Friday, March 22, 2002

Bombs and Birthdays

Thursday, March 21, 2002

I guess you realise that if I'm writing this then I'm fine.

Well, a few hours ago I briefly felt like screaming or howling at the moon, but now my calm has returned. That cold, quiet calm of resignation and resolve which has come to replace the initial feeling of shock that used to come with news of an attack.

Thursday as you know is my Jerusalem day. At about 4:15 on a Thursday afternoon I am usually in downtown Jerusalem. My classes finish at about 3:30pm and then I take a bus to the central bus station, often stopping off in the city centre to take care of a few errands or to meet a friend for coffee before getting my bus home, usually the 5 or 5:30pm.

Today however I was home because the Pesah (Passover) vacation began two days ago, and even though I have things I need to do in Jerusalem, I decided to wait until Friday when I can go in with my husband by car.

That's why I wasn't in central Jerusalem today when the bomb went off.

Any other Thursday, odds are I would have been in the area. Thank God not today. Thank God I was home cleaning the house for Pesah today.

Sometimes when I'm doing housework I like to have some nonsense on the radio or TV to keep me company. This afternoon I turned on the TV around 4:30pm, in time for some daft American daytime soap. Just as it was supposed to start the ominous news programme theme music came on. My heart sank. Unscheduled news updates are never a good sign.

The glorious Al Aksa Brigades of Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement did it again this afternoon. One of their psyched up incredibly brave suicide bombers stood outside a store in central Jerusalem and blew himself up in a crowd of shoppers.

What courage, what a hero, he had the guts to go and detonate himself in the middle of a group of unarmed civilians.

Three Israelis killed, over 60 wounded. Or as the idiotic foreign media are reporting it "Four Dead in Jerusalem Bombing", as though the bloody suicide bomber is the same as his victims.

The explosion destroyed a store on King George Street, just across from the Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall. That's a few doors down from a couple of hat stores I like, several fabric and sewing supplies stores I shop at, a nice bakery where I like to pick up a few things for dinner when I'm in the area and numerous other familiar shops and eateries. Old Jerusalem establishments and brash new chain stores side by side, now bloodied and broken.

Today's bomber it turns out was a Palestinian policeman. He was on the list of wanted terrorists that Israel asked the Palestinian Authority to arrest as part of the farcical "security cooperation" America has encouraged Israel to continue. Yasser Arafat's security forces claimed that they had indeed arrested said wanted terrorist.

Well, they did, briefly. He was planning to blow up a shopping mall in the Israeli town of Ra'anana around the time he was arrested in the Palestinian town of Nablus/Shekhem. Then the Palestinian security forces claimed that they had no secure holding facilities in Nablus/Shekhem and they asked Israel to facilitate moving him to a secure facility in Palestinian controlled Ramallah, north of Jerusalem.

Once in Ramallah, the terrorist was released, re-equipped with the explosive belt he was arrested with and today he was out blowing up Israeli civilians in downtown Jerusalem.

None other than Arafat's buddy Marwan Barghouti, head of the Fatah Tanzim militias in the Ramallah area, appeared on TV crowing about today's attack in Jerusalem. He said that it wasn't only an attack on Israel, but also a retaliatory strike against America's attempt's to broker a ceasefire. Barghouti's office is in the same neighbourhood as Arafat's Ramallah compound.

Good thing American special envoy Anthony Zinni is here brokering a ceasefire.

Yesterday another brave young "militant" (as the foreign press refers to terrorists) blew himself up on a passenger bus in northern Israel killing six Israelis and wounding 25. A few days ago another heroic Palestinian "militant" opened fire on a bunch of schoolchildren in down town Kfar Saba killing a girl and wounding many more. That same day another "militant" blew himself up near a bus in Jerusalem, wounding twenty more Israelis.

Each day merges into the day before.

It's hard to even remember which attack took place yesterday, let alone that last week Hizbullah terrorists infiltrated across the border from Lebanon and ambushed civilian vehicles on a road in northern Israel, murdering six Israelis and wounding a dozen.

Was that only last week?

It's hard to even think that far back, so much has happened in only the last couple of days.

Even as we're burying the victims of yesterday's attack, more people are being killed.

Tomorrow will be another day of funerals.

So far this year there have been 15 terrorist attacks in Jerusalem alone. Last year there were 50 terror attacks in the Israeli capital. Do the math yourself, roughly one a week.

Since the Palestinians attacked us in September 2000 there have been about 11,000 terrorist attack in Israel. 11,000 attacks.

Seventy percent of Israelis killed have been civilians, and out of the remaining 30% who were police or soldiers, many were off duty, on leave and just happened to be waiting at bus stops, eating in cafes or doing some shopping on the way home.

Sometimes I think we ought to make the Palestinian terrorists' jobs easier - we could just have a lottery, perhaps arranged by the enlightened states of western Europe, say France, or perhaps Norway, and that way they could equitably decide how many Israelis on any given day should be killed or maimed, and that way we could save the Palestinians the trouble of trying to kill us.

There was an episode like that on Star Trek once. I seem to remember that Captain Kirk was horrified by the lottery system, but the local people explained that it was much more efficient as it only killed people but didn't damage buildings.

On second thoughts we are already living that lottery every time we venture out of our homes.
Today should have been such a nice day. It was my DH's birthday and I'd planned to take him to a jazz or klezmer concert tonight. He had to work late though, so we couldn't do it. Instead I took him out to dinner at a nice Italian restaurant close to his office in Herzliya Pituah, just north of Tel Aviv.

The Herzliya industrial zone almost feels like a foreign country with its flashy glass office buildings, trendy storefronts and hip eateries which would be quite at home in London or New York. The locals are a mix of fashionably dressed people in fancy cars and more ordinary lowly high tech employees and their more mundane company cars.

Each restaurant, each swanky hotel, each glass office building has an armed guard outside and everyone is inspected before being allowed in.

As we ate dinner flashing blue lights were reflected in the restaurant windows at regular intervals as a police car circled the block every few minutes. In the chic noodle bars, sushi joints and seafood tavernas people noticeably avoided the seats closest to the windows - just in case a terrorist should come by and shoot up the place, as happened in a Tel Aviv restaurant a few weeks ago.

The popular kosher Italian restaurant we dined in was half empty, even though Thursday night is the start of the weekend here, not to mention that with Pesah less than a week away, this is the most popular time of year for kosher people to eat out. I've never seen the place so empty.

After dinner we walked down to the beach. War or no war, the sea is still beautiful in the moonlight, the sand and the seashells glinting in the silvery glow.

Behind us some teenagers were sitting around in the park, someone strummed a guitar, a few girls played at sliding up and down the grassy slope. For a while we almost forgot the war.

There is something comforting about being near the sea, being faced with something so eternal, so ancient, something so certain in all this uncertainty.

As I watched the sea a poem kept going through my head, one that almost every Israeli child learns at school, "A Walk to Ceaserea":

"My God, my God may there be no end to the sand or sea,water's splash lightning's flash, the prayer of man"

Shabbat shalom.

Tuesday, March 19, 2002

Storks and Springtime

As I'm preparing to send this, just after 7am on Wednesday morning, news is coming through of a bus bombing in northern Israel. Initial reports say a suicide bomber blew himself up on a bus en route to the northern town of Afula from Tel Aviv. There are many wounded and several killed. This is the third time this bus route has been attacked by Palestinian terrorists.

Tuesday, March 19, 2002

We've had an unusual late February/March heatwave, dry, dusty winds blowing in from the Sahara, bringing with them sand and days with temperatures over 10 degrees above the seasonal averages. In between we've had the odd cooler day with some drizzle, a reminder that this is still supposed to be the rainy season.

Today the heatwave finally broke. The morning air was heavy with dust and a thick sandy haze. By the afternoon the gloom had lifted somewhat, only to be replaced with storm clouds and some light rain. A welcome return to the wet season.

I was out on my balcony pruning my geraniums this morning when out of the yellowish murk flew a magnificent flock of white storks, thousands of them milling around in an untidy cloudlike formation, a few loose stragglers bringing up the rear.

That's right, storks, not helicopters.

Spring is certainly here, at least if you're a bird.

Through the open doors of the living room the radio chattered on about the latest attempt to broker a ceasefire. Here we go again. American envoy Zinni is here again, along with US Vice President Dick Cheney, and surprise, surprise, they're not managing to get Arafat to stop his terror war. Meanwhile Palestinian gunmen have killed two Israelis this week, wounded dozens more and luckily for us, several suicide bombers have either been caught or have blown themselves up prematurely, killing only themselves.

As the Israeli saying goes, we've all been part of this movie before. It's nothing new, and few of us expect it to bring about anything new. Save that Israel will stop fighting terror for a bit while the Palestinians will keep on bombing and shooting.

Much nicer to think about storks and spring, as the classic Hebrew song goes, as though there were no wars in the world.

The annual spring migrations are well under way. Hundreds and thousands of birds are journeying between Africa and Eurasia, via Israel, the only land bridge between the continents.
This morning's storks are only the confirmation of the signs of spring I've noticed in recent weeks. Other seasonal birds have also been flooding in: huge alpine swifts careening through the sky, the high pitched "sis, sis" of the smaller European swifts swooping between the apartment buildings, a short-toed eagle hunting snakes in a nearby field and the first of the summer wheatears with their dazzling black and white plumage.

Every other bird seems to be courting or building its nest. An elegant palm dove has its eye on one of my flowerboxes, while a colony of sparrows are, as every year, building their nests in the laundry grate of the building opposite. Yup, the birds definitely think it's spring.

On our Shabbat walk this week I counted at least two dozen species of flower in bloom. DH's aunt and her daughter spent the Sabbath with us and that afternoon the four of us visited the most promising hillside in town, eagerly looking out for the season's newest blooms, savouring the carpets of bright yellow dotted with red, pink and purple.

All around the wild barley is ripening, a sign that Pesah (Passover), also known as Hag Ha-aviv, the spring festival, is almost here. In ancient times, before the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, Pesah was the festival of the omer, the barley offering.

On television the usual seasonal ads have been around for weeks. Commercials for cleaning fluids, detergents, paint, polishes, grape juice and olive oil. Commercials with ancient Egyptian motifs. Commercials featuring Moses. Of course commercials for seder wine.

On the radio they're advertising events for Pesah. The kibbutzim of the northern Jordan Valley will be holding a Hebrew music festival with top choirs from around the country and a special tribute to Israel's legendary song writer, Naomi Shemer. In Holon the children's museum will have special activities. On Nitzanim beach they'll be holding the usual "new age" Boombamala festival.

Pesah is the Jewish festival of freedom, commemorating our Exodus from Egypt, our liberation from slavery. It is the festival of deliverance from oppression, of miraculous renewal, of hope even in the darkest hour. This Pesah will be our second celebrated in the dark days of Yasser Arafat's terror war. Please God next year we'll merit to celebrate Pesah free from terror.

May we all be blessed with a happy and quiet Pesah.

Pesah kasher vesameah

Sunday, March 10, 2002

Netanya hotel, Cafe Moment

Motza'ei Shabbat (Saturday night), March 9, 2002

It's after 1am and as of now tonight's casualty list is 14 dead Israelis and over 100 wounded, all in the space of a few hours this evening in three different attacks. The number of attacks stands at, well, I don't know how to count anymore, there is not enough time on the news to even cover all of them.
A few days ago Israeli newspaper columnist Meir Uziel appeared on TV with a bull's-eye target drawn on his forehead. It seems to me the most accurate expression of what Israelis are feeling at the moment.
After one of the bloodiest weeks since this war began, many Israelis decided to stay home this weekend. Palestinian terrorists have made every Israeli public place a target, be it a bus, shop, cafe, hotel, school, wedding hall or road. People feel that the only safe place is at home. Even that is no guarantee - apartment buildings are also fair game for the terrorists.
On Friday morning, at the fortnightly arts and crafts fair in Modi'in we sat in the unseasonably hot sun for hours, but few people ventured out to the market. I just about sold enough to cover the cost of the stall and a couple of cold drinks - and that was because the woman at the stall next to mine decided to buy from me. Another stall holder remarked that her friend has decided only to sell from home for now; she is too frightened to do the usual round of markets, too scared of being in a crowded public place.
Shabbat passed peacefully in Modi'in. Thank God for one day a week when we are forbidden to watch TV or listen to the news. It is vital for our sanity. We didn't hear many helicopters over the Sabbath either, and thankfully no sirens. All was deceptively tranquil, just families enjoying the day off, kids in the playground and couples strolling in the parks.
The week started on a positive note. Not long after Shabbat ends my cousin called to let us know that his wife just gave birth to a girl, their eleventh child. My first act of the new week was to write them a mazal tov card.
This evening we decided to go out to dinner at Luciano's, a little restaurant in Moshav Modi'im (the "Carlebach Moshav"), a small village just down the highway from us, west of Modi'in. Over the years we've become friendly with the owner, and now we go just as much to visit her as for the tasty food.
Arriving at the moshav gate we were surprised to find dozens of teenagers milling around with flaming torches, flags and drums. No, it wasn't a demonstration, just some youthful high spirits celebrating a melave malka, symbolically escorting the Shabbat Queen on her way until next week. A security guard checked who we were and with a beep of the horn the kids made way for us to drive into the village.
We had a pleasant evening at Luciano's chatting with the owner and her friends, listening to the kids put on an impromptu performance in the village green and enjoying the home style food. In the background a tape recorder belted out a mix of music by the legendary singing rabbi, Shlomo Carlebach, and local musicians from the moshav. It felt like a world away from the terrorism around us, as though we had escaped into a time capsule of our old lives, before the war began.
We knew it was too good to last.
As we got into the car to drive home the car radio announced news of an attack on a hotel in Netanya. Terrorists threw grenades and opened fire on guests at a Shabbat Hatan, a pre-wedding celebration for the bridegroom. Two dead, about fifty wounded. A lone policeman eventually managed to kill the gunmen.
Gad Makhnes Street, a side road near the Netanya town centre lined with hotels and apartment buildings. We were there only two months ago for my high school reunion, held at one of the hotels adjacent to tonight's shooting.
Arriving home I found a message on my answer machine from a friend in Jerusalem. As I was dialling Jason switched on the TV news to find out more about the attack in Netanya. A map flashed onto the screen. A map of a very familiar part of downtown Jerusalem. I realised that the map showed the neighbourhood where the friend I was phoning lives.
Another attack, this time a suicide bomber blew himself up in a crowded Jerusalem cafe. Eleven Israelis murdered and over fifty wounded. Another place I've walked past countless times, another street I used to associate with pleasant walks and evenings out.
My friend answers the phone in a startled, shaky, voice. She says that she heard the blast. She wonders how long we can live like this, how this crazy situation can just go on and on while we give Arafat ever more chances. She was thinking of going out tonight but was too scared. She hasn't been to the cinema in a year because she is too nervous to go to the mall. A friend asked her out tonight but she declined for safety reasons.
I find myself shocked by her tone. We've known each other for years, but I haven't heard her like this since the Iraqi Scud missiles were falling on Israel during the 1991 Gulf War, and even then she didn't sound this bad.
To my surprise I find myself calm and composed even as the scenes of horror unfold on my TV screen. I tell her that Israel has been through worse times. The Arab pogroms against the Jews in the 1920s and 30s, the terror of the 1948 war, the fedayeen raids of the 1950s, the threat of being wiped off the map in 1967, the devastating surprise attack by neighbouring Arab states in 1973. We've been through all that I tell her, we can get through this.
I'm saying it as much for myself as for her. Finally my training as an historian seems to have some practical value.
I'm interrupted by the insistent beep of call waiting on her phone line. She switches to the other line. A few seconds later she comes back to me sounding choked, her voice breaking. "I'll have to get back to you later in the week, I have to go." She hangs up. It doesn't sound good.
I sit with the phone in my hands for several minutes, my mind racing, thinking how many friends and relatives we have in Jerusalem, praying that no one was near Cafe Moment, the terrorist's target this evening.
Jason gives voice to my unspoken fears. "We know so many people who could have been there tonight. We've been so lucky so far, I have a terrible feeling about this." My premonitions have been so correct lately, I don't even want to think about them.
An hour or so later Channel 1 News reports that among this weekend's attacks there were a couple of shootings in the Modi'in region. Within minutes the Modi'in region e-mail lists are flooded with questions and comments. It turns out that last night there was shooting near the village of Hashmonaim, north of Modi'in. Earlier this evening a car was fired upon on the Jerusalem-Modi'in highway, Route 443. Thank God no one was hurt in either attack.
And now it's after 3 and I'm still awake, unable to close my eyes because bombers and gunmen are trespassing in my dreams.
Part of me wants to switch off the radio, dreading the inevitable list of names which will probably be released in the next few hours.
Part of me finds comfort in the soothing tones of the radio announcer, tragically expert in the post terror-attack routine of sad songs and gentle commentary.
My mind turns to Psalm 23, the psalm traditionally sung at se'udah shlishit, the Shabbat afternoon/evening meal. It is so familiar, almost cliched, but the verse keeps running through my head along with the haunting melody Carlebach wrote for it: "Even though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for You are with me."
For millennia this has been our ancestors' mantra, through the pogroms and the blood libels, the expulsions and the persecutions. This has kept our people through the horrors of exile and the terrors of foreign occupation. Now it belongs to this generation. It is our hope, our faith.
Despite the pain, despite the worry, I feel strangely quiet. It is the calm of resignation and of resolve, the knowledge that this war is unlikely to end any time soon and that all that we civilians can do is to muster all our reserves of strength to face the coming trials and tragedies.

Friday, March 08, 2002

Too close for comfort

Tuesday, March 5, 2002

I awoke at 6.30am to news of a terror attack at a Tel Aviv restaurant. By 8:30 this morning, and four terror attacks later, five Israelis had been killed, and over a dozen wounded. Good morning Israel, again.
The radio announcer doesn't even end his show with his usual "have a good day". It would sound too ridiculously trivial in the circumstances.
News that the Modi'in-Jerusalem highway was attacked later this morning was a minor aside in comparison with the fatal attacks in Tel Aviv, the northern city of Afula and the Gush Etzion highway, just south of Jerusalem.
For Modi'in region residents the attack on our road to Jerusalem is a jarring local reminder that with the current escalation in Palestinian attacks nothing can be taken for granted, and that includes the slightly blinkered notion that somehow our road was perfectly safe by day because all the shootings had so far taken place at night.
Wake up call for Modi'in, today a Palestinian gunmen fired at an Israeli car in broad daylight, lightly wounding the driver. Maybe now we'll get bullet proof buses. More likely our buses will now take the long detour they take at night, by day as well.

Wednesday, March 6, 2002

Today I was woken up in the early hours of the morning by the distant sound of shooting. I turned on the radio to check the news, but no mention of anything in the Modi'in area. I turned over and went back to sleep, figuring that I must have dreamt the whole thing.
Turns out however that I wasn't the only one in Modi'in who heard shots last night. Checking my e-mail this morning I noticed that there were several people on the local Modi'in e-mail list who had also heard gunfire night before. Thank God it happened to be a false alarm, not a terrorist incursion.
In recent days the security situation has become the focus of the local e-mail lists, with the usual requests for baby sitters and reliable plumbers taking a back seat to threads with headers such as "Shooting on 443 - no one hurt" or "Makkabim Roadblock" or simply "Security."
Later this morning there was more shooting. A car matching the description of a terrorist's vehicle drove up to the Makkabim checkpoint, just east of Modi'in, and failed to stop for inspection. The alert police on duty opened fire, wounding the car's occupants. A bomb disposal unit then moved in and gingerly inspected the car for explosives.
Only after all these checks did it become clear that the vehicle and its occupants were Israelis, apparently foolish Israelis, but not terrorists.
As I noted recently, checkpoints have become a target of choice for Palestinian gunmen, so police and soldiers are on very high alert right now, and that means taking no chances with any vehicle that seems even remotely suspicious. The driver of that car has had a serious lesson in what happens if you act as though you're trying to charge through a roadblock. Especially in light of yesterday's shooting on the road, and another attack yesterday evening,
There have been a lot of helicopters overhead recently, something else that sometimes wakes me up in the early hours of the morning. Sometimes they are just police spotter helicopters, occasionally they are civilian. Lately they are often military attack helicopters. Several times I've turned on the news to find that Israeli helicopters have attacked Palestinian terror bases in the Ramallah area. We always hear the helicopters first.

Thursday, March 7, 2002

I was woken up again by helicopters but managed to get back to sleep.
Yesterday the road to Jerusalem was closed for much of the day, but today the bus takes Route 443 as usual. The soldiers are hunkered down behind concrete and sandbags, M-16s at the ready, pointed at all the vehicles passing through.
As I walked into the beit midrash (study hall) after lunch this afternoon a fellow student sitting across from me looked up and asked whether something had happened. Puzzled, I replied no. "Well", she said "it's just that sitting out on the balcony at lunch we heard a loud bang and then lots of sirens, and it sounded like a pigu'a (terror attack)".
I rushed out and called Jason to see if he had heard anything. All he could tell me was that the radio traffic report mentioned that roads around Emek Refaim Street, in the German Colony neighbourhood not far from my college, had been cordoned off by police. We figured it was just another false alarm, a suspect package or car.
From the beit midrash we could hear the odd distant siren and helicopters passing overhead.
A few hours later I was on my way to Jerusalem's Central Bus station, sitting with another classmate on the number 18 bus. The route takes us through the German Colony, right past Emek Refaim Street. This afternoon the area was blocked off with traffic backed up in all directions and the driver trying to work out alternate routes through nearby narrow residential streets.
As the news came on the driver turned up the bus radio full volume and suddenly all conversation stopped, the passengers tense and alert like rabbits picking up the scent of a fox.
"It is now four o'clock, here are the headlines:"
A suicide bomber blew himself up in the town of Ariel, east of Petah Tikva, wounding 14 Israelis.
An attack was prevented on Jerusalem's Emek Refaim Street this afternoon when a suicide bomber was caught preparing to blow himself up.
No false alarm here, just a miracle.
Just a miracle.
A brave young waiter at a café on Emek Refaim Street noticed someone suspicious entering the eatery and pushed him away, grabbing the suspect and preventing him from detonating himself.
It took me about three hours to get home today. A journey that should have taken an hour and a half. I didn't care though. Thank God Jerusalem streets were blocked off because police were safely disposing of a huge bomb - not because the huge bomb had exploded on a crowded Jerusalem thoroughfare.
I was shaking a little when I got home this evening. Not because I had actually been in any danger. No, there is just a limit to the number of explosions and shots you can hear in a week, without it jarring your nerves a bit.
On the evening news we learn that there were more miracles. In the northern town of Pardes Hanna-Kurikur a local resident, Sasson Partush, noticed a suspicious youth wandering aimlessly, carrying a small dovecote. Partush challenged the stranger, who frantically pressed a handheld detonator in an attempt to blow himself up along with the doves. Failing to explode, he fled, leaving behind the dovecote.
When the police arrived they discovered that the dovecote contained a massive bomb, which they later detonated safely in an empty field. The explosion could be heard up to 30 kilometres away.
Later tonight I was in the car with Jason when we heard that Palestinian gunmen ambushed an Israeli car near the Palestinian controlled town of Nablus/Shekhm, in Samaria, seriously wounding the driver. The reporter interviewed the first person on the scene, a man from a nearby Jewish village who was driving home from Jerusalem with his wife and children.
I recognise the voice before the name is mentioned. He's a family friend and the man who introduced me to my husband. On several occasions Jason and I have ridden with him and his kids in his battered station wagon along that same stretch of road. Tonight he is quite literally the Good Samaritan who saved the life of the shooting victim.
Unbelievably by this week's standards, this is not a particularly bad day.

Friday, March 8, 2002

It's nearly 2am now. I couldn't sleep. As I write this the radio is reporting on the incursion of a Palestinian gunmen into an Israeli village in Gaza. So far they're talking about 4 dead Israelis, 24 more wounded, including 3 in critical condition. Most were young men mown down in the beit midrash of the village yeshiva (religious academy).
Tomorrow morning's headlines are going to be worse.
I have to get up in a few hours. A friend and I are renting a stall at the fortnightly local arts and crafts fair in Modi'in. Perhaps I'll sell some of the jewellery I make. Life has to go on. Somehow.
Shabbat shalom.

Sunday, March 03, 2002

Beit Yisrael bombing

Sunday, March 3, 2002

It's only 7:45am and already nine Israelis have been killed this morning and several more seriously wounded in two attacks in the last hour.
I woke at about 6:45 this morning, after a sound night's sleep, tired out by a busy but beautiful Shabbat spent with friends visiting from Jerusalem. I lay in bed for a bit, enjoying the bright sun streaming in through the partially open shutters and the exuberant bird song from the garden below.
Then the radio alarm came on, bringing back the horror of last night's events. We had been clearing up from seu'dah shlishit, the last meal of the Sabbath. Our guests were packing up their things and getting their kids ready to go home. We were still enjoying the tranquility of Shabbat and had not turned on the TV or radio to catch up on the weekend news. Jason put on a CD of verses from Song of Songs set to music. We tidied up humming along to the joyous melodies.
I sat down in the armchair for a minute to collect some toys which had fallen underneath. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a flickering TV screen in the apartment across from us. It showed flames licking around a car. I commented to Jason that our neighbours seemed to have the news on. Reluctantly we switched on our set. A street map flashed onto our screen. Another attack. Hayim Ozer Street. But was it Hayim Ozer Street in Petah Tikva or Jerusalem?
Hayim Ozer Street - in the Beit Yisrael neighbourhood of Jerusalem. Sadly Jason went to let our guests know that there had been another attack. They came and joined us around the TV, numbly watching the agony unfold before us.
The map flashed up on the screen again and the wife commented that she worked just down the road from there. I remembered getting lost in those narrow tortuous streets a couple of years ago driving to the annual Hebrew Book Week fair.
I've often taken visitors from abroad for walks around that old Jerusalem neighbourhood with its population of deeply traditional religious Jews, every other building a synagogue or yeshiva. The old Jerusalem vividly portrayed in some of the most well known stories by Nobel laureate novelist S.Y. Agnon.
I remember walking here a few years ago when I was working as a research assistant to a professor writing a modern history of Jerusalem. In the heart of the neighbourhood the images look as though they have changed little since Agnon described them in the early twentieth century.
On the neighbourhood's edge some buildings still have narrow slit windows and metal shutters, leftovers from the time when a volatile armistice line ran along that street, and snipers from Jordanian occupied Jerusalem would shoot across the road into the Israeli homes on the other side. Since Jerusalem was re-unified in 1967 this area has for the most part been quiet. Yet it remains close to several Arab neighbourhoods, and only last year a car bomb was detonated on this very same street, Hayim Ozer. Then miraculously no one was hurt. Last night the miracles ran out.
And now it is just another place name added to the ever growing list of diverse names whose mere mention evoke the same images of death and destruction.
At the bottom of the picture a box updates us with the ever rising number of dead and wounded. At that stage in the evening it simply read several killed and tens of wounded. By evening's end it read nine dead and over 50 wounded.
A live linkup with Palestinian Ramallah showed throngs celebrating in the streets. Old men and youngsters, middle aged women and teenaged girls, their faces beaming with the news of the attack in Jerusalem. The camera zoomed in on a section of the crowd, an elderly woman in an embroidered Palestinian dress whooping with joy at the news that Israeli civilians had been killed.
We were still recovering from last night when at 7:05 this morning there was more bad news. Palestinian gunmen opened fire on a line of cars at a checkpoint north of Ramallah.
I remember going through that checkpoint last year and thinking that it was the perfect place for an ambush - a narrow road with steep cliffs towering over it on either side and a long line of vehicles snaking through the checkpoint, slowing for inspection. I was on a bullet proof bus, en route to visit friends in the nearby Jewish village of Shiloh. Most of the vehicles around us were regular cars. A couple of terrorists on one of the cliffs could have done a lot of damage. This morning they did. Nine dead and six wounded.
None of us needed to see the television reports, we know them too well. First the panic of initial unclear reports, then the map on the screen, as they pinpoint where the attack has taken place. A while later the first footage from the site itself, the carnage still apparent on the blood spattered street, the wounded still being ferried away in fleets of waiting ambulances, the men from the burial society collecting pieces of flesh and blood soaked clothing for burial.
Then come reports from the hospitals, the interviews with the walking wounded, the interviews with the hospital spokesmen, the interview with the first medic on the scene, the interview with the local chief of police. The station Arab affairs correspondent reports on the first claims of responsibility from the various Palestinian terror groups, maybe footage from Arab TV stations about how they are covering the attacks.
And so it goes, month after month, sometimes week after week and day after day. We are all experts now, we know it all off by heart, only the numbers change, and sometimes also the places.
As of 8:15am this morning the numbers are 20 dead Israelis and about 70 wounded in thirteen hours of attacks.
Somehow we still manage the traditional post-Sabbath greeting, have a good week, may it be a good week. Please God let it be a better week.