomber, they pretty much will succeed.”

Those risking a night on the town have mixed feelings about the possibility of peace with Palestinians, and about the latest developments in Israeli-Palestinian politics. Most say they believe peace is possible, if not inevitable. The only question, they say, is when it will happen and how many lives will be lost before it does.

Shimmy Azaria feels that the current politicians on both sides need to be replaced with a new generation of leaders, “people with courage and will and optimism, who will not continue basing their decisions on history.”

With this week’s resignation of the Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, Azaria hopes that the new Palestinian prime minister-designate, Ahmed Karia, will be successful.

“But I have doubts,” he adds, “because he didn’t come in with new tools or ideology.”

“The problem is that from a young age, Palestinians are taught how to attack us,” says Harir. There will be many more victims, he predicts, before there is peace.

“I am left wing, but in the last years, I am very skeptical,” adds Gabay. “I am ready to give to Syrians the Golan, to give Palestinians half of Jerusalem, to give them the territories. But we already did this with Barak, and they rejected this offer. So there is nobody to speak with.”

Gabay says that Israel can come to a cease-fire agreement with one faction, but another faction will send a suicide bomber to attack Israeli civilians. Israel then responds, and the two sides continue in a never-ending cycle of bloodshed.

“The Israeli government needs to think before acting,” says Amar. “They are too reactionary”

Lieberman disagrees. “Our army is responding in a way that is very gentle with them,” she says, alluding to Israel’s efforts to target terror leaders and evacuate homes before bombing them, if civilians are inside.

Asked about the solution, the answers are varied. Salinas thinks Israel should hand over the territories to the Palestinians immediately.

Amit Harnovich, a law student, thinks the Palestinians should be transferred out. “There is no partner for peace, and the road map is dead,” he says. “We tried, it’s time to finish this.”

Regardless of their thoughts about the solution, all but Amar seem to agree that Israel is justified in killing the Hamas leaders.

“I have no problem with killing them,” Salinas says adamantly. “I have no mercy for them. They kill children.”

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