Eight days after a double suicide bombing and car bomb exploded in Zion Square, the heart of downtown Jerusalem, killing eleven teenagers and injuring hundreds, Mayor Giuliani, Governor Pataki, Mayor-Elect Bloomberg sat on a podium just a few feet away from the blood soaked streets.
I could hardly believe my swimming eyes when I read the newspaper ad inviting me to join them in Zion Square for the lighting of the first Chanukah candle. When I wiped away my tears of gratitude and exhilaration at this proof that we were not alone in the world, I knew that I wanted to be there, mostly to honor them for making the trip and the magnificent gesture.
Before I left the house, I watched a CNN report on the festivities in Cairo during Ramadan. The crowded streets. People eating in out door cafes. Fathers and mothers strolling with little children.
Were there places in the world where people still felt so safe, so free, they could do those things? A deep sense of mourning and despair settled over me when I realized how much of our freedom and our well-being we have lost, a useless sacrifice to political cynicism and wrong-headedness.
There are many in Jerusalem , I knew, that wouldn’t be willing to be in Zion Square for any price. The center of town, as Zion Square is called, would mean for most a bus ride to get there. I myself wound up getting off the bus a good half hour away when a suspicious looking man got on. No one blew up, so it was a false suspicion. But this is how we live.
The idea of being in a crowd has in itself become an anathema to Jerusalemites as our personal safety grows more and more tenuous, and we are told again and again by the police, the army, and our political leaders that they can’t protect us (“we can’t seal off the city hermetically, but we are doing the best that we can”.)
“The best that we can,” however, took on a different face when it was political leaders like Mr. Sharon, Mr. Olmert and the Americans whose bodies were in Zion Square. All the surrounding streets were closed off to traffic. Police barricades and security forces checked every person walking into the ten block area surrounding Zion Square.
In order to actually get to the ceremony, one went through security checkposts which included x-ray machines and metal detectors.
Were these things, then, not available eight days ago, when our children, out to eat a pizza and drink a milkshake at a birthday party with high school friends, were blown to bits by suicide bombers?
I think something of this sense of discontent rustled through the crowd, who roared with approval each time Mr. Giuliani spoke, or even had his name mentioned, but were cool, or worse, to Israeli speakers. The crowed was equally appreciative of Governor Pataki and Mayor–elect Bloomberg.
But there was one person on the podium – and only one – who got booed. It was Arik Sharon. “When are you going to do something to stop it!” Someone screamed at him. And others grumbled, an audible sound that reached the podium of politicians like a wave that even the security guards had no way of deflecting.
Except for Mr. Giuliani, who spoke of common values, and being a sister-city, and the attack on freedom and democracy which September 11 represents, and that the attacks on Jerusalem’s citizens represent, and Governor Pataki’s warm words of solidarity, nothing else that was said that night warmed us, or gave us hope.
On the contrary, the choice of “Watch Yourself, Child,” as the theme song for the evening was a sickening reminder of the stark contrast between how the Americans handle the idea of their children being slaughtered by terrorists, and how our current Israeli politicians do. The words of the song go something like this “Watch yourself child, take care of the world because we aren’t succeeding.”
Quite a message to be giving people eight days after our children were slaughtered because of a lack security; because we withdrew troops from Palestinian terrorist strongholds; because we opened the curfew-blocked suicide-bomb factories of Jenin and Tulkarem because it didn’t “look nice” on TV.
Still, I was glad I went. Glad to contribute my applause to the cheers that our American friends so richly deserved for their noble, selfless and truly humane act.
Because they stood in a place that most Jews from America have refused to stand in for over a year. A place that now most Israelis, and Jerusalemites are fearful to stand in. They stood there, their determination, clear-headedness and strength, casting in fine relief our own politicians’ indecisiveness, defeatism, and irresponsibility towards their constituents, giving us all an example of what a political leader can – and ought to – be.