Sunday, May 20, 2001

Memories of better days in Netanya

Mo"tzash / Saturday night, May 19, 2001

In two terror attacks Friday 6 Israeli civilians were killed, bringing the week's Israeli death toll to 7 with well over a hundred wounded, most in Friday morning's shopping mall bombing in the seaside town of Netanya.
It was a shock to hear the news, not because bombings are shocking any more, but just the momentary shock of hearing about people being killed at place I associate with humorous memories, a place which is so innocuous.
I know, it's trivial, but until Friday I used to always chuckle to myself whenever I happened to pass by that mall. Just after Sukkot 1993 my uncle and I were invited to a wedding in the Netanya area and we spent a weekend in the town. I had the beginnings of a cold and my uncle was sure that it was because my winter coat was not warm enough for the chilly nights at my rural college campus.
Actually it wasn't that cold yet, but anyway, off we went to what was then a fairly new shopping mall, to the Mashbir department store where I must have spent more than an hour trying on coats until we found one that satisfied my uncle. It was heavily padded, and came in two sections: a thick quilted jacket and a green waterproof hooded vest over that. Definitely the most cumbersome coat I've ever had, but also the warmest.
With our arms full of packages we stepped out of the mall into a glorious, and rather warm, autumn day, the sort of day on which even thinking about such heavy clothing could make you faint. We walked along chatting and then suddenly my uncle disappeared from sight. He was falling fast towards the road and instinctively I reached out a grabbed him back to safety. I was stunned for a moment, I couldn't work out why he had tripped and then I looked down. There, just below knee height was a large, royal blue, cast iron loop bolted into the pavement.
My uncle had been just walking along, hadn't noticed the obstacle and caught his foot in it. Who should have expected that one needed to look out for blue hoops stuck randomly into the sidewalk... We just stood there and laughed like crazy, partly from the shock of him almost tripping into the busy intersection, and partly from the ridiculousness of the situation. I guess you just had to be there.
Ever since then whenever I hear of that Netanya mall or happen to be visiting the area I can't help but thinking of the blue loops and that big bulky coat and us standing there laughing until the tears ran down our cheeks.
On the television news midday Friday I saw that same fancy vaulted mall entrance blackened, strewn with debris with emergency services milling around tending the last of the wounded. It took a few minutes to register that I was looking at the same funny street corner with its ridiculous blue loops, now repainted in a fetching shade of turquoise. There was a damaged baby carriage parked near them and bits of rubble around them, those blue loops where we stood and laughed until we cried.
Friday morning a Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up at that same entrance, near the Mashbir department store where my uncle picked out the coat. Seeing the guard at the entrance to the mall the terrorist realised that he couldn't get inside, and so he detonated himself by the door. He killed five Israelis, wounded over a hundred. Weekend shoppers enjoying the mall and going about their errands just as my uncle and I had that Friday morning in October just a few years ago.
Later Friday afternoon Palestinian TV showed Palestinians in Ramallah dancing in the streets and handing out candy as they celebrated the Israeli deaths. In the bomber's home town of Tulkarm, about a dozen kilometres east of Netanya, friends and neighbours came to support his parents and celebrate the death of their martyr with them. Now you know: when visiting a suicide bomber's family, bring candy. This brave Palestinian hero didn't attack an army base, didn't fight man to man. No, he went to blow up a shopping mall in the hope of killing as many civilians as possible. Sounds like a real cause for celebration. An April public opinion survey conducted in the Palestinian controlled territories found that 73.3% of Palestinians support suicide bombing attacks on Israeli civilians.
In recent weeks we've known many miracles. Palestinian terrorists have planted in bombs in many Israeli cities, but we've been lucky. Some bombs failed to go off as their makers intended. Others were discovered by vigilant passersby and defused by police, or detonated in a "controlled" explosion once the area had been evacuated. I lose count of the number of miracles like these. Last week two bombs were found in and around Petah Tikva, others went off prematurely in Jerusalem, causing no injuries. In the early hours of Saturday morning the proprietor of a Jerusalem pub saved the lives of her customers when she discovered a bomb on the premises and bravely moved it to an adjacent vacant lot and evacuated the area. Police later detonated the device in a controlled explosion. Had it not been for these alert citizens we would have faced multiple bombings similar to today's deadly explosion in Netanya.
With hope for a better week, shavua tov,