Jewish Journal


August 1, 2002

Higher Learning

"The university is a very liberal place. Why was it targeted?"


To begin to understand the "strategy" behind killing innocent college students, visit the part of Mt. Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem that one rabbi there calls, "the burial area for the nation's unborn victims."

There you will find the graves of women who, at nine-months pregnant, were murdered by terrorists. A husband and wife are buried side by side, killed just after they learned she was pregnant with twins. There lies the Gavish family -- a grandfather, his daughter, son-in-law and grandson. A year ago this week, five members of the Schijveschuurder family were killed in the bombing of the Sbarro restaurant in Jerusalem. In cemeteries throughout Israel, long graves are dug beside short ones.

The strategy of the Palestinian terrorists seems to be to wipe out generations at once, to eradicate the old with their young, wrote Nadav Shragai in Ha'aretz newspaper. Think of the Park Hotel Passover massacre in Netanya, when, in an instant, entire families were killed. Terror 2002 is a reinvention of Terror 1802. The pogroms that instilled such fear and hopelessness among Jews in 19th century Eastern Europe have come to modern-day Israel.

It is too easy to describe Wednesday's bombing at the crowded cafeteria at Hebrew University as senseless. Think of it instead as part of a strategy that, like the pogroms, targets a nation's future.

The blast killed seven people. Among the five Americans slain are Benjamin Blutstein, 25, of Pennsylvania, who was on a two-year study program to be a teacher of Jewish studies; David Gritz, 24; and Marla Bennet, 24, of San Diego.

Janis Ruth Coulter, 36, an assistant director of graduate studies based at American Friends of Hebrew University's (AFHU) New York office, was also killed. According to Peter Weil, president of the ameican Friends of Hebrew University, Greater Los Angeles region, she was escorting a group of American students on an ulpan in Israel.

The Hamas leaders want the world to believe that the attack at Hebrew University was retaliation for Israel's attack in Gaza City last week that killed Hamas leader Sheik Salah Shehadeh along with 14 civilians, among them nine children. Much of the outrage and criticism over Israel's actions came from within the country itself, and undoubtedly some of it emanated from professors and students of the Hebrew University.

Even in democratic Israel, Hebrew University is a beacon of tolerance and understanding. Consider its founder, American-born Rabbi Judah Magnes. In the mid-1920s, Magnes formed Brith Shalom, an intellectual society devoted to bringing about a binational state for Jews and Arabs. Among its influential members were Hebrew University professor Gershom Scholem and philosopher Martin Buber, who warned that a Jewish presence in Palestine not founded on Jewish-Arab brotherhood was, "doomed to destruction."

The university, where 10 percent of the student body is of Arab descent, has long been a reflection of that spirit. "It's so open," said Sofia Aron, a Los Angeles native attending Hebrew University from UC Davis. "Some of the Arabs have signs in their dorm rooms [that read] 'Death to Israel,' and Israel permits it." Aron told one of our reporters shortly after the attack. "The university is a very liberal place," she said. "Why was it targeted?"

As Aron and the rest of us are beginning to understand, terror logic is not political, it's pogrom-ical. The idea is to sow fear. Hamas' attack may have been aimed at intimidating non-Israelis from visiting or studying there.

University officials have reiterated that the campus is safe. Located atop Mt. Scopus and surrounded by Arab neighborhoods, Hebrew U. itself has never been targeted since it was founded by a group of Jewish intellectuals in 1923. "Up until this time, nothing like this has happened at an Israeli university," said Richard Ziman, AFHU Western region chair. "You felt like it was the unwritten law. Will it affect students from going abroad to learn there? I hope not."

AFHU officials left this Aug. 2 on a post-bombing solidarity trip to the campus, Weil said. If they need a symbol of steadfastness -- of the kind of spirit that must drive the murderers at Hamas crazy -- they need look no further than to the writings of one of the bombing victims. In an article published in a newsletter shortly before she was killed (and reprinted on p. 10), Marla Bennet wrote of her decision to go to Israel even in the midst of terror . "I am worried for Israel," she wrote. "A historic moment this is, but also difficult and unpredictable. I feel lucky because the excitement always wins out over the worry."

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