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Jewish Journal

Bombing Hits Close to Home for Group

by Michael S. Arnold

February 26, 2004 | 7:00 pm

Rescue personnel evacuate dead victims of a Palestinian suicide bombing attack on a bus in Jerusalem. Photo by Brian Hendler

Rescue personnel evacuate dead victims of a Palestinian suicide bombing attack on a bus in Jerusalem. Photo by Brian Hendler

Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya'alon was describing the Palestinian Authority's strategy of terrorism, when a small commotion erupted in the corner of the room.

One of Ya'alon's aides swiftly scribbled a note and passed it to the Israeli army chief of staff, who hardly skipped a beat in his Sunday-morning speech to a visiting delegation from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

It was only several minutes later, after Ya'alon had finished his presentation, that he told the group that a Palestinian suicide bomber had detonated himself aboard a bus barely 100 yards from the group's hotel in downtown Jerusalem.

At least eight people were killed in the explosion, and more than 60 were wounded. The attack took place near the German Colony, an upscale neighborhood filled with trendy shops and beautiful homes.

The Al-Aqsa Brigade, the terrorist wing of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement, claimed responsibility for the attack. It cited Israel's construction of its West Bank security barrier as the primary grievance.

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents, who has seen the aftermath of other suicide bombings, appeared visibly shaken. He said he had never been to the site of a bombing so soon after the attack.

"It's overwhelming," Hoenlein said. "It's too hard to comprehend. There were body parts right there by our feet. You can't bring the war on terror any closer to home."

The explosion came a day before the International Court of Justice at The Hague began a hearing on the legality of the security barrier Israel is building to keep Palestinian terrorists from crossing into Israel. Israeli officials said the bombing lent new weight to Israel's argument that the fence is needed to block terrorists.

"This is Arafat's response to The Hague," Hoenlein said. "If anything underlines the obscenity of The Hague trial, this is it. It's Israel's obligation to bring an end to this kind of outrage by building the fence."

A statement from Arafat's office said, "We will not stand idly by while Palestinian interests are harmed" -- apparently a reference to the damage the bombing could cause the Palestinian case at The Hague hearings. The Palestinian Authority condemned the bombing and vowed to catch those responsible. Similar pledges have gone unfulfilled in the past.

The eight people killed in the bombing were identified as Ilan Avisidris, 41, Jerusalem; Lior Azulai, 18, Jerusalem; Yaffa Ben-Shimol, 57, Jerusalem; Rahamim Duga, 38, Mevasseret Zion; Yehuda Haim, 48, Givat Ze'ev; Staff Sgt. Netanel Havshush, 20, Jerusalem; Yuval Ozana, 32, Jerusalem; and Benayahu Yehonatan Zuckerman, 18, Jerusalem. Funerals for them were held Sunday and Monday.

Israeli officials said the Palestinian attacker would not have been able to infiltrate Israel from his home near Bethlehem had the 450-mile barrier been complete.

"I hope that The Hague's 15 justices get the message," Justice Minister Yosef "Tommy" Lapid told Israel Radio Sunday. "If there had been a fence around Jerusalem, there would not have been a terrorist attack today."

Nir Barakat, a member of the Jerusalem City Council, was on his way to visit a local school when the bus exploded across the street from him. He told an aide to call an ambulance and ran to aid the wounded.

"Life is more important than the quality of life," Barakat said, referring to Palestinian arguments that the fence intended to thwart terrorists impedes Palestinian freedom of movement and makes it difficult for farmers to reach their fields. "I want to protest. The world has a double standard and needs to get its priorities straight. The first thing is to stop the killing."

American Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), a member of the Conference of Presidents delegation, said the Palestinians were "thumbing their noses at the world" by carrying out an attack the day before the hearing.

"We knew about these attacks intellectually before, but now we have a little more emotional understanding," Nadler said. "One thing that is really mind blowing is seeing this piece of flesh, like uncooked meat, lying on the ground and knowing that it comes from a person."

JTA correspondent Dan Baron in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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