Sunday, April 13, 2003
This year when you sit down to your seder meals and the youngest kid asks, "Why is this night different from all other nights?" make sure to add, "How is this Pesah different from last Pesah?"
Here in Israel I think that we have almost forgotten how much the situation has improved since last spring. We had a sharp reminder a few weeks ago, on Friday March 21, while we were shopping for Shabbat in Jerusalem.
We stopped by a bakery on King George Street to pick up some hallot. The shop is known for its wonderful selection of pastries, especially on Fridays in honour of Shabbat. We were eying the fruit flans, picking out a birthday cake, when one of the salesmen came up to us. "Our cakes are on special today - it's one year since we were blown up by a suicide bomber."
I remembered walking past the wreckage of the bakery on Friday March 22, 2002, one day after a suicide bomber had detonated himself on that very spot. Three Israelis were murdered, including a man from my town, and dozens more were wounded.
Then, such events had become a gruesome routine. In the first three weeks of March 2002, Israelis were being murdered on a daily basis. Some of the worst atrocities of that month included: March 2 - a car bomb in Jerusalem's Beit Yisrael neighbourhood killed 11; March 3 - a sniper killed 10 civilians and soldiers at a checkpoint near Ramallah; March 5 - 3 murdered in an attack on a Tel Aviv restaurant; March 9 - 11 murdered at Jerusalem's Moment cafe; March 12 - terrorists ambush a road in northern Israeli, killing 6 Israeli motorists; March 20 - a bus bombing in northern Israel killed 7; March 24 - 2 Israelis killed by Palestinian snipers, one near Hebron, one near Ramallah; March 26 - two members of the TIPH international observer force murdered by Palestinian snipers near Hebron.
Then as Pesah approached the assault reached a frenzied pace. On March 27 as Israelis were sitting down to their festive seder night dinners a terrorist blew himself up in the dining room of the Park Hotel in Netanya. Twenty-nine people were murdered. The next day four people butchered in the village of Elon Moreh by a terrorist who infiltrated their home. The day after four more Israelis were killed, two in the bombing of a Jerusalem supermarket and two more by terrorists who infiltrated the village of Netzarim. Two days later on March 31 a suicide bomber killed 15 Israelis in a Haifa restaurant.
It was in the context of this carnage that Israel mounted an anti-terror campaign of unprecedented scale, Operation Defensive Shield. During the course of Defensive Shield the Israeli army entered Palestinian controlled towns and villages to shut down terrorist operations.
What a difference a year makes. The Israeli army has controlled the main Palestinian cities for months now, successfully foiling over 90% of attempted terror attacks, confiscating tons of weaponry and explosives, destroying scores of munitions factories and arresting thousands of terrorists. Palestinian terrorists are still trying just as hard to kill us, but thank God the Israeli army is having more success in stopping them.
Looking back, the security problems we face today appear less daunting. Only a year ago it seemed we were doomed to daily terror attacks, sowing destruction throughout the country. Only a year ago the idea of Israeli soldiers moving in to Palestinian towns to go house to house in search of terrorists was almost unthinkable.
Though tragically, the terrorists still sometimes evade our defences with devastating results, Israelis now go about their lives in relative safety. Our lives have still not returned to the way they were before the Palestinians launched this terror war, but in comparison with last year, we have relative normalcy.
The fact that Israelis today were so concerned about the remote possibility of Iraqi missiles is a measure of the Israeli army's success in its campaign against Palestinian terror. We can only pray that Israel will have continued success in its war on terrorism, so that the grim spectres of last March will never again return to Israel's streets.
May you all be blessed with a peaceful, happy and kosher Pesah,