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In Its Wake, Haifa Bombing Leaves Families Devastated

October 8, 2003
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For Israeli newspaper editors, it’s a macabre convenience.

Most terror attacks require gathering up head-shot photographs of the victims in time for publication. But sometimes, as was the case in Saturday’s suicide bombing at the Maxim restaurant in Haifa, the dead come prearranged in family photographs that show several victims together.

Two families were devastated in the blast — the Almogs of Haifa and the Zer-Avivs of nearby Kibbutz Yagur. Each family lost five members from three generations.

Ze’ev Almog, 71, a former submarine captain and commander of the Israel Navy Academy, was a regular at the beachfront steakhouse, at peace among Maxim’s mixed Jewish-Arab staff and clientele.

But he was felled by a 29-year-old Palestinian woman wearing a bomb belt — along with Almog’s 70-year-old wife, Ruth; his son, Moshe, 43; and his grandsons, Tomer, 9, and Assaf Staier, 11.

Almog’s daughter, Galit, was seriously wounded.

The loss drew an uncharacteristically emotive eulogy from a relative and fellow career soldier.

“At family gatherings, Ze’evik was the center of it all, like a lighthouse,” Maj. Gen. Doron Almog wrote in the Yediot Achronot newspaper, using a term of endearment for his friend Ze’ev. “If Ze’evik were standing here now among the living, he would command us to continue living and creating and rejoicing and fighting for what is ours – – and never to be broken.”

The flowers piled high on the fresh graves dug side by side in a Haifa cemetery were mirrored in nearby Yagur, a kibbutz that already had lost 46 of its sons in Israel’s wars.

Bezalel Zer-Aviv, 30, and his wife Keren, 29, were killed at Maxim’s — along with their baby daughter, Noya, 1; their son, Liran, 4; and Bezalel’s mother, Bruria, 59.

Reporters’ access to the funerals was restricted. But those who had watched television coverage Saturday of the bombing’s aftermath already had seen one of Bezalel Zer-Aviv’s sisters interviewed as she desperately searched hospital emergency rooms for her loved ones.

“I don’t have any grandchildren left,” Keren Zer-Aviv’s mother, Margalit Almakias, told reporters.

Her grieving son, Shai, demanded an explanation from Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in the name of an anguished nation.

“Are you listening, Sharon? Tell me, what will happen?”

But there are no answers, and for the nine others killed in the bombing, their final rites had the silence of resignation.

Student Nir Regev, 25, was laid to rest with what appeared to be military honors, but in fact it was a contingent of colleagues who came to support his father, a naval officer.

Mark Biano, 29, a television reporter, was buried along with his wife of one year, Naomi, 25. Biano’s colleagues at Haifa’s local station, Matav, scoured archives for stories of Biano’s that might serve as a memorial.

Four Arabs who worked at Maxim’s — Osama Najar, 28; Mutanus Karkabi, 31; Hana Francis, 39; and Sharbal Matar, 23 — were laid to rest in their communities amid calls for continued coexistence.

They left wives and children behind, as did Zvi Bahat. Bahat, 35, died in the blast, but his daughter Hadar, 3, was left in critical condition. Another daughter, Inbar, escaped with light injuries.

One of the mourners at the Bahat funeral was Avi Ohayon, a friend who lost his own wife and two children to a Palestinian shooting spree last year in Kibbutz Metzer.

In an odd twist of fate, Israeli special forces killed the terrorist responsible for the Metzer attack only hours before the Maxim bombing.

But Ohayon refused to become vindictive.

“It did not bring me comfort, only a sense that justice had been done. And then — this terrorist attack,” he said. “Fate has brought us together. This is the first time I am allowing myself to deal with someone else’s pain.”

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