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Jerusalem Night Out

Let’s go out to dinner tonight, my husband suggested about 5 PM yesterday, Tuesday, August 19, 2003.  Great, I told him.  I’ve been stuck in the house all day working on my book.  Making dinner seemed like mission impossible.

I wanted to go someplace new, so I went to a website listing all Jerusalem’s kosher restaurants and found this little French place in the center of town I’d never been to before.  I called to find out if they had a security guard, and then, while I was on the phone, asked if I needed to make reservations.

Actually, I did. “We’ve only got one table available, out on the patio,” the staff told me.  “Otherwise, we are booked for the whole evening.” And I thought, wow, after all the restaurants in town center have been going out of business after two years of intifadah, this place must be something special.

Even before we parked our car, I saw it.  Downtown Jerusalem was packed with people.  Families out for a stroll.  Holiday-makers on tours.  People going to the downtown food festivals.  The open air flea markets were re-opened, and full of buyers.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  Just a year ago, Jerusalem was a ghost town.  It was almost the feeling of a rebirth, I thought.  People throwing off their fears, beginning to live again.

We sat down to eat about ten to eight.  The food was great.  The service wonderful. Lovely antipasti, and foie gras with pears, served on a little table out in a vine-covered courtyard.  It was quiet and pretty.  And I thought how fortunate this little place had weathered the terrible days when no one came to Jerusalem.

We finished about ten past nine, and decided to join the milling crowds enjoying the summer evening.  As we walked down Rechov Rivlin and reached Jaffa Road,  I didn’t suspect anything as I saw the young boys who ran down the street. Youngsters letting off steam, I thought.   Then I saw the police cars, and overheard someone say: Pigua.  Terrorist attack.

All at once, I heard the sirens.  More crowds of people were gathered on corners, listening to car radios.  Someone said “Shmuel HaNavi street.”  It was a street in the heart of Jerusalem’s ultra Orthodox neighborhood.

Suddenly, the lively street scene turned  almost surrealistic.  People were still sitting in outdoor cafes, smiling and laughing, while streets away children lay burnt and dying.   There were no loudspeakers, and if you weren’t paying attention, you could keep on telling yourself that everything was the same; a lovely summer evening in Jerusalem.

We headed back to the car, and put on the radio.  A double bus, standing room only, packed with religious families coming back from a visit to the Western Wall, blown to bits.  It had just happened.

We headed home, wanting to see the television reports.  As I opened the door, I called out my son’s name.  But he didn’t answer.  He hadn’t said he was going out.  He probably hadn’t heard me.  I walked up the steps. His room was empty. My stomach lurched.  My God, where was my son!

But soon I heard his voice from another part of the house.  And I thought of all the families going through the same thing with different results.

I watched the television reports, the bloodied faces of crying children.  The grandmother led from the carnage.  The bodies lying in the streets.  The tiny little girl on her back as medics worked over her….

And I thought of the people still sitting in coffee houses and restaurants all over Israel, and all over the world, still trying to pretend that we are at peace, or we are in some kind of peace process, or that we have people to speak to among Muslim Palestinians, or Muslims in general, who are in a position of power who actually want to reach a peaceful compromise on any subject.

And I thought of all the months our government has allowed itself to give in to American pressure to abandon its war on terror, to let out prisoners, hand over security control in the West Bank and Gaza, allow terrorist organizations to bring in more and better weapons, train more bombers, in a process of self-delusion that looked at every concession as a step towards some positive goal.  I thought of all these things which had led, inevitably, to that tiny girl lying bloodied in the street fighting for her young life.

And I thought of myself, as a citizen in a democracy, and how tired I was of fighting her enemies and her own government, and most of her own press, and the country of her birth –the greatest democracy and lover of freedom in the world today, the United States — all of whom have been totally wrong every step of the way in facing a threat to mankind that can only be solved by force of arms with useless words, and self-destructive appeasement.

I thought, I’m to blame for that little girl.  I shouldn’t have been going out to dinner.  I should have been standing with picket signs outside the home of my Prime Minister, my government, the American Embassy, telling them that the lives of the people of Israel were not a bargaining chip.  And that that little girl’s life, her blood,  is on all our heads.  I should have been screaming: anyone who doesn’t fight terror 100% of the time, is a collaborator in the death of victims of terror.

That very same day, I had watched television footage of a terrorist bomb as it blew up the head of the UN delegation in Baghdad.  I had heard UN spokesmen say, finally, after two years of having them blow up Bar Mitzvahs, and discos and Seder nights:” terrorists know no boundaries.”

Those of us who wish to rid the world of terror should learn from our enemies. Our opposition to terrorism, to leaders of the free world that accommodate it, to an indifferent public that has learned to tolerate the deaths of others by it,  should also  know no boundaries.  We are not allowed to get tired, to take time off.  We need to be as relentless and uncompromising and single-minded and unmerciful and determined as Hamas, and Islamic Jihad.

We need to fight for our lives now, so that our children will not have to fight for theirs in the middle of the street beneath the ministering hands of medics as their blood washes the road.

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