I have no particular wisdom to offer in this column. In fact, I had no intention this week of writing a column at all. I only decided to do it late afternoon yesterday, as the impressions of Thursday morning accumulated in my brain and it seemed to me that some purpose might be served by putting them down on paper.
At 8:48 a.m. yesterday, I was with my wife, Corinna, and our seven-week old daughter in the bedroom of our Jerusalem flat when we heard a loud boom. Corinna happened to be looking northward when it happened; through the window, she saw a large, flat, rectangular scrap of metal fly up above the rooftops of three-story houses and tall palm trees. That was followed by a plume of black smoke. It was immediately clear to us both what had happened. I dressed, went downstairs and walked down the street in the direction of the smoke.
It was a beautiful morning, cloudless and warm for the season. A man and a young girl were walking toward me on the pavement opposite. The man did not appear to look anxious, and it occurred to me that what I thought was a suicide bombing might have been something else – the collapse of a construction crane, or maybe a bad car accident.
The other thing I noticed was the quiet, which was unusual even in a city that has a way of going quiet. But this was not Shabbat, it was not a High Holiday, and rush hour was not yet over.
By the time I got down the block to the bus, perhaps three minutes had elapsed since the blast.
Survivors lay on the pavement. One elderly man had flecks of human tissue on the back of his coat and scalp, but otherwise he seemed uninjured. Another man was bleeding from his ear, which had been sliced in half. A woman held her face in her hands, and everything was covered in blood.
It was still very quiet, or at least it seemed that way to me. I don't remember any police there, although surely there must have been some. The ground was covered in glass; every window of the bus had been blasted. Inside the wreckage, I could see three very still corpses and one body that rocked back and forth convulsively. Outside the bus, another three corpses were strewn on the ground, one face-up, two face-down. There was a large piece of torso ripped from its body, which I guessed was the suicide bomber's. Elsewhere on the ground, more chunks of human flesh: a leg, an arm, smaller bits, pools of blood.
Now the police and ambulances began to arrive in great numbers. How much time had elapsed I do not know. They began herding non-official personnel to the sidelines. My secretary called to tell me there had been a suicide bombing. I said: I know, I'm there. Also, she said, Independent Radio wanted to speak to me, would that be alright? Why not? I was patched through to a studio in London. It took me two or three minutes to describe the scene. "That'll do nicely," said the voice on the other end. "Cheers."
It had become much noisier. A young policeman with a rifle and a panicky expression ordered me to move back. I retreated a bit. An older officer screamed at me to retreat a bit farther. I did so again. Crowds of onlookers had gathered behind the police lines, and TV networks were setting up their cameras. I spotted one colleague, then another. Practically half The Jerusalem Post's editorial staff lives within a short walking distance of the blast site.
A reporter from the Voice of America overheard me telling a colleague that I'd been one of the first on the scene. He wanted an interview. Why not? I did the same for Germany's RTL television, The New York Times, an Italian channel, a Japanese reporter. The German wanted to know whether I thought the timing of the bombing was meant to coincide with the prisoner exchange. I doubted a connection. The Italian speculated about the location of the bombing, only some 150 meters from the prime minister's residence. I doubted the coincidence. The Japanese wanted to know whether I thought this attack justified targeted assassinations. "Yes, and the security fence, too," I said.
The thought ran through my mind that in five minutes flat I had become a media whore. Corinna rang. "Come home soon," she said. "I'm coming right now." I got home. The office rang. Erik Schechter, one of our military correspondents, was among the wounded. How had I missed seeing him there? We left immediately for the hospital. Erik's wounds were described as "moderate." What that meant was that his knee-cap had been shattered and that he had sustained shrapnel wounds and vascular damage. He will spend between three and six months in recovery.
We left the hospital in the early afternoon, to visit a friend who's just given birth. Afterwards, we went to an outdoor cafe for lunch. I had promised myself a day off and I was determined to take it. There have been 28 previous suicide bombings in Jerusalem. The 29th was not going to make me change the way I live my life. It was not going to prevent me from taking my day off – although I am writing this column.
Another thought occurs. I think of Thursday's bombing as a death event. The absolute stillness that followed the bombing, that amazing and horrifying quiet – that was the quiet of 10 murdered souls. Only later, when the ambulance sirens began to wail and reporters answered the call of their beepers, did it become a news event. There is a very great distance between a death event and a news event, I think. At best, a death event invites description, and even then description can hardly capture the nature of the thing. But a news event demands speculation, analysis. Was the attack deliberately timed? Did the bomber choose to detonate himself so near the PM's home? What do I think of targeted assassinations? What about the security fence? And so on.
I doubt many reporters have actually witnessed a suicide bombing up close – indeed, not many Israelis have. After today, I know there is a basic difference between what one sees in the first five or ten minutes and what one sees in the next 20 or 30 minutes. Most of the reporters who "covered" the bombing did not actually see the corpses on the ground. They do not know about the body convulsing in the bus. What they saw was a bus blown to smithereens, which is awful enough, while the rest was left to their imaginations. But if you haven't seen it before, you cannot imagine it. You don't have a clue. If I learned one thing today, it is this.
We move too quickly from death events to news events. Nobody should see the scene I witnessed this morning, while the quiet still hung in the air. Then again, maybe everyone should see it, at least everyone in the news media. They should switch off their cameras and mobile phones and close their notepads. They should observe the silence, first of all by being silent.
This is what I wanted to say.
My home is alongside the ambulance route in Jerusalem so I don't need to listen to the radio to know when bombs go off in the city. If I don't hear the blasts themselves, I hear the ambulance convoys – their sirens screeching and howling as they pummel into traffic on their way to evacuate wounded and take them to the trauma wards. The sirens are a constant reminder that I live on the front lines of the war.
By noon yesterday, I received a more personalized confirmation of this fact. I heard news that among the wounded in yesterday's carnage are two of my friends. One is still in surgery as I write these lines. I am told that his wounds are not life threatening. The other, who got off with a broken knee, lies in Shaare Zedek's orthopedic ward awaiting word of whether she needs surgery.
Government sources were quick to tell us that there is no connection between the carnage in Rehavia and the deal negotiated with Hizbullah that was proceeding in Germany as our enemies murdered and maimed us in the streets of Jerusalem. Science Minister Eliezer Sandberg announced, "There is no connection and it is forbidden to make a connection between the bombing and the deal for the prisoner swap."
The fact that the PLO's Fatah terror group claimed responsibility for the attack on Hizbullah television should give considerable pause to those like Sandberg who protest that there is no connection. In fact Fatah and Hizbullah have been cooperating closely since late 2001. Fatah receives funding and direction from Iran. Hizbullah is an Iranian organization.
The date of the prisoner swap was announced publicly last week. No doubt, Hizbullah has known the date for some time. There is no reason not to suspect that this information was passed on to Fatah and so today was chosen for the attack. What better way for Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah to declare complete victory over Israel than for his allies to carry out a massacre of Israeli civilians the day he secures the release of hundreds of their terrorist brethren?
We shouldn't be surprised that our national leadership is making such statements in the wake of the bombing. In the sensational build-up to the prisoner swap, we have received a full diet of groundless assertions by our leadership. IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Moshe Ya'alon for instance said on Tuesday in the Knesset that Hizbullah would be unlikely to resume kidnappings after the prisoner swap because its leadership knows that the IDF will respond militarily to such an action. Even Channel 2's left-wing commentator Amnon Abramovich couldn't resist mentioning that given Israel's decision not to retaliate for the abduction of our soldiers and subsequent Hizbullah attacks, Israeli threats today have little credibility with Nasrallah.
Indeed, how can anyone with a modicum of common sense make the argument that terror doesn't pay when they look at the current positions of our government and security brass? Hizbullah received 461 live terrorists and 59 dead terrorists for going to the trouble of abducting and murdering our soldiers and kidnapping Elhanan Tannenbaum. If that isn't a good payoff for terrorism, what is?
And yet, the deal with Hizbullah is but one of the strategic errors of the government in recent days and weeks.
On Sunday, the government approved the election of Irineos I as the Greek Orthodox patriarch of Jerusalem. In July 2001, Irineos penned a letter to PA chief Yasser Arafat riddled with anti-Semitic slanders. He told Arafat that the Jews are "crucifying" the Palestinians. In addition, Irineos informed Arafat that he looked forward to cooperating with Arafat in Jerusalem. Irineos has claimed that the letter is a forgery, but a police investigation, which was closed two weeks ago, substantiated its authenticity. Sources close to the investigation say that three people were with Irineos when he penned the letter and all provided testimony to the police that the letter was authentic.
The Greek Orthodox Church is the largest landowner in Israel after the Jewish National Fund. The church owns large swathes of Rehavia and Talbiyeh neighborhoods in Jerusalem including the land on which the Knesset, the Prime Minister's Residence and the President's Residence are located. As patriarch, Irineos will have the power to refuse to renew the leases for the land when they come due in the coming years.
The cabinet had no reason to approve the appointment. Israel is under no obligation to approve the lifetime appointment of an anti-Semite to an office which owns such sensitive sites. One must wonder what motivated our ministers to approve this appointment that risks handing control of such vital properties to Arafat's friend. In an interview with Kul al-Arab last week, Irineos's spokesman said that the cabinet bowed to pressure from the US and Greek governments as well as to pressure from Israeli businessmen in approving the appointment.
It is hard to imagine what sort of pressure could have possibly justified such a dangerous move. And yet, Irineos's appointment is small potatoes when compared with the prime minister's newest plan to unilaterally withdraw from Judea, Samaria, and Gaza. This plan is packaged as a way of enhancing Israel's security. And yet, any way one looks at it, it involves the surrender of control of large swathes of strategically vital areas of Judea and Samaria to terrorists in the midst of war.
In the hours after yesterday's attack, unnamed government sources were quick to see the massacre as a way to advance the program. Sources claimed to Ynet, "If the Palestinians were behind fences, maybe they would finally reach the conclusion that terror doesn't pay." This little bit of strategic wishful thinking was apparently directed toward the two US envoys, David Satterfield and John Wolf, who are here visiting this week in yet another attempt to draw water from a rock and get Palestinian terrorists to reform themselves. The sources argued, "The unilateral steps the prime minister advocates are the only way to save the president's vision and the road-map plan."
How exactly a unilateral withdrawal under fire by Israeli security forces would advance anything other than Yasser Arafat's vision of the destruction of Israel is unclear. Why would the forced transfer of Israeli citizens from their homes in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, and the redeployment of IDF forces out of Palestinian population centers, make the situation better for Israel and worse for the PLO? Advocates of Sharon's plan claim that it has four distinct advantages for Israel. They say that unilateral withdrawal will reduce contact between Israel and the Palestinians and, as a result, lessen the Palestinians' desire and ability to kill Israelis. They say that if the IDF leaves the Palestinian population centers and redeploys behind static barriers like the fence, Israel's lines of defense will be enhanced. They say that an Israeli withdrawal will increase the international legitimacy of Israeli counter-terror measures in the future and they argue that unilateral withdrawal will enhance Israel's demographic balance with the Arabs.
But the Palestinians, like their ally Hizbullah, have already proven all these contentions false. When Israel transferred control of Palestinian cities to the PLO, the government built bypass roads around the cities to enable Israelis to drive through the territories without contact with the Palestinians. Yet, this move to prevent contact failed to prevent attacks. The Palestinian gunmen simply left the cities and began shooting Israeli motorists on the bypass roads. In so doing they proved that it isn't contact with Israelis that moves Palestinian terrorists to murder, it is the existence of Israelis that moves them to murder. Retreating behind a barrier won't make them stop killing us. It will only make them change their route of approach.
The fact of the matter is that Arafat has taken the territory that Israel transferred to his control and transformed it into a terror fiefdom. If IDF forces withdraw, these areas will not magically become islands of tranquility. They will, like South Lebanon, become strongholds of terrorists who will train and arm and set out for attacks from their now safe havens.
The main reason that Israel has yet to seriously retaliate against Hizbullah is that Hizbullah, in the wake of the IDF's withdrawal from South Lebanon, has deployed thousands of rockets along the border. If Israel attacks, they will launch the rockets against us. So who has deterred whom here?
Another reason for lack of action by the IDF against this unacceptable terrorist threat is international pressure. The US opposes IDF action in Lebanon for fear that such action will destabilize the region. Why would the US respond differently to attacks emanating from behind the fence after an IDF withdrawal? Finally, how will the demographic balance be in any way enhanced by the withdrawal? The only population that will dwindle as a result of the plan is the Israeli population in Judea, Samaria and Gaza. Aside from that, the situation will be unaffected.
In short, the prime minister's withdrawal plan will simply reenact in Judea, Samaria and Gaza the IDF retreat from Lebanon in 2000. The Palestinians see the plan as such. Hizbullah too sees it as such.
As Thursday's massacre in Jerusalem proved, yet again, our terrorist enemies have transformed our entire country into a frontline community. Our enemies see no difference between civilians on a bus, soldiers on a border or businessmen traveling in the Persian Gulf. All of us are targets for murder, blackmail and manipulation. They view Israeli retreats as their victory. They view Israeli concessions as their gain. This week's retreats have no doubt played into our enemies' hands. If our leadership's strategic blindness is not soon rectified it may usher in a more dangerous phase in our war for national survival.
There are some truths so obvious that we take them for granted and do not think about them as much as we should. It obviously follows that if such is the case, we also do not use such information in arguing the issues that embroil our community during these times of doubt, regarding the validity of a Jewish state in "Palestine".
There are two issues which have been relegated to the sidelines in the current debate, both of which must take their place in the arsenal of facts used in the defense of our national claims.
When discussing the rise of the third Jewish commonwealth in Eretz Israel, the most commonly used arguments are that (1) Israel is ours based on a 2,000 year old claim, and (2) Israel provided a refuge for the survivors of the Holocaust, desperately in need of a secure and defensible homeland. However, by leaving out certain facts, which may seem obvious to us, but are virtually unknown to most outsiders, we wreak havoc with our cause, which is completely unnecessary and totally avoidable.
In her book, From Time Immemorial, Joan Peters states that by neglecting to mention the continual Jewish presence in Israel since the exile (albeit in relatively small numbers) we make a terrible error. By letting this historical tidbit fall by the wayside, we give room for the Arab propagandists to paint a picture of a European Jewish community coming into a land that was Judenrein for two millennia, and wrestling control from an indigenous Arab population.
This is obviously a false picture, both in that there was no nation-state in "Palestine" predating the modern State of Israel, and because the majority of Jews in the new Hebrew nation were Jews from Arab lands, expelled with only the clothes on their backs.
This is obviously a very important point, and one which we must not forget. Furthermore, we must present this information at every available opportunity. There has been a continuous Jewish presence in Israel since Biblical times, no matter which foreign nation ruled over the remnants of the Kingdoms of Judea and Israel at any given time.
However, as important as this point is, there is another more fundamental idea that must be stressed again and again. This is a proof that is so fundamental, so elementary, and so exclusively ecumenical that it is either forgotten in debate, or intentionally omitted. It is, of course, the claim brought by Rashi in his first comment on the book of Genesis. He states therein that the entire reason why the story of creation is told in the Torah, a book whose primary purpose is as a legal code, is to give title of Eretz Israel to the Children of Israel.
The argument goes that if G-d created the entire world, he must therefore maintain ownership over all of creation. Therefore, any land that the Holy One, blessed be He, gives to any particular nation, becomes their property in perpetuity. The land of Israel was given to the Jewish people. It was promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It was conquered by Joshua and survived as an independent kingdom while great empires rose and fell again to be swept into the dustbin of history.
It therefore follows that our claim and title to this land does not stem from the fact that we owned it twenty centuries ago, or because we suffered during the Holocaust. It does not even stem from the continual Jewish presence over the long millennia of exile for the vast majority of the remnants of our people. While all of these points are valid and must be used in our arguments, if we do not recognize the fundamental, underlying truth behind our claim, then all of our arguments will sound hollow in our own ears, and thus will not be effective in persuading others to come around to our point of view.
I am not saying that using our Biblical claim as a justification will in itself sway our detractors into joining forces with us in our holy mission to settle and rule over the land. All that I posit here is that unless we keep this fundamental truth in mind, and allow it to be the basis for all else that we say, our own faith will waver and our arguments falter before the onslaught of foreign and untrue propaganda spewed forth by our enemies.
I heard this point twice during my most recent university semester. Once, at the Beit Orot dinner, during a shiur (lesson) given by Rabbi Binyamin Elon, and again during a shiur at Yeshiva University given by Rabbi Eliezer Waldman of Kiryat Arba. If we do not acknowledge our G-d given right to this land, then how can we expect to maintain our courage in the face of all the tests and tribulations we have and shall continue to endure in defending our patrimony?
In the end, while the point that Joan Peters makes is an extremely important one, that which Rashi made hundreds of years earlier, and which our rabbis now continue to promulgate, is the secret to our continued steadfastness in the face of adversity and ridicule by the world community. We have seen the birth of Post-Zionism and the decline in the pioneering spirit in the secular Zionist establishment; the time has come to realize that to be a full Jew, and to live a proper life as such, requires both the national and religious (though they really are one entity) to be present in our lives and always foremost in our minds.
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Yechezkal Chezi Goldberg was a Jerusalem-based counselor for Adolescents and Families at Risk, and a freelance columnist. He was murdered in the suicide bombing attack on a Jerusalem bus, January 29, 2004.
7:30 a.m. Israel time, Sunday December 2, 2001. Eight Hours after the triple-terror attack on Jerusalem's popular Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall.
He walked into shul. I nodded my acknowledgement like I always do. He made some strange gesture, which I couldn't understand. I went on with the business of the prayer service.
A few minutes later, he walked over to me and said, "Didn't you hear?"
"Hear about what?"
"Didn't you HEAR?"
I understood that he was talking about last night's terror attack on Ben Yehuda Mall.
I assumed that he obviously intended that someone we knew was hurt or killed.
He looked at me as if I had landed from another planet. "About who? About everyone who was attacked last night.
I nodded, "Yes, I heard."
"Then why aren't you crying?"
His words shot through me like a spear piercing my heart. Our Sages teach that "words that come from the heart enter the heart." He was right. Why wasn't I crying?
I could not answer. I had nothing to say.
He pointed around the shul. "Why aren't all my friends crying?"
I could not answer. I had nothing to say.
"Shouldn't we all be crying?"
He was right. What has happened to all of us? -- myself included. We have turned to stone. Some would call it numbness. Some would call it collective national shock. Some would say that we all have suffered never-ending trauma and it has affected our senses.
The excuses are worthless. All the reasons in the world don't justify our distance from the pain that is burning in our midst.
When an attack happens, in the heat of the moment, we frantically check to see if someone we know has been hurt or killed. And then, if we find out that "our friends and family are safe," we breathe a deep sigh of relief, grunt and grumble about the latest tragic event and then, continue with our robotic motions and go on with our lives.
We have not lost our minds, my friends. We have lost our hearts.
And that is why we keep on losing our lives.
IF NOT ME, WHO?When I left the shul, my friend said to me with tears dripping from his bloodshot eyes, "I heard that the Torah teaches that for every tear that drops from our eyes, another drop of blood is saved."
We are living in a time of absolute madness. And yet, we detach ourselves and keep running on automatic in our daily lives.
Last night, 10 people were killed and nearly 200 were injured. Even MSNBC referred to the triple terror attack as a "slaughter."
And still, we are not crying.
Perhaps my friends, we are foolish to believe that the nations of the world should be upset about the continuous murder and slaughter of Jews -- if we ourselves are not crying about it. Am I not my brother's keeper?
The most effective way for us to stop the carnage in our midst is to wake up and to react to it from our hearts. How can we demand that God stop the tragedy, when most of us react like robots when tragedy strikes?
If we don't cry about what is happening around us, who will?
If you don't cry about what is happening around us, who will?
If I don't cry about what is happening to us, who will?
Maybe our salvation from this horrific mess will come only after we tune into our emotions and cry and scream about it.
NUMB TO THE PAINMy friend walked into shul this morning and from the looks on his friends' faces, he could not tell that they had heard what had happened on Ben Yehuda Mall.
When our enemies pound us and we fail to react because we no longer feel the pain, we are truly in a precarious position in the battle to survive.
I know a woman who has no sensitivity in her fingers. When she approaches fire, she doesn't feel the pain. That puts her in a dangerous position because she might be getting burnt and not know it, because her senses don't feel it.
If we are being hurt and we don't feel it, then we are in a very risky position. A devastating 3-pronged suicide attack on Jerusalem's most popular thoroughfare should evoke a cry of pain and suffering from all of us, should it not? Unless of course, we have lost our senses.
And if we have lost our senses, then what hope is there?
I turn on the news to hear of more carnage in Haifa. Sixteen dead. Sixteen of my brothers and sisters.
King Solomon said, "There is a time for everything." Now is the time for crying.
May God protect each and every one of us from our enemies so that we will not have to cry in the future.
"My son is a hero and we are proud of what he did"- Munir Ja'arah, father of the Palestinian suicide bomber who carried out Thursday's attack in Jerusalem
Yassin: Hamas will kidnap IsraelisHamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin said at the end of Friday prayers that the Hamas will endeavor to kidnap Israelis in order to bargain for the release of Palestinian prisoners, reports Ynet.
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