Canada and the World

The bombing zone

Jerusalem is more violent than ever. Yet somehow people cope day-to-day.

ERIC SILVER September 17 2001
Canada and the World

The bombing zone

Jerusalem is more violent than ever. Yet somehow people cope day-to-day.

ERIC SILVER September 17 2001

The bombing zone

Jerusalem is more violent than ever. Yet somehow people cope day-to-day.

Canada and the World

BY ERIC SILVER in Jerusalem

Macleans Jerusalem correspondent Eric Silver first arrived in the city in 1972 when the British newspaper The Guardian posted him there. Along with his wife, Bridget, and their three daughters, he spent 12years in the city before being reassigned to India in 1984. In 1987, he returned to Jerusalem as a freelancer. Living in a political hot spot means there are always headline-making stories to file. But it also means everyday life for correspondents and their families—in Silver’s case, his wife, one daughter (the other two now live in England, but visit frequently) and six grandchildren—can be challenging, even threatening. Silver describes how they cope day-to-day:

First we heard the explosion, a tearing, echoing thunderclap that shattered three of our windows and blew in a door. Then we heard the screams and smelled the cordite. We live in a 19th-century house on Street of the Prophets in the centre of Jewish West Jerusalem. We are

used to big bangs. Since May, there have been four bombings within three minutes’ walk of our home. But the one last week, in the road between our neighbours, the French international school and a hospital, Bikur Holim, was nearer than any we’d known before.

We feared the worst. On Aug. 9, a Palestinian suicide bomber had killed 15 Israelis and tourists, including six children, in the Sbarro pizza parlour just around the corner. Was this another massacre? A police patrol, we soon learned, had spotted a suspicious-looking man, disguised as an Orthodox Jew with a black skullcap and a backpack. When they challenged him, he smiled, reached into his bag and blew himself up.

The screams came from the French school, housed in St Joseph’s convent. The blast had decapitated the bomber, flinging his head over a 2.5-m-high stone wall to a playground where dozens of horrified children were waiting for morning classes to begin. Some were still arriving. Pierre Weill, a French radio correspondent, was

delivering his daughter. His car was strewn with the bomber’s blood.

Luckily, no one besides the bomber was killed. The only Israeli seriously injured was Natan Sandaka, one of the two alert policemen. Another 20 people were treated for shock, burns and lesser wounds. The bomber was provisionally identified as Raed Barghouti, a 26-yearold Islamic militant from the West Bank village of Aboud. Police sappers retrieved steel screws and jagged fragments of blackened canvas in the yard outside our front door, all that remained of his backpack and its lethal contents. They had been hurled 50 m by the blast.

Although the month was barely a week old, the Israeli media were already dubbing it Black September. Four other bombs went off in Jerusalem suburbs the day before the Street of the Prophets suicide interrupted our breakfast. We feel as if we are living under a volcano. Still, somehow we have adjusted. “It won’t happen to us,” we say, even though we know it might. The drama becomes part of the fabric of your

A map of explosions in a city where no one is safe

Throughout Its history, Jerusalem has seen more than its share of violence and bloodshed. Most recently, as Arab-lsraeli tensions have heated up, the city has been besieged by almost daily terrorist bombings-five in the first week of September alone. The explosion last week in the Street of the Prophets injured a score of passers-by and killed the bomber himself. Other incidents have been far more lethal; 15 Israelis and tourists died in the Aug. 9 blast that ripped apart the West Jerusalem Sbarro pizza parlour. Here are sites where some recent blasts have occurred.

life, the familiarity muffling the shock. When a bomb goes off, people phone friends and family to check that they’re OK. I call it “counting your friends.” Bridget still shops in Mahaneh Yehuda market, although her fishmonger, Nissim, lost an arm in a suicide bombing in July, 1997, and two passers-by were killed by a car bomb there last November. She walked past the Sbarro pizza parlour, where we often take our grandchildren, an hour before the August blast. “This is our city,” she says. “Many Arabs still shop in our corner

grocery store and visit their families in the Jewish hospital opposite our house. If they can carry on as normal, so can I. I’m not going to change the way I live.”

There are many variations on the “life goes on” refrain. Regine Rimon, who owns Cafe Rimon, a popular fast-food restaurant off the Ben-Yehuda pedestrian mall, has seen her business slide 35 per cent from last summer, in part because of the decline in tourism. She remains in equal measures fatalistic and defiant. “We’re not afraid,” she says, “but were worried. We have to go on

all the same. These are hard times, but we’re used to hard times. ” Her way of coping? She has posted two black-uniformed muscle men, armed with revolvers and two-way radios, outside her café with orders not to let in anyone who looks suspicious. “Even if someone blows himself up,” she explained as if she were recommending the day’s special, “there will be fewer casualties.” Many Israelis, it seems, have a short trauma span. They soon put an atrocity like the pizza-parlour bombing behind them. “If something like that had hap-

RUSSIAN COMPOUND, May 27: A car goes up in flames near the central police station and a Russian Orthodox cathedral in an area popular for its bars and nightclubs.

No serious injuries. OUTSIDE FLOWER SHOP, May 27: Volunteer rescue workers carry a slightly injured woman to an ambulance after the second car bombing in under nine hours.

SBARRO PIZZA PARLOUR, Aug. 9: Located on the corner of two main shopping streets, Jaffa Road and King George’s Avenue, the restaurant is

especially crowded during the busy lunch hour when a Palestinian suicide bomber blows himself up, killing 15 and injuring 130.

H0RKAN0S STREET, Aug. 21: An Israeli police bomb squad robot dismantles a large bomb after a smaller one had exploded. Police have cleared the area and there are no fatalities.

amtti uiint PROPHETS, Sept. 4: Israeli rescue workers examine a car after a suicide bomber blows himself up near the French international school. His is the only death.

Canada and the World

pened in Toronto,” says Reuven Gal, a former chief psychologist of the Israel Defence Forces, “it would have had a devastating impact. People would have panicked because its so extreme, so unusual. In Israel, it has become almost part of peoples lives. People are more cautious, but they don’t stop living.”

As if to prove his point, hundreds of families flocked recendy to the Sultan’s Pool, an outdoor auditorium just outside the Old City walls, for the annual Jerusalem arts and crafts fair. Every inch of parking space in nearby Mamila Road was filled. A multistorey car park raised its rates from eight shekels to 20, and still did a roaring trade. Nevertheless, Gal detects a weakening of resilience. “There’s an accumulated fatigue and hopelessness,” he explains. “People are less and less convinced that any approach will resolve this conflict. That diminishes their strength and their stubbornness.” When we first moved to Jerusalem in the ’70s, bombings were not as frequent. Sui-

cide bombers or car bombs were almost unheard of. In the first intifada (1987 to 1993) the trouble was mosdy in Arab East Jerusalem. We cut back on visits there and avoided driving through Arab neighbourhoods. After the Oslo agreement in 1993, we hoped all that was history. We started shopping again in the Arab gift shops. I took a then-six-year-old granddaughter for a walk atop the walls of the Old City, then we walked through the Muslim quarter en route to the Western Wall. There seemed nothing to fear. But I wouldn’t take her younger siblings on the same trek today.

Of course, many East Jerusalem Palestinians are just as cautious about where they venture. They comprise about one-third of the city’s population of717,000, and many of them have jobs in Israeli shops, restaurants, offices and building sites. The glazier a government agency sent to repair our bomb-shattered windows last week was an Arab. Most, in fact, have not joined the current intifada. Still, Ali Qleibo, a painter and

anthropologist who teaches at East Jerusalem’s Al Quds University, says his students complain about being constantly humiliated at army checkpoints. As for himself, Qleibo says it’s impossible to visit friends on the West Bank or drive to a holiday home he owns in Jericho. Without tourists, his favourite Old City cafés and markets are empty. Qleibo is also reluctant to take his wife and young daughter across town. “I’d be ashamed to go shopping in West Jerusalem,” he says, “when my people are being killed.” And he has stopped going to the movies there. “If I go to a cinema and a bomb goes off,” he explained, “I’ll be seen as an Arab. I’ll be the first one to be attacked.”

Yet the holy city has not lost faith. Painters and plumbers, joiners and tilers, Israelis and Palestinians, were working around the clock to rebuild the shattered Sbarro pizza parlour in time for its scheduled reopening this week. An improvised sign proclaims: “The Sbarro chain loves Jerusalem.”

So we get by. But these are days neither Jews nor Arabs in Jerusalem will forget in a hurry. G3