After bombings, New Yorkers cop an Israeli attitude: ‘Stuff’ happens By Andrew TobinSeptember 22, 2


“I heard the explosion, then I went to the deli.”

In the hours after the bombings Saturday in New York and on the Jersey Shore, the phrase became an instant slogan for New Yorkers’ purported coolness under fire. Attributed to a witness of the bombing that injured 31 people in Manhattan, one of three apparently attempted by a New Jersey man apprehended Sept. 19, it quickly spread online.

Media commentators soon picked up on the meme of New Yorkers’ resilience.

On “The Daily Show” Monday night, host Trevor Noah made light of news footage of New Yorkers complaining about being mildly inconvenienced by the bombing. BuzzFeed highlighted tweets by New Yorkers debating which of Manhattan’s ill-defined neighborhoods should be properly identified as the site of the bombing.

Over here in Israel, a country that prides itself on how quickly it recovers after a terrorist attack, experts on social resilience agreed that Americans are rightly impressed by New Yorkers — though they said Saturday’s bombings, which had no fatalities, was not a particularly severe test. While Israelis have been prepared for terrorism by decades of experience, they said, New Yorkers may develop resilience just by living in the hectic city. 

“If you have past experience with continuous disruption it helps, it helps to be prepared for disruption caused by terror,” Meir Elran, the lead researcher on homeland security at the Institute of National Security Studies, a leading think tank in Israel, told JTA.

“As we say in Hebrew: Shit does happen. I think New Yorkers may be uniquely aware of that.”

In social science, resilience can be defined as a society’s ability to bounce back from a disruption, or an event that interferes with daily life. The faster a society returns to normal following a disruptive event, like severe violence or a natural disaster, the more resilient it is said to be. The more disruptive the event, the longer it will take to return to normalcy. 

Past experience of disruptions and social capital are major predictors of resilience.

“It is true that people are resilient in general. Otherwise the human race would not have sustained itself for so many generations through so many various disruptions,” Elran said. “It is also true that there are societies that are more resilient than others, and the rate of resilience of a society depends to a great extent on past exposure to disruptions and how socially and economically well off it is.”

Unfortunately, Israel has dealt with regular disruptions by Palestinian terrorism since before its founding. Rather than collapsing, the society has strengthened, including by gradually and haltingly improving its preparation.

After the second intifada and the Second Lebanon War, both in the 2000s, Israel shifted its security doctrine to include protecting the homeland rather than only taking the fight to the enemy. The state built a security barrier with the West Bank, developed missile defense systems and restructured its Home Front Command, among other things. (On Tuesday, sirens sounded across Israel as part of a national preparedness drill, a practice introduced after the Second Lebanon War.)

At around the same time, observers have said, there was a shift in the way Israelis thought about themselves. Matti Friedman, a former correspondent for The Associated Press, said in his new book that Israelis by 2000 had given up on reshaping the Middle East, be it through Oslo-like compromise or Lebanon War-like force.

“When these things began to be clear, something interesting occurred,” Friedman wrote in “Pumpkinflowers.” “People in Israel didn’t despair, as our enemies hoped. Instead they stopped paying attention. Our happiness would no longer depend on the moods of people who wish us ill, and their happiness wouldn’t concern us more than ours concerns them.”

Speaking to JTA from Jerusalem, he said: “There have been stabbing attacks here over the last few days. The city is completely unaffected. It hasn’t come up in people’s conversations. It hasn’t affected people’s plans that I know of. If the intention is to disrupt people’s lives and make them afraid, it’s not working.”

Deeming Zionist slogans outdated, Friedman in his book suggested a new one to rival New York’s: “On the bus.” This was the terse answer an Israeli soldier named Harel gave to an interviewer who in 2000 asked how he managed to return to Southern Lebanon after his entire platoon was killed in the helicopter crash that ultimately led to Israel’s withdrawal from the area.

An Israeli border police officer checking a Palestinian man in front of Damascus Gate in Jerusalem's Old City, Sept. 20, 2016. (Sebi Berens/Flash90)

An Israeli Border Police officer checking a Palestinian man in front of the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City, Sept. 20, 2016. (Sebi Berens/Flash90)

Of course, New Yorkers have faced terrorism, too, most notably the world-shaking attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Like Israel, New York and the United States, traumatized by the attacks, responded by becoming more prepared. The creation of the New York Police Department’s Counter-Terrorism Bureau and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Transportation Security Administration are just a few examples. But terrorism is not part of daily life in the Big Apple the way it is in Israel.

“The situation in New York is still fundamentally different,” an Israeli researcher on social resilience told JTA on condition of anonymity because of the public nature of his policy work.

“Attacks like those [in New York and New Jersey] this week are sporadic, quite rare events that contradict the usual story of life in New York City. So for now at least, it is possible to ignore terror as part of a shared reality there.”  

Elran said the level of disruption caused by the bombings was “very low.”

Still, the American celebration of New Yorkers’ resilience to terrorism has empirical backing, the researchers said. Studies have found the first responders and the public in general returned to normal life remarkably quick after 9/11, in many ways within a few weeks.

New Yorkers may be resilient to terrorism despite relatively little experience in part because the intensity of living in the city involves near constant disruption on a small scale, according to the researchers.

“Events happen here very quickly, and in New York, it is also the case,” said the social resilience researcher in Israel. “People there experience work-related stress and life is very intensive.”

Elran said it takes a certain degree of sophistication to understand that things are not always going to be stable.

“New Yorkers, with their diversity of experience, can been seen as people who are more accustomed to disruption,” he said. “And it helps that they tend to be socially and economically well to do.”

Israel, too, has flourished socially and economically despite the constant threat of terrorism. The nation’s adaptability, arguably informed by its challenges, has made Israel a world leader in technology and security. But there are downsides, the social resilience researcher said.

“There is no magic way to avoid paying a price,” he said. “In Israel, there are high levels of frustration and aggression, and you know what the driving culture here is like.”

Anyone who has taken the New York subway during rush hour may be able to relate.

3 suicide bombings rock Saudi Arabia in a day, including near Muhammad mosque


Three suicide bombings struck Saudi Arabia on Monday, including one near where the Muslim Prophet Muhammad is said to be buried and another near the U.S. Consulate.

In Medina, revered by Muslims as a holy city, four security guards were killed in a bombing close to dusk at the security office of the mosque where Muhammad is said to be buried, The New York Times reported, citing the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya television network. The suicide bomber also was killed.

Also near dusk, only the suicide bomber reportedly was killed in a blast close to a Shiite mosque in Qatif, in the country’s east.

In the morning, in the coastal city of Jiddah, two security officers were wounded in the blast near the consulate. Security officers reportedly had confronted a man acting suspiciously near the consulate and the man detonated his explosives, according to the state-run Saudi Press Agency, the Times reported.

The U.S. Embassy in Riyadh, the capital, said that none of its consular staff members in Jiddah had been wounded.

No group has claimed responsibility for the bombings, which followed terrorist attacks last week causing mass casualties in three predominantly Muslim countries: Turkey, Bangladesh and Iraq. But Islamic State extremists, who claimed responsibility for or are suspected in the attacks last week, have hit the kingdom repeatedly in recent years, according to the Times.

The bombings came amid Ramadan, a month of introspection by Muslims.

 

Islamic Jihad leaders killed in strike, Hamas’ Maashal shuns stop to bombings


As Hamas' leader in exile, Khaled Mashaal, brushed off a halt to bombings, Israeli airstrikes hit a Gaza media center and killed several leaders of Islamic Jihad.

The Israel Air Force's strike Monday evening — the second on the center in two days — killed Ramaz Harab, a top leader of Islamic Jihad's military wing, the Al Quds Brigades. At least three other Islamic Jihad leaders were in the building when it was hit, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

Hamas' main television station, Al Aksa, is located on the top floor of the high-rise building.

In Cairo, meanwhile, Maashal said Monday during an hourlong news conference, “Whoever started the war must end it.”

He told reporters that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu requested a cease-fire, a claim that Israel has denied, according to reports.

Maashal said there is a new spirit of cooperation among Palestinian factions due to the Israeli operation, which began on Nov. 14.

“Israel is the common enemy. Confrontation with the enemy is our moment of truth,” he said. “We must end the political divide and unite around common institutions and around resistance to Israel. Our enemy cannot be treated with words, but only by force. No concessions should be made with Israel, given the new atmosphere in the Arab world.”

Terror Victims Help Other Survivors


Yaffa Elharar, from Afula in northern Israel, has spent days outside a courtroom in the summer heat of Tampa, Fla., holding a photo of an attractive teenage girl and a sign proclaiming “The Blood of Our Children Calls for Justice.”

Elharar is in the United States as a possible witness in the ongoing trial of Sami Al-Arian, accused of heading a Florida support group for Palestinian terrorists.

The photo is of her daughter, Maya, killed in 1994 at age 18, when a suicide bomber drove his explosives-laden car into a bus stop crowded with students.

Convicting accused terrorists is one part of Elharar’s mission, which began with her daughter’s death. The other, more central effort is helping the survivors of terror attacks and their families. To that end, Yaffa and her husband, Michel, set up the Organization of Victims of Terror in Israel in 1994, a few months after their family tragedy.

The couple recently stopped in Los Angeles to help launch a local branch of the nonprofit organization.

Another group that does similar work in the United States and Europe is One Family. That organization has distributed $13 million to some 2,500 families. It, too, is now setting up an office in Los Angeles.

Other groups focus on special needs, such as psychological aid for traumatized persons or working with parents who have lost children. The Maccabi World Union has launched Project Tikva to help rehabilitate terror victims through sports. Among the participants is Olympic swimming great Mark Spitz.

One of the main fundraisers, the Fund for Terror Victims, has distributed $18 million to nearly 3,000 families over the last four years. But this effort, which is part of the Jewish Agency for Israel, will shut down in December. Organizers cite a drop in terrorist bombings.

For the two groups set to open offices in Los Angeles, however, the need remains pressing.

Since the beginning of the second intifada on Sept. 9, 2000 to the present, a total of 1,063 Israeli civilians and soldiers have been killed and 7,376 injured in terrorist attacks, according to the official count by the Israel Defense Forces.

These figures, extrapolated to the population of the United States, would be the equivalent of the U.S. suffering close to 400,000 casualties from terrorist attacks.

One goal of the victim-aid groups has been to spread awareness of the suffering of families through national memorial services and centers.

“We found that the acts of the perpetrators were on the front page, and the names of the victims on the back page,” Yaffa Elharar said.

Her husband, who retired to devote himself full time to the organization, oversees free legal consultations, vocational training and cultural and social activities. The nonprofit also assists orphans in celebrating bar mitzvahs and widows with the weddings of their children.

The Elharars’ daughter died while trying to shield a 13-year-old girl. She was among eight killed and 52 wounded in the attack.

In Israel, the National Insurance Institute and the Jewish Agency have been providing basic living and rehabilitation allotments for wounded civilians and for stricken families.

What was lacking, said Yaffa Elharar, was adequate person-to-person emotional and psychological support for both the injured and their families.

The East Coast director of One Family knows firsthand about her clients’

experiences.

Sarri Singer, the daughter of New Jersey state Sen. Robert Singer, was working in Jerusalem two years ago and riding on a No. 14 bus, when a terrorist, disguised as a pious Jew, came aboard. He blew himself up, killing 13 people and injuring more than 100.

It wasn’t Sarri’s first encounter with terror. On Sept. 11, she was working in New York at the National Conference of Synagogue Youth, when the two hijacked planes plowed into the World Trade Center, only two blocks from her office.

While recuperating from shrapnel wounds received during the bus bombing, she started volunteering at the One Family office in Israel, and last year assumed her present American post. One Family was founded and is headed by Marc Belzberg of the philanthropic Belzberg family of Vancouver and Los Angeles. Among the organization’s main projects for victim families are camps for kids, retreats for parents, Big Brother and Big Sister programs, an orphan fund and a Simcha Fund for weddings.

“We are dealing, among other concerns, with 826 kids who lost a mother or father to terror, and 28 youths who have lost both parents,” Belzberg said.

Belzberg is troubled by the decision of the decision of the Jewish Agency to discontinue its fund for victims. The result is likely to mean heavier responsibilities for private groups like his, he said.

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For terror-victim aid groups setting up in Los Angeles:

•Organization of Victims of Terror in Israel (www.terror.co.il). Local contact is Raphael Ortasse (RAYSPACE@aol.com).

•One Family, contact Bari Holtzman (bari@onefamilyfund.org)

Other support organizations listed by the Israeli government and other sources, include:

•Almagor Terror Victims Association (www.terrorvictims.com)

•NAVAH (www.navah.org.il)

•ZAKA (www.zakausa.org)

•All4Israel (www.all4israel.org)

•Project Tikvah (contact Simone@maccabiah17.com)

 

Bombing Adds Insult to Ruling on Fence


The International Court of Justice may have ruled it illegal, but Israel’s West Bank security barrier has at least one new supporter.

For Sammy Masrawa, it was more baptism by fire than conversion, after Masrawa witnessed a bombing that killed an Israeli woman and wounded at least 20 others in Tel Aviv on Sunday.

"I am an Arab from Jaffa, a leftist, and I was opposed to the separation fence until today," said Masrawa, who survived the attack at a downtown bus stop with mild injuries. "But the terrorists do not distinguish between Jews and Arabs. After what I saw today, I hope to set up a lobby in favor of the fence."

The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, the terrorist wing of Yasser Arafat’s Fatah faction, said its men planted the bomb detonated by remote control to avenge Israel’s killing of its leaders. The blast was the first terrorist attack in Tel Aviv in more than six months. It left Bat Yam resident Sgt. Ma’ayan Nayim, 19, dead.

For Israeli government officials, the attack added deadly injury to the insult of the July 9 ruling at The Hague that the fence is illegal and must be dismantled.

"This morning’s act of murder is the first to have occurred under the auspices of the opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague," Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said in opening remarks at his weekly Cabinet meeting. "I want to make it clear: The State of Israel completely rejects the International Court’s opinion."

"This is a one-sided opinion based solely on political considerations," Sharon continued. "The opinion completely ignores the reason for the construction of the security fence: murderous Palestinian terrorism."

Though it’s only partially complete, the fence already has saved thousands of lives, officials said, noting the dramatic decrease in successful Palestinian terrorist attacks since construction began.

In its nonbinding advisory opinion, the International Court of Justice, a U.N. body, ruled that the barrier contravenes international law, that parts of it built beyond the Green Line — the 1949 armistice line between Israel and the West Bank –must be dismantled and that Palestinians whose land was confiscated must be compensated. The court said that the barrier could impede the Palestinians’ right to self-rule.

Israel argues that the fence is a legitimate means of self-defense, and that the court had no jurisdiction to rule on what is essentially a political conflict.

The key question is to what extent the court’s ruling might aggravate Israel’s isolation on the international stage. Israeli officials see the Palestinian appeal to the court as part of a longstanding strategy to delegitimize the Jewish state and bring it to its knees through international ostracism.

The idea is to have Israel stigmatized as a pariah state, much the way South Africa was before the collapse of the apartheid regime.

Indeed, calling the fence the "apartheid wall" — as Palestinians and their supporters often do — is an overt attempt to associate Israel with the old South Africa.

The first major success of this Palestinian strategy was the 1975 U.N. resolution denigrating Zionism as racism. That resolution was overturned in December 1991, after the launch of the Madrid peace process.

When peacemaking bogged down a decade later, the Palestinians resurrected their strategy, scoring a success at the U.N. World Conference against Racism in Durban, South Africa in August-September 2001. Now they have followed it up with the ICJ ruling.

But there’s a difference. The anti-Zionism campaign sought to delegitimize the founding principle of Jewish statehood, but the attack on the fence aims to delegitimize Israel through its occupation of supposedly Palestinian territory.

That can cut two ways, however. It may be harder for Israel to defend against accusations of occupation, but that critique carries within it an implicit recognition of Israel’s right to exist within its pre-1967 borders.

In an article in Ha’aretz, Tel Aviv University law professor Eyal Benvenisti writes that those who would deny legitimacy to the Zionist enterprise may not want to invoke the ICJ ruling. 

Israel’s battle now will focus mainly on Europe. With Palestinians hoping to translate the ICJ ruling into anti-Israel measures at the United Nations, European and American support will be important in the General Assembly and, even more so, in the Security Council.

The General Assembly sent the issue of the fence to the court last December, asking it to prepare an advisory opinion on the "legal consequences arising from the construction of the wall in the Occupied Palestinian territory."

Israeli officials say the language of the request essentially prejudged its outcome: The Palestinians call the barrier a wall though over 90 percent of it actually is a fence and could be moved. Israel also does not consider the West Bank "Occupied Palestinian territory" but rather "disputed territory" whose status must be determined in negotiations, as per Security Council Resolution 242, which has guided Israeli-Arab peace talks for the past 25 years.

Considering the way the General Assembly presented the issue to the court, Foreign Ministry Jonathan Peled said, it was no surprise that the court ignored the heart of the problem and the very reason for the fence: Palestinian terrorism.

Dore Gold, a former Israeli envoy to the United Nations and now an adviser to Sharon, told JTA that while Israel respects international law, it opposes the politicization of international bodies such as the ICJ.

"The terms of reference that the court was given by the U.N. could only result in a decision that was tantamount to the outlawing of the shield, while condoning the continued use of the sword," he said.

Palestinian leaders were overjoyed at the ruling. Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat called it a "victory for justice," while P.A. Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei described the ruling as ‘historic"

The leader of Hezbollah, the Lebanese terrorist group, called Saturday for Palestinians to step up attacks on Israelis.

"What removes the barrier," said Hezbollah’s leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, " is the will, determination and resistance of Palestinians, with the backing of the [Arab people]."

Europe has been sending mixed signals. Though many European nations were among the more than 30 mainly Western countries opposed to referring the matter to the ICJ, the European Union put out a statement after the ruling saying it corresponded with the E.U. view that the fence is illegal.

Foreign Minister Bernard Bot of Holland, which currently holds the E.U.’s rotating presidency, threatened Israel with unspecified "consequences" if its "dialogue with the E.U." over the fence and other diplomatic matters did not improve.

In trying to drum up international support, Israel will argue that the court ruling was too one-sided to be taken seriously. Moreover, in circumscribing Israel’s right to self-defense while saying nothing against Palestinian terrorism, the ruling is more likely to encourage more terrorism than a peaceful solution, Israel will argue.

Israel’s own Supreme Court has ruled that the government must strike a better balance between legitimate defense needs and Palestinian human rights. It questioned the route chosen in several areas, and more complaints are under consideration.

Despite Sharon’s forthright rejection of the ICJ’s decision, he remains bound by whatever the Israeli Supreme Court rules. And, in anticipation of further Supreme Court decisions, Israel is considering rerouting some unbuilt portions closer to the Green Line, causing far less disruption to Palestinian life — while, some fear, providing less security for Israelis.

Israel will say the measures were taken in deference to its own Supreme Court, but such moves also might help placate the international community.

Turkish Jews Dig Out After Bombs


Yoel Ulcer was so set on helping Istanbul’s Jewish community that he could hardly wait to turn 18, when he could join the corps of volunteer guards that stands outside synagogues and Jewish institutions in Turkey’s commercial capital.

His devotion cost Ulcer his life: He was one of 25 people, including six Jews, killed in twin suicide bombings at the Neve Shalom and Beit Israel synagogues during Sabbath services Saturday morning.

“The reason that he joined is because he wanted to help us,” said Berk Termin, a friend of Ulcer’s who also is part of the volunteer security group, which is made up of university-aged Jews from the Istanbul community.

“He was waiting for this, because he couldn’t join before turning 18. It’s something he wanted to do for years.”

As an intermittent autumn drizzle turned into a steady downpour on Tuesday, some 3,000 mourners gathered at Istanbul’s largest Jewish cemetery, in the same plaza holding the graves of the 22 Jews killed in the 1986 terrorist attack on Neve Shalom, Istanbul’s central synagogue which means “Oasis of Peace.”

The six Jewish victims were identified as Anna Rubinstein, 85, and her granddaughter, Anita Rubinstein, 8; Avraham Idinvarul, 40; Berta Usdawan, 34; Yona Romano, 50, who died of a heart attack as a result of the bombing; and Ulcer.

Among the crowd were survivors of Saturday’s attacks, some of them still in bandages, their faces covered with lacerations.

Over a public address system, the voice of a cantor carried the mournful intonation of a traditional prayer for the dead.

“Throughout time, Jews have been victims of violence and massacres only because they are Jewish,” Turkey’s chief rabbi, Isak Haleva, told the crowd. “I ask God to come and hold our hands and help us all love each other and help us see human life as something holy.”

Speaking before the chief rabbi, Izak Ibrahim Zade, one of the community’s leaders, told mourners that life must go on despite the community’s tragedy.

“We invite everyone to take on the responsibility to build a better world and a better future for your children,” Zade said. “Please, everyone, think about what we can learn from this, and let us all work together to make this a better world.”

Turkish Jewish leaders are shocked by the force and sophistication of the bombings of the two synagogues — but not surprised that the Jewish community was targeted.

“This was bound to happen,” said Lina Filiba, executive vice president of the Turkish Jewish community. “Something here is changing. The peaceful life here is different now.”

The first truck bomb explosion occurred at 9:30 a.m. near the main entrance of the city’s central synagogue, Neve Shalom. The second took place a few minutes later at the back side of the Beit Israel synagogue, in Istanbul’s Sisli neighborhood, about three miles away.

The blasts were heard from miles away and left the streets surrounding the synagogues littered with shards of broken glass.

On Wednesday, Turkish officials said DNA tests identified the two Turks who perpetrated the bombings. Mesut Cabuk, 29, and Gokhan Elaltuntas, 22, carried out the attacks. A radical Turkish group claimed responsibility for the attacks, but Turkish officials said the bombings were too sophisticated to have been carried out solely by a homegrown group.

Condemnations poured in from around the world, including from such unlikely sources as Iran and Malaysia, both Muslim nations.

Israel’s foreign minister, Silvan Shalom, flew to Turkey on Sunday to visit the bombing sites and meet with his Turkish counterpart, Abdullah Gul. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan also toured the site Sunday afternoon, accompanied by Gul.

Turkish police arrested three people in connection with the bombings, but they already had been released a day later, according to news reports.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon opened the weekly Cabinet meeting with a statement of condolences for the victims.

“We saw yesterday yet again that terrorism knows no bounds,” Sharon said. “Terrorism doesn’t discriminate by religion or blood. The aim of terrorism is one, to sow fear and terror through the slaying of innocent people.”

International Jewish organizations also mobilized. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) is raising funds to help Turkey’s Jewish and general community after Saturday’s attacks.

“This was an attack on Turkish society,” in which Jews have lived since the Spanish Inquisition, said Steven Schwager, executive vice president of the JDC. Schwager said the group hopes to raise a few million to rebuild the synaogues destroyed in the attack and restore local shops.

For its part, the Jewish Agency for Israel dispatched a mission of high-level staff to the region Saturday evening. The group included two psychologists who are terror specialists and two youth leaders who are familiar with the Istanbul Jewish community. In addition, the Jewish Agency held an emergency conference call Saturday evening with members of world Jewish communities, including France, England, South America and the United States, to determine ways to combat anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. The group plans to meet again soon to address threats to Jews worldwide.

Overnight, religious Israeli forensic volunteers, still in their Sabbath clothes, donned fluorescent vests and scoured the bomb sites for body parts.

“We are, unfortunately, used to terror in Israel and feel we can help here, in accordance with Jewish law,” their spokesman told curious local journalists.

An Israeli diplomat noted that Turkey was ripe for violence by Islamic terrorists.

“As the world’s only Muslim democracy, with ties to Israel, Turkey is doubly likely to be hit by Islamist terrorism. That puts Turkish Jews all the more at risk,” the diplomat said, according to Reuters.

Such concerns were nothing new for Nessli Varol, a 23-year-old daughter of Turkish emigres who flew in from Israel for the funeral of an uncle killed in the Beit Israel attack.

“The Jews here have a prosperous life, but there is also fear. They stick together and avoid too much exposure,” she told Reuters. “When I used to visit my grandmother as a child, she would tell her Muslim friends I was from France, rather than Israel.”

Jewish community officials said they have been on high alert for the last three months regarding possible attacks and had notified the police about their concerns. Security at Istanbul’s synagogues had been increased in response, officials said.

“If we didn’t have security as good as it is, the tragedy could have been a lot worse. We wouldn’t have been as lucky,” community leader Filiba said.

In front of the Neve Shalom Synagogue, a deep crater marked the spot where Turkish officials said the small, explosives-packed truck blew up. A blackened axle was all that remained of the vehicle.

The stone and wrought-iron facade of the synagogue was completely destroyed, the synagogue’s foyer filled with a tangle of twisted metal and shattered glass.

The synagogue is located on a narrow street in one of Istanbul’s most historic districts, an area filled with small shops selling lamps and chandeliers. The explosion devastated the entire length of the street, shattering store windows and leaving some balconies on the verge of collapse.

“I heard the explosion. I thought it was an earthquake. From my front terrace I saw people coming out of the synagogue, some of them covered in blood,” said Gulen Guler, who lives in a building a few doors down from Neve Shalom. “We could see bodies lying in the street and windows smashed everywhere.”

Neve Shalom’s sanctuary is set off from the street, so the number of injured was relatively low and the damage was limited to the entrance.

Most of the day’s injured came from the Beit Israel synagogue, which was filled with an estimated 300 people, many of them there to celebrate the recent renovation of a smaller sanctuary in the back of the synagogue, close to where the car bomb exploded.

After the bombing, that sanctuary was littered with dust and shattered glass, prayer books and blood-stained prayer shawls covering the ground and the rows of wooden chairs.

The force of the explosion carried through the synagogue, completely blowing out a large window in the building’s front, leaving a large empty circle where a stained glass Star of David used to be.

An outlawed Turkish radical group called the Great Eastern Islamic Raiders Front claimed responsibility for the attacks. Turkish officials dismissed the claim, however, saying the group did not have the resources to mount this kind of coordinated attack.

In a news conference, Turkey’s interior minister, Abdulkadir Aksu, said similar trucks were used in the two attack and that they contained similar explosives, according to initial police analysis.

“It is obvious that this terrorist attack has some international connections,” Gul, the foreign minister, said.

Gul’s claim was echoed by local Israeli diplomats, who compared the attack to an April 2002 Al-Qaida car bombing of a historic synagogue on the Tunisian island of Djerba. That attack killed 21 people, mostly foreign tourists.

Several other high-profile attacks on Jewish targets have been carried out in the past year. Last November, an Israeli-owned hotel was bombed in Kenya, and missiles fired at an Israeli passenger plane leaving a nearby airport narrowly missed. Then, in May, Jewish institutions were targeted in a series of terrorist bombings in Casablanca, Morocco.

Israel had warned Turkey several times of the possibility of an attack on the country’s Jewish community, the Israeli daily Ha’aretz reported.

“I’m sure the Turkish government has done everything possible to prevent an attack like this,” said Pinchas Avivi, Israel’s new ambassador to Turkey. “To my great sorrow, the organization and sophistication of this attack indicate that it wasn’t a local organization.”

“Unfortunately, we are seeing this kind of attack again,” said Moris Levi, a member of the Jewish community’s advisory board.

“After the Neve Shalom attack in 1986, our community was very united,” Levi said. “Today, our synagogues will be open in the afternoon and I’m sure many people will go. All we can do is help the families who lost people.”

Funds for the JDC’s relief effort in Turkey can be sent to “JDC-Turkey Assistance,” at Box 372, 8472-A Second Ave., New York, New York, 10017.

Going Through Hell For The Dead


Natan Koenig was blotting up blood from the floor of the cafeteria named for Frank Sinatra at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University. Koenig worked for two hours on that 95-degree afternoon on July 31, arriving soon after a Hamas-made bomb exploded under a table, killing nine people, including two Americans, wounding some 90 others and shattering the lunchroom.

Koenig handed sheets of blood-drenched absorbent paper to a co-worker, who placed them in a plastic bag. The bag would be buried in the grave of one of the victims. According to Jewish tradition, a person’s soul resides in his blood.

An ambitious caterer, Koenig, 25, is also a volunteer with ZAKA, the Hebrew acronym for Israel’s Disaster Victims Identification team. Members are best-known for showing up in their black skullcaps and yellow reflector vests at the scene of terror bombings to gather up body parts and blood for burial. Of the 604 volunteers — all Jewish men — 570 are Orthodox religious. "Only those with faith can cope with this work," said Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, ZAKA’s peripatetic guiding spirit.

Most ZAKA members are also volunteer ambulance medics; upon arriving at terror scenes, the first thing they do is treat survivors. They also go on search parties for missing persons. Much, if not most, of their time is spent helping the living. But ZAKA’s signature Jewish mitzvah is in showing "respect for the dead" — going to hellish lengths so people can be buried in a condition recalling, as much as possible, that they were "created in God’s image."

Yitzhak Shalita, a computer programmer, saved lives as an ambulance volunteer, but he felt this was a matter-of-fact sort of mitzvah, "nothing heroic." He wanted a more challenging test of faith and dedication, so he joined ZAKA. Now he climbs ladders to scrape bits of human flesh off walls. "With every scrape of the plasterer’s knife, you feel a sense of satisfaction," he said.

Shalita was sitting with Koenig and Shlomo Bloch, an Orthodox religious student, one recent night in ZAKA’s low-ceilinged, underground bomb shelter in Jerusalem that is its combination equipment room and clubhouse. It’s where local volunteers go after a terror attack to evaluate their performance, swap stories, argue, laugh — there’s a lot of black humor in ZAKA — and vent about the stresses of their day or night.

Shalita is the soft-eyed rookie of the trio (each is age 25), having joined ZAKA only this year. The first terror bombing he worked was the night of March 9, when a terrorist blew himself up at Jerusalem’s Moment cafe, killing 11 people. He got there a few minutes after the explosion, before survivors could even begin to wail. "I went inside, and everything was quiet except for all the cellular phones ringing," he said. "The walls were covered with blood. There were broken tables, plates, salads all over the floor — total chaos. People were lying in a pile, one on top of the other, in a pool of blood."

He saw a woman seated on a chair at the bar, elbow on the counter, head resting in her palm. A man sat next to her with his hand on the bar as if holding a glass. Their eyes were open. "They were both dead, but they looked as if nothing was wrong with them. It was the force of the blast that killed them — internal injuries," Shalita said.

He worked five hours at Moment, well into the middle of the night. He doesn’t remember thinking or feeling anything, just mechanically doing one task after another.

"First, we took the corpses that were more or less whole, put them on stretchers, covered them with black plastic bags, and took them out to the tent that the police ID unit had set up," he said. "Then we did the same thing with the large body parts. Then we went back to get the smaller body parts and put them in bags. Then we scraped off the little pieces of flesh that had stuck to the walls and surfaces. The street outside was just covered with them. Then we blotted up the blood with absorbent paper and put that in a bag."

In the identification tent, police and ZAKA volunteers try their best to "piece together the puzzles" of the corpses, as Shalita put it. They take into account where the body parts were found, their appearance and any clothing that might be on them. The final, decisive "piecing together" is done with DNA tests by forensic pathologists at a Tel Aviv laboratory. Bags of blood, flesh and tiny body parts that cannot be identified are buried with the dead.

Needing to talk to a psychologist is not something that strictly Orthodox Israeli men are going to admit, and it was especially hard for the men of ZAKA. "We’re the machos of the community," noted Bloch. (As a rule, the strictly Orthodox, or haredim, do not serve in the Israeli Army, seeing it as a corrupter of morals. The "modern Orthodox" do serve, and both volunteer in ZAKA.) But after the wives of several volunteers began complaining that their husbands had grown emotionally flat, detached from their families and normal pursuits, including marital sex, Meshi-Zahav compelled volunteers to go to group therapy at least once a year. In their ZAKA kit is the business card of a psychologist available for counseling 24 hours a day.

"When I went to group therapy I didn’t open my mouth to talk, but I listened, and it helped," Bloch said. "I found that I wasn’t the only one who had these reactions." Asked what sort, he replied, "If I smell cooked meat a day or two after a terror bombing, I run out of the house."

There have been no suicides or nervous breakdowns among volunteers, Meshi-Zahav said, but recently, an elementary school teacher in ZAKA — members come from various professions — took his class on a field trip to a cemetery. "He’s off duty with ZAKA now," Meshi-Zahav noted.

Bloch compares ZAKA to an "elite army unit," and it does have many of the trappings. Volunteers know they are the chosen few; not many people have the fortitude to perform this deed, and consequently they are greatly admired in the haredi community. ZAKA is also respected by mainstream secular Israelis, who tend to resent haredim for the draft deferments and welfare checks many receive for studying full-time in religious schools.

"Most haredim don’t go to the army, and they see soldiers and civilians being killed, and they want to do something to help," said Bloch, noting another motivation for joining ZAKA. Haredim are virtually all hardliners about fighting the Palestinian intifada, and when they are literally picking up the pieces of terror victims, they can be in a dilemma over what attitude to take towards a suicide bomber’s remains. "You see his body in a thousand pieces, and you want to tear it into a million pieces, but you don’t. You’re not God, and even the terrorist was created in God’s image, so you treat him just like anybody else," Bloch said.

The remains of suicide terrorists are given to the Palestinian Authority for burial, Meshi-Zahav said.

In the cafeteria at Hebrew University, there had been no suicide bomber, just a bomb in a bag; this was why the incident was so "clean," pointed out a ZAKA volunteer. "When there’s a suicide bomber, the body parts fly in every direction," he noted. The scores of wounded people had been evacuated, the seven people killed had been taken in plastic bags to the forensic lab, the blood had been soaked up. Koenig’s work was finished.

Getting into his car, he noticed traces of drops of blood on his forearms. "I thought I’d washed it all off," he said. "What I want now more than anything else is to go home and take a good, long shower."

Labor’s New Favorite


At times of crisis, Israelis reach for a general. Public anxiety brought Moshe Dayan to the Defense Ministry on the eve of the 1967 Six-Day War, Yitzhak Rabin to the premiership after the traumatic near-defeat in the 1973 Yom Kippur War and the aging Ariel Sharon to power in the midst of the intifada in 2001.

Now, as drive-by shootings follow suicide bombings and Sharon’s national unity coalition is still groping for an answer, they are turning to another ex-army man, Amram Mitzna, the dovish mayor of Haifa, who last week declared his candidacy for the Labor leadership primary scheduled for November.

The response, even before he formally tossed his hat in the ring, has been immediate and stunning. The latest polls put him way ahead of his rivals, the incumbent Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and former Interior Minister Haim Ramon.

It is not merely Mitzna’s novelty that appeals to a left seeking to reconcile its commitment to a two-state solution with the grim daily reality of Palestinian terror. He is tough on security, but still looking for the kind of pragmatic deal Ehud Barak failed to sell to Yasser Arafat at Camp David two summers ago. He has talked about ceding 90 percent of the West Bank to Palestinian rule.

In an interview with this reporter, Mitzna insisted on confronting Israelis with the truth, as he sees it. "The situation today has brought fear and terror to everybody’s doorstep," he said. "I hope people understand that to change it, we must take very painful steps. There is no way to solve the problem by using military power."

What, then, would he offer? "First, I want to reopen negotiations with the Palestinians without conditions. If that doesn’t work, I would go to unilateral withdrawal and build a fence between us and them, on the West Bank and around Jerusalem. The line will be determined by Israel’s security interest."

Where would that leave the Jewish settlements? "On the West Bank, no Jewish settlements would remain east of the line. That will make it easier to defend Israel proper. I’m talking about evacuating 50 to 100 settlements. In Gaza, I would withdraw completely behind the existing fence. That means evacuating all 16 settlements."

Did he think he could sell that to the Israeli public? "Polls show that more than 60 percent of Israelis understand that we will have to withdraw from most of the West Bank and Gaza. Withdrawal would bring greater security and a chance to rebuild our economy. We would continue to fight terrorism, and protect ourselves from a better position."

What about Jerusalem, one of the key issues on which Barak’s effort broke down? "I am open to special arrangements in Jerusalem," Mitzna said. "Jewish neighborhoods could come under Israeli control, Arab neighborhoods, under Palestinian control. The Old City could be under some kind of international authority, with Muslim holy places under Palestinian responsibility and Jewish holy places under Israeli responsibility."

Mitzna took care to skirt the issue of sovereignty in the disputed city. But, again, did he think the Israeli public would buy his solution? "I know it’s very difficult," he admitted, "but at Camp David it was brought to the attention of the Israeli people, and they started to think about it. We will try to persuade them that we cannot go on like this. The current situation is ruining Israeli society."

Mitzna’s Labor Zionist pedigree is impeccable. He was born in 1945 on Kibbutz Dovrat and studied at an elite military boarding school. He served in four of Israel’s wars, winning the Medal of Honor and the chief of staff’s commendation. He began growing his trademark black (now salt and pepper) beard after being wounded in the 1967 war.

As commander of the IDF staff college during the 1982 Lebanon war, he threatened to resign after accusing then Defense Minister Sharon of ignoring government decisions and trying to provoke Syria into combat. After tours as chief of central command (in the first intifada) and head of operations in the general staff, he retired and entered politics as mayor of "red Haifa," the last of the historic Labor strongholds. He is married with two sons and one daughter, plus a recently born grandson.

Within days of floating his candidacy, Mitzna surged into the lead, among both Labor members and voters in general, as the choice to head his party.

Asked by the mass-circulation Yediot Aharonot last weekend who should lead the Labor Party, 49 percent of all voters said Mitzna. Only 26 percent opted for Ben-Eliezer and a paltry 12 percent for Ramon. The Jerusalem weekly Yerushalayim polled Labor members. Mitzna won hands down, 41 percent to Ben-Eliezer’s 30 and Ramon’s 16.

At the same time, Sharon’s campaign promise of "peace with security" is ringing increasingly hollow. The Yediot survey found 57 percent feeling they could rely on him (a drop of 9 percent in the past month), and 63 percent seeing him as a credible prime minister (8 percent down). More significantly, 55 percent said Sharon had no diplomatic plan, while 60 percent were convinced that he and his government did not know how to eliminate terror.

Mitzna, however, still has to persuade thousands of swing voters that he is neither an impulsive Barak clone nor another nice-guy ex-general, like former Tourism Minister Amnon Shahak, who lacked the killer instinct to thrive in the raucous marketplace of Israeli politics.

Stepping Out


When 23-year-old Michal Gaon caught the No. 7 Egged Bus from Hadera to Givat Olga last November, a car bomb detonated nearby, causing severe burns and the loss of both legs.

Gaon is one of 1,890 Jews injured since the Al Aqsa Intifada began more than 13 months ago; another 191 have been killed in terrorist attacks in that period.

On Dec. 9, the Israel Emergency Solidarity Fund and One Family are staging a walk-a-thon in Los Angeles to aid the victims of terror in Israel. While the Los Angeles community has hosted many rallies that show support for people in Israel, this Sunday will be the first to raise funds to benefit the victims of terror.

“It is totally focused on the human element of directly connecting to these families [of victims]. Each walker holds in their hand a poster with a photograph of a victim, and that creates a bond and a purpose,” says Neil Thalheim, 43, founder of the Israel Emergency Solidarity Fund.

Thalheim, a businessman living in Great Neck, N.Y., started the fund in November 2000 in response to a terrorist attack that left 10 Israelis dead. The first event was an impromptu concert starring the Moshav Band which raised more than $30,000. Within days of the concert, Thalheim and his wife, Susan, boarded a plane to Israel to personally distribute the funds to 25 families affected by the attack.

“The fund came about because we felt a tremendous urge to help the terror victims in Israel, and we couldn’t find any other organization that was doing it,” Thalheim says. Recently, the Israel Emergency Solidarity Fund joined forces with One Family, an organization started by the Belzberg family in Jerusalem in response to the Sbarro bombing. The merged organization has many prominent names on its board, including Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, author Jonathan Kellerman and philanthropist and businessman Ronald Lauder.

The Los Angeles walk-a-thon is supported by more than 50 community organizations, including The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Organizers hope that more than 3,000 people will attend and that it will raise at least $250,000.

“Many people here in Los Angeles have loved ones who were hurt, or worse,” says Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. “The walk-a-thon is an apolitical event that enables people to find proactive and positive ways to fight the scourge of terrorism.”

Some 90 percent of the funds will be sent directly to the victims and their families, the rest toward administrative costs, Thalheim says. To ensure fair distribution, an oversight team of psychologists and social workers assess each family’s need and allocate funds accordingly. The organization also gives free legal and medical advice to the victims and provides emotional support through a team of volunteer social workers.

“We literally have a staff in place in Israel, that immediately upon the death of a terror victim, visits that home — typically in a matter of hours or days — visits the family, and assesses their needs. Then we make follow-up visits to these families, providing support and assistance to their financial needs,” Thalheim says.

Marc Belzberg, founder of One Family, adds, “We are in this just to do good and help people. Neither Neil nor myself are drawing salaries. None of us are in it for the ego; none of us are in it for glorification.”

The walk-a-thon will take place Dec. 9 at 9 a.m., and
will begin at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, at the corner of Pico Boulevard and
Roxbury Drive. To register, call (310) 772-8170, or log on to www.lawalk4israel.com .