I have always been a very hopeful person, and I have always believed in peace. As a child, I didn’t understand the conflict that much, but I do remember that every time I had to make a wish I wished for peace with the Arabs. I know it can sound kitschy, but it’s really true.
Then came the peace with Jordan, which made me think to myself: “Wishes do come true.” And then came Oslo, but then came the suicide bombings as well.
They would occur twice a month, once a week or twice a week. They occurred often. I recall how, during that period, every time a boom was heard, people would guess that it was a suicide bombing. Sometimes we would even say this with a little humorous irony, because it happened so often: “Oh, another suicide bombing!”
As there were many suicide bombings, there were many fatalities, and the more suicide bombings there were, the closer they got to me. A friend of a friend died in an attack, then the child of one of my teachers was one of the victims of another attack, and so on.
Every time there was a suicide bombing, in Haifa at least, I would instantly send a SMS to my family to tell them I was OK. After hearing the news of every suicide bombing I would see others next to me do the same or make these same “I am OK” phone calls.
The closest it got to me was the “Bus 37” attack in Haifa, which was where I lived and where I grew up. As a teenager I worked in a bakery. One day I heard yet another “boom”, and I knew. This time it happened just 50 meters away from me, right outside of the bakery.
What did I do and think in the moment it happened? In the split-second when I heard the “boom”, I didn’t fear for my life or anything like that. I didn’t really think that much actually, or maybe I did, but I don’t remember it. I just acted, and so did others, very quickly.
My boss, along with others from nearby shops just automatically rushed out to the street with fire extinguishers, because the bus was on fire, and they had to wait for the firefighters to come.
I stayed in the bakery for about an hour and a half and welcomed all those who rushed into the bakery, offering them something to drink and eat. Many of those who came in had been inside of their cars near the bus—cars smeared with blood and body parts. The suicide bombers had been meticulous in their bomb manufacturing, because the bombs contained nails, so that they would do as much damage as possible.
Some of those who entered the bakery were under shock and would also be treated for shock later.
The beautiful thing about Israel, “beautiful” in an ironic way of course, is that there is almost always someone in a crowd who had been a “hovesh” (emergency medical technician) in the army, and in times like this, a “hovesh” can attend to the wounded until ambulances arrive.
After an hour and a half, we were all evacuated by the firefighters, the police, as well as “Zaka” (abbreviation for “Zihuy Korbanot Ason” meaning “Disaster Victim Identification”). Who are they? Well, you know, those that pick up remains of human bodies and help identify the victims after such attacks.
After things calmed down a little, my friend called me and told me that her friend had been on the bus. She died, and when her parents had to identify her, all of her body was intact, but all of the inside had imploded because of the pressure caused by the explosion. That is how she died.
Another one of my friends had been on the bus, but she fortunately survived with a few scars.
When I came home that day I did nothing in particular. It was routine as usual. During that time period, I would write down what I felt. This was my way of coping, but when it happened right next to the bakery, that was actually the only time that I didn’t write anything.
The “suspicious item” trait
If I had to compare the 90s suicide bombings to the missiles in last summer’s war? The suicide bombings were for sure much scarier. The missiles and the sirens felt much easier to live with, because it felt temporary, and because of the Iron Dome. In the 90s you couldn’t really defend yourself against suicide bombings, the number of deaths was much higher, it was always unexpected and you are vulnerable.
When I look back at Oslo and the ensuing suicide bombing attacks I understand how the right-wing in Israel gained the upper-hand. In fact, many of my family members voted and still vote for Bibi, because people really don’t believe the other side. We signed a peace agreement with them, and then came the suicide attacks. It created a lack of trust, and people got scared.
I have never really wanted to leave Israel because of my family and my friends, and because this is where I grew up—this is my home. I would probably also be more anxious, if I were to live outside having to be a by-stander. Every time something would happen I would be worried for the ones I care about.
I know that a lot of what goes on here had an impact on my life however. If I had grown up elsewhere and lived elsewhere, I am sure that my personality would have been at least slightly different than what it is today. I probably would have been a calmer person. I probably would have experienced less hurt, but I am also good at repressing my pain, the physical as well as the mental one, in order to survive.
I grew up to be a more aware person, especially in the 90s. During the time of all the suicide bombings, you had to get off the bus, if you saw something suspicious or someone suspicious. When I entered a bus, I would always put my earphones on, but I would be extremely alert. I checked everything out: Did someone wear too many clothes on a warm day? Were there too many people on the bus? I got off busses a couple of times because of my suspicion.
When I was in a café, I was always alert. If there was a “hefetz hashud” (suspicious item), it would take a minute for the police to come and to have the hefetz hashud exploded. You had better not forget your bag somewhere or at least not for more than five minutes; if so, you could be sure that when you came back to pick up your bag, it would be gone.
Anyhow, you would always be alert in anticipation of where the next threat could be. I wasn’t really aware of my alertness back then, but now I see it more.
In fact, five years ago my mom bought me the car that I still have today, because she couldn’t stand the thought of me taking the bus, even though the last suicide bombing in Tel Aviv happened a couple of years ago now. But I also still feel quite alert when I travel by bus today.
Like a beaten child
I do believe in Eretz Israel (“the land of Israel”) and a country for Jews. I also believe that you should prioritize defending your own before others – like an animal – but I don’t think God would agree with what happens here.
I am basically like a beaten child, who doesn’t want to leave home. Even if I chose to leave this place, I would come back. If there was peace here, it would be much easier to leave however. I wouldn’t have to worry about leaving Israel then.
I admit that having gone through this has made me a stronger person, but I wouldn’t want the people that I love to go through this.
In fact, when I have children, I hope to be able to promise to them that they won’t have to go to the army, although it presently doesn’t seem possible. If my son and my daughter chose to be a combat soldier, I would have to accept it. But if it was up to me, I wouldn’t allow it.
If we had peace, this place could blossom in music, literature, arts. We would have a Renaissance period.
As when I was a child, I still believe in peace, maybe not in my time, but I am positive that it will happen. I know it. I, on my part, will do my best to let it happen, even when I have a breaking point and feel that the situation is hopeless. The good always conquers the bad anyway.