with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Two Big Bangs – Again

Another year, another bombing. When will it ever stop? And what good does it do? Nothing changes. They keep attacking and Israel stomps harder. The Palestinian economy, not to mention most of the nearby Arab countries’ economies, are all suffering horribly from their actions. No tourists, everyone afraid, no one spending money. And the IDF cracks down hard on them, as they should. Don’t forget, terrorism is illegal. If you do it, you will be punished. In all the “feeling sorry for the Palestinians” we seem to forget that there are consequences for evil actions.

Brent and I were in the kitchen planning our weekend out of the country in the snow. I’ve been desperate for snow and not getting any. Brent had just finished telling me that he really didn’t have any enthusiasm for leaving the country now as he is seriously giving thought to leaving in February when the “war” with Iraq starts. “We can go to the states, see both our families, go to some of our favorite places and just get out of this fucking country.”

I have to agree with him, on many of these points. He tells me that he is reading about how the US now has most of its war ships in the Gulf or on their way, and that they just brought in a huge hospital ship. My father confirmed that the Lincoln, which was just back for a six month stay in Everett after six months or more at sea, has just been ordered back to sea and to the Gulf. Reservers are continuing to be called up and it looks like war is inevitable, no matter what those pundits on TV tell us. Maybe we should leave, but for how long and what do we take and…and…and…it overwhelms me.

Our attitudes are heading down into depression thinking about all of this, me sitting on the floor of the kitchen sorting through papers while Brent talks and pokes at the discount travel web sites on the computer, when a huge explosion rattles our windows and vibrates against our skin. We know the sound. We sit in angst. Within a minute there is another, lesser in impact, but reaffirming in consequences. Blood will be shed tonight along with the tears of many.

The sirens in the distance begin as we open the windows over the park. Another night it would be romantic with the sliver of a moon hanging out over the buildings towards the sea, glowing in the slight mist in the air. Stars shine overhead and not a cloud shadows the night above. The park is quiet for once, skateboarders inside early out of the chilly night. I see an old man in a wheel chair with his helper on the bench beside him down below us, the street light illuminating them with a white aura. The sirens get louder and softer as they move through the city towards the event. I call a friend who lives on Shenkin, closer to the water and farther south from us in the city. She confirms the noise and said that people are looking out their windows and going outside to listen. She tells us that she is going to turn on the TV and wait, and we do the same.

Channel 22 (or 10 – it says one thing on the screen and something else on our dial) is the first with the news. Cell phone call-ins are reporting that there were indeed two explosions and they were at a place which has seen much violence over the years, the Old Central Bus Station pedestrian area. There was another attack there only a couple of months ago. It is a popular hangout for the poor, mostly immigrants, many illegal. An old part of the city, it is run down and a haven for those seeking all kinds of sex from the purchased-off-the-street kind to the riotously named “pip” shows (peep shows), as well as cheap food and entertainment. Many a time I’ve walked through there in the evenings as I come home from a bus trip to Jerusalem and have to maneuver through the groups sitting and standing around the open cafes and bars watching sports on the ancient television sets clamped to the wall. These people are the most vulnerable as they represent not only the poorest, but also some of the newest to Israel, those unable to afford to do much more than stand near a cafi watching television and sitting a soda or beer, visiting with the hoards of ethic diversity around them. Predominately Russian and Eastern Asian, this is also where the illegal immigrants can be found in huge numbers, linking up with friends and family through scattered international telephone call booths along the shopping corridor.

As the story unfolds, we learn that two suicide bombers timed their attack at the peak time when people were arriving to watch American football (Superbowl Season) and European soccer playoffs. The first one when off with the largest explosion, estimated initially to be about 10 kilos of explosives, and the second one was on the other side of the block. As the people ran away from the first explosion, a lot headed right for the second terrorist who detonated his explosives as the people crowded around him to escape. The reports will be fleshed out soon, but the first reports say that about 8 people were killed immediately by each bomber. This was well planned and well timed. Not very many suicide bombers get that many initially. They went for the crowds.

The terrorists were packed with nuts, bolts, screws, and probably rat poison, a popular additive as it is believed to get into the blood of the victims and cause problems with blood coagulating, so victims even with medium injuries bleed to death because the bleeding can’t be stopped. The small metal parts might even include bee-bees removed from easy-to-get children’s pop-guns. All these metal fragments explode outward and upward drilling into the bodies of those nearby. So many are blinded and scarred by the shrapnel.

We watch in desensitized horror as the action unfolds before us. I think of Americans and the English obsessed with watching car chases and hunts for missing children on television. Folks, they don’t watch car chases and stuff here in Israel. They watch terrorism. Glued to the television for hours, we watch the same footage over and over again until more can be gathered of the same people doing the same things. The cameras usually arrive with the first Adom Magen David ambulances stuffed with aid workers. The initial scenes are of the ambulances spilling out their white shifted workers, red circle logos on the backs of their shirt, the drivers and others wearing bright orange mesh vests striped in reflective tape glowing in the bright light of the camera. Security and military are everywhere, trying to bring order to the chaos. Israelis tend to not be very cooperative, but they all want to be helpful, getting in the way as they do so. Idiots on scooters try to twist and turn through the chaos of vehicles and people, either getting out of or in the way of everyone and every thing. Through the crowds of people, some panicked, some milling, we start to see the wounded, usually the walking wounded. The aid workers lunge upon them, forcing most to the ground or to gurney, checking them for shock and injury. The workers are armed with lots of bottled water, passing it out to everyone. Many gurney are swallowed by the crowds to gather the more injured and they are belched out surrounded by aid workers, security and others on a race through the maze of humanity and vehicles to the ambulance, which then has to go through a similar maze to get out to the hospital. The camera pans and wobbles as it grabs the action, anywhere where there is movement it swings to catch it, moving as close as possible to the freshly placed crime scene tape, often breaking through or stepping over to move into the scene of the crime. The security forces are insistent even to the point of pushing and shoving to get people out of the area. There were just two bombers, there could be a third. GET OUT! GET AWAY! Few pay attention and the camera guy gets through to give us our first glimpses of the devastation.

Store fronts are blown in and awnings are hanging by threads of metal and fabric. Garbage is strewn everywhere, but then you see that the garbage over near the cafi tables aren’t typical trash but shoes, pieces of clothing, and what looks like it might be a body part or three. The camera swings away from the more gory bits as soon as they realize what they are. More action and movement and the camera swings back towards the ambulances. An obese man is being manhandled roughly off a gurneys as it neared an ambulance. The body falls to the sidewalk. Someone straightens him out and another throws a coat over his face. The gurneys isn’t needed for him any more. It is rushed off to help someone still among the living. Decisions come hard and fast in a triage situation, giving more to those with a hope of survival than those with little chance.

The numbers start to come in. First we hear two are known dead. The argument begins, as usual, as to whether these two are the suicide bombers or others. Israel is really clear about the fact that suicide bombers are not to be counted among the dead. They wanted to die so why should they number among the victims of their sick and evil will. I think it is a good policy. So they debate over who these two are. The wounded are taken to two different nearby hospitals specializing in terrorist attacks. These numbers come in groups of tens and dozens. We know not to trust any of these. From familiarity, we know these numbers will dance all over the place for the first hour. After that they will settle down to reality.

Wounded are classified as slight, moderate, serious, critical, and what they call “enush”. It means they are not expected to live. It literally translates to “mortal” for morally wounded. They work overtime to help everyone they can, but there are just those where the effort to save them will put others to risk, so they are set aside to wait to die. In war as in terrorism, you can’t save everyone. It’s so hard to understand that when you are on the outside looking in.

I call other friends. We check in with each other. Are you okay? Did you hear it? What to do, what to do? What can you do? My friend, Ida, asks me how I feel about it. How do I feel about it? “It’s not your first…hearing…is it?” I remind her that I’ve been here since before the start of the Intifada and have heard more than my share of bombs. No, I’m long past my first. As is Brent. How do I feel? Numb, sick, angry, but then none of those. I’m so tired of this, I feel nothing. Disgust. I want to get angry, I want to cry. I want to scream and yell and do SOMETHING, but I can only sit and stare at the television’s horror. I’m angry because I don’t feel angry anymore. I just feel frustrated and disgusted. This isn’t doing anyone any good, on either side.

The numbers move to 15, then 17, then 20 dead. Then it drops to 19 two hours later. A plea goes out in numerous languages to the new and illegal immigrants who might have been injured in the blast. “Please, come to the hospital. Get treatment. It is not our job to arrest you or even check if you are legal or not, please, come get treatment.” Now the reports count 70 treated at the two hospitals.

The Islamic Jihad claims responsibility within 30 minutes of the attack. This might change, but they have been routing and spouting increased violence for weeks. Israeli and Palestinian representatives start coming forth on the English speaking news channels. Israel continues its rant that they can’t do anything with ineffectual Arafat and that they Palestinians don’t want to negotiate. One man asks BBC-TV if Bush will negociate with Bin Laden. Negotiation with terrorists is non-negotiable. I have to agree. The US has been behind and involved in many negotiations with terrorists, which they are standing behind a loud policy of non-Negotiation, but they still do. I think that Israel has stood firmer on that policy than the US. But what do you do when the factions inside don’t give a shit what their officials say when they demand for the groups to stop the terror. Last week I watched a BBC news story on Arafat’s Fatah group. They told the reporter that they hold Arafat in the highest esteem. He is their savior and they honor him greatly. When she asked why they don’t stop the violence when he tells them to stop, they laugh and explain that Arafat taught them good. They know he’s not serious and he taught them not to listen when he talks of peace, only listen when he talks of war. War is good and just. For this, 20 more Israelis are added to the dead list, and who knows how many more Palestinians will be killed as a result of Israel’s response.

I call my mother to tell her I’m okay but get the recorder. I leave an innocuous message that we’re okay and just wanted to check in. I call my father to check in with him and to tell him that his box for Christmas arrived safe and sound. He hears the tension in my voice and I tell him what happened. As with most Americans, they don’t know what to say other than I’m sorry. This is so totally out of their ken. And with my father, unreal, even after a month’s visit here. He tries to be supportive and then tells me that he has something else I could worry about more. His new kitten is going in on Thursday to be fixed. Horrible thing. Yes, we should all fuss and worry about such things.

Ruth told me of her arrival many years ago in South Africa to live for a while. She picked up an English newspaper and the headlines reported a baby born to a local zoo’s gorilla. She wondered at such a place where such news would make the headlines. In Israel, news like that rarely makes it even into the newspaper, and if it does, it is lost in the middle somewhere as a non-event. “To live in such a place that considered a gorilla giving birth headlines news,” Ruth sighed. “This is living in heaven.” I didn’t understand her then, but I do now.

The news is rolling in. A reporter babbles at one of Israel’s ministers about the attack and questions Israel’s ability to negociate with the Palestinians over this. He responds eloquently saying “Should the US negociate with Bin Laden? I don’t think so.” Good point.

Arakat, the spinner extraordinaire for the Palestinians, is again at his fiery best after a long time down in the mouth. He is on a roll for the past couple of months, stirring the fires of hate and anti-Israeli and ant-semitism far and wide, a bulldozer for Palestinian propaganda. He spouts that Bush must “bring the breeze of peace” to the Middle East. Brent, stalking out of the room in disgust, spits out, “Right. The breeze of peace is a fart.”

The number of dead is rising. Nineteen, 21, now 23. At least three babies killed. The number of wounded rise to 100 and it keeps going up. Foreign workers who kept away are now being lured in to get medical help due to Israel hospital’s pleading that they will offer amenity, anything to help the injured. It doesn’t matter if they are illegal or not. Time and time again I am overwhelmed by Israeli generosity even in the face of evil. They have to draw the line where they can for the safety of all, but when it comes to giving help…do you realize that even while Palestinians are killing Israeli citizens, wiping out families including babies in their parent’s arms, Israel is still providing food, water, medical care, housing and more totally free. What they are not doing is permitting travel that allows terrorists to get through. Sure, there are restrictions, but honestly, few if anyone is really starving in Palestine. They just all look like they are.

Pictures come in of the store fronts, rubble and pick-up-sticks on display. The night turns the film almost black and white, emphasizing the horror. Shoes and bits of clothing are scattered everywhere, sometimes with a body part still attached. It is time for the ultra-orthodox to move in, these often heavy set men with grim white faces peering out from between their long dark, curled side locks and below their black kippa adored heads. Some wear orange vests which illuminate bright white stripes around them as they move into the light of the camera. Others are simply dressed in white shirts and black pants, the tassels of prayer shawls peaking out from their belts. They are here to clean up the mess, the little bits of human flesh scattered around the area. Some bits are blown more than a block away by the blast, some so mangled you can’t tell which part of the body it came from, nor the skin color of the original owner. All specks of flesh and blood must be cleaned up for burial. It is the Jewish custom, though I bet they never thought it would go this far. The men move slowly, bending low, carefully inspecting every bit of rubble, liter, and clump in the low light. Some drop to their knees to carefully scrap at something and the cameras leave them to their work.

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