Everyday life in an extraordinary place.

Monday, September 22, 2008

A Day in the Life

Photo copyright Yediot Aharonot

This Postcard from Israel was originally written on 15 February 2001

Here's how it was living here yesterday:

On the way to the preschool to drop off our three year old, we hear the first special bulletin on the car radio. There's been another terrorist attack.

Through our shock, we catch a few words. Holon, military bus stop, estimated number of wounded. We turn up the volume.

More information filters in. The terrorist has crashed his bus into a truck while fleeing the police, and is wounded. No one dares go near him yet; the bus might be loaded with explosives. Army bomb diffusion experts are en route to the scene (this, by the way, is my brother in law's job when he is on reserve duty).

The reporter tries to keep up a commentary as she runs towards the scene. Out of breath, almost crying, she tells how many wounded and dead she can see, and describes the scene in much more detail than anyone really wants to know. Shakily, she asks people around her if they saw what happened. In the background, we can hear the sobbing of the wounded and those who simply witnessed the attack. In a hoarse voice choked with emotion, one man describes the way the bus accelerated and rammed into the crowded military bus stop at full speed. He relates how the driver then fled the scene.

From the beginning, no one believed this was a simple traffic accident. One reason is the target, a military bus stop packed mostly with young soldiers returning to their army bases at peak morning rush hour. Also, from the eyewitness descriptions, it is obvious this was a deliberate attack, not a simple matter of a driver losing control of his vehicle. Later, we learn that even the brother of the driver admits that it was a deliberate act.

Meanwhile, more details are discovered. We drop our kids off at school, and rush home to turn on both the radio and the television. Three dead, ten injured - then the numbers go up. And up. The driver is a Palestinian from Gaza, who had security clearance to work for the Egged bus company. He is seriously wounded and is taken to a nearby hospital for surgery. Somehow, if an Israeli had carried out such an attack in Gaza, I don't think he would have received anything more than a brutal death at the hands of the Palestinian police.

The questions start flowing. Why did the bus driver carry out this attack? Was he coerced? Is he secretly a member of a terrorist cell? How did he get security clearance to enter Israel and hold such a job in the first place? And the biggest question of all: should we permanently close the borders between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (areas of Gaza and the West Bank)? Has the time come to say "no more?" No more allowing our avowed enemies the right to freely enter our country? No more providing them with the opportunity to carry out such attacks? The debate rages all day.

Meanwhile, the radio stations play subdued music, just as they do every year on Memorial Day. Many television shows, especially sitcoms, are cancelled. At the post office, in the market, everyone asks one another: "Have you heard? It's awful. Why doesn't the Prime Minister do something?"

The kids come home from school. Evening falls. On the news, we learn the names, ages and hometowns of all of the victims. We see photos of them, these young men and women, smiling proudly in their new army uniforms.* We see photos of them as children, hear what they were like from grieving friends and families. We feel the loss of each and every one, like a knife to the heart.

That evening, our eight year old daughter is afraid to go to sleep. She has nightmares that terrorists will come and kill her. She started sleeping with a light on in her room in October; now even that isn't enough to keep the demons away. She is not alone. There have been several newspaper articles on the effect this "Al Aksa Intifada" has had on children throughout the country: regression, nightmares, falling grades, depression.

Morning again, another drive to the preschool. The Prime Minister has called for a temporary closure of the boundaries between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Special concrete barriers will be erected at 40 military bus stops around the country. As is always the case with such measures, it is too little, too late. And on the radio, the announcer lists the locations and times of all of the funerals that will be held on this gray, stormy day.

* As of today, the dead included 7 soldiers, ages 18 - 21. Four of them were women. One civilian woman, age 30, was also killed.

(c) Amy Samin

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