London’s Jews Carry on After Blasts

Rabbi Barry Marcus spent many years living in Israel, but he never came as close to a terrorist atrocity as he did in London this month.

Marcus, the rabbi of the Central Synagogue on Great Portland Street, was cycling across Tavistock Square on the morning of July 7, when he heard and felt “an incredible blast.” Just yards away, a bomb on the No. 30 bus had exploded.

“I saw the roof of the bus go up in a plume of white smoke, and all the windows of the building nearby go through,” said the South African-born Marcus, who holds the Israel portfolio in Orthodox Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ Cabinet. “I knew in my gut it was a bomb.”

The tranquil Central London square — a place devoted to peace, with a Holocaust memorial standing near a statue of Mahatma Gandhi and a cherry tree from Hiroshima — had turned into a vision of hell strewn with broken glass and body parts. Blood was splashed high up against the wall of the nearby headquarters of the British Medical Association.

“There was an incredible amount of glass and massive lumps of human flesh all over the place,” Marcus recalled. “People were almost glued to the back part of the bus, the seats in front blown into their chest cavities. There was absolute mayhem.”

“In my mind,” he continued, “I saw all the images of Israeli buses blown up and thought, ‘It is now here. The barbarians are now at our gates.'”

With most of the United Kingdom’s 290,000 Jews living in London, it was with a sense of inevitability that the community awaited details of possible Jewish casualties, as missing commuters were listed and fatality totals were announced. More than 50 people are known to have died and the number of deaths is expected to rise.

The first Jewish death officially confirmed was Susan Levy, 53, a mother of two from Hertfordshire, who was killed on her way to work in the subway train explosion near King’s Cross.

“We are all distraught at her needless loss, and our thoughts and prayers are also with the many other families affected by this horrendous tragedy,” said her husband, Harry, a taxi driver, who described Levy as a “much-loved wife and mother.”

Other Jewish families face an agonizing wait. Miriam Hyman, 32, a freelance photo editor, called her father, John, from King’s Cross Station at 9:45 a.m. Thursday to say she was all right. That was the last anyone has heard from her. After a fruitless search of London’s hospitals, “we are just waiting,” Hyman’s mother, Mavis, told JTA.

Hyman, from Hampstead Garden in North London, was traveling to work at Canary Wharf. It was typical of her character, her mother said, that the attacks didn’t deter her.

“She phoned work to say she was going to be late,” Hyman’s mother said. “She was still obviously determined to get in. I think she didn’t understand the seriousness of what was going on.”

The family of Anat Rosenberg, a 39-year-old Israeli, arrived in England Monday morning, as hope faded of finding her alive.

The children’s charity worker had been a passenger on the doomed No. 30 bus. Rosenberg’s British partner, John Falding, said he had been on the phone with her, talking about the travel chaos, when he heard “horrendous screams.”

Ironically, Rosenberg had moved to England nearly two decades ago, partly due to her fear of terrorist attacks in Israel.

As the full horror of the London bombings began to sink in, Great Britain’s Jewish community remains all too aware that the danger is far from over. However, synagogues were filled to capacity across London on Shabbat, just one day after the bombings, as Jews of all levels of observance flocked to shul to gain comfort.

“People do certainly come out in the face of tragedy to search for meaning,” said Rabbi Yitzak Schochet of the Mill Hill United Synagogue, who pointed out that the experience of terror is nothing new for many Jews.

“A lot of us have visited Israel countless times and lived in this sort of traumatic situation, even if only for a couple of weeks,” he said. “It’s not that we have been desensitized, but we can be defiant in the face of it.”


Israel, Palestinians Coordinate Withdrawal

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon conceived the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank as a unilateral step, but it’s increasingly being coordinated by Israeli and Palestinian negotiators.

The two sides are working on joint military plans to stop Palestinian terrorists from firing on Israeli soldiers and civilians during the pullback, slated to begin in mid-August. They also are putting together a string of ambitious economic projects to provide incentives for the Palestinians to keep the peace long after the withdrawal is complete.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s lightning-quick visit to Ramallah and Jerusalem over the weekend was part of a concerted American effort to encourage coordination, and Sharon’s meeting Tuesday with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas also focused, at least in part, on the coordination effort.

In the two-and-a-half hour meeting, Sharon and Abbas discussed a number of key coordination issues, including deployment of P.A. police during the evacuation, arrangements for control of the “Philadelphia route” on the border between Gaza and Egypt, administration of border-crossing points between Gaza and Israel and demolition of evacuated settler homes.

Sharon also agreed to transfer the West Bank cities of Kalkilya and Bethlehem to P.A. control within the next two weeks.

But Sharon’s main message to Abbas was that Israeli-Palestinian military and civilian coordination will have little credibility unless the Palestinian Authority starts making good on its pledges to crack down on terrorism.

Israel claims there has been an increase in attacks by groups like Islamic Jihad over the past few days, and that the Palestinian Authority is doing very little to stop it.

On Monday night, Israeli forces arrested more than 50 Islamic Jihad activists after the group claimed responsibility for killing two Israelis in recent days. The message was clear: If the Palestinian Authority doesn’t take action, Israel will.

In her visit to the area, Rice met separately with Palestinian and Israeli leaders and emphasized to both sides the importance the United States attaches to coordinating the withdrawal. She left no doubt that the Americans see a coordinated, relatively peaceful pullback as the key to creating a favorable climate for renewed peace talks.

Coordination is “absolutely critical,” Rice said.

The military coordination talks are going ahead on three levels: ministerial, top brass and officers in the field.

To strengthen the Palestinian Authority’s prestige and policing capacity, Israeli negotiators, headed by Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and Maj. Gen. Moshe Kaplinski, the army’s deputy chief of staff, are proposing:


• Handing over more West Bank cities, such as Jenin and Ramallah, to P.A. control before the withdrawal from Gaza. The Israeli side, though, insists that the Palestinian Authority first fulfill promises to disarm terrorists on Israel’s wanted list.


• Transferring P.A. police from the West Bank to Gaza to beef up their presence in key areas.


• Setting up joint Israeli-Palestinian operations rooms to coordinate movement of forces on the ground before, during and after the withdrawal.

The Israeli side has provided maps of the settlements and asked the Palestinians to come back with a detailed security plan that would dovetail with Israel’s overall blueprint for protecting the withdrawal.

But some Israeli leaders are skeptical. Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu argues that because Israel is not demanding anything from the Palestinians in return for the withdrawal, members of terrorist groups have no motivation to keep the peace.

On the contrary, he says, apart from any agreement Israel reaches with the Palestinian Authority, terrorists almost certainly will fire on the departing troops because they want to create the impression that Israel is being forced to leave.

The civilian coordination talks aim to provide incentives for a more enduring commitment to peace. At least five major projects are under consideration:


• A rail link between the Gaza Strip and West Bank.


• Completing construction of a seaport in Gaza.


• Reopening the Gaza airport.


• Streamlining border crossing points between Gaza and Israel.


• A massive housing project for Palestinian refugee resettlement.

In early June talks with the Palestinians, Israeli Cabinet minister Haim Ramon proposed a rail line from Erez on the Gaza border to Tarkumiya, near the West Bank city of Hebron.

“The idea is to show the Palestinians that the planned withdrawal is not a case of ‘Gaza first and last,’ as many of them fear, but rather that it is a first step leading to a full-fledged, unified Palestinian state incorporating both Gaza and the West Bank,” Ramon said.

Even more important for the “economics of peace” are the border crossing points between Gaza and Israel. Israeli officials admit that the way the crossing points operate at present could stifle Palestinian economic development by holding up the transport of goods to ports in Israel for export.

To solve the problem, the Defense Ministry has drawn up plans for rapid, high-tech security checks, and the World Bank has agreed in principle to help meet the cost of building a pilot, state-of-the art crossing point.

Another key issue on the civilian agenda is the fate of evacuated settler homes. Israeli and Palestinian negotiators agreed to demolish the houses after the Palestinians said they don’t want them — because what they need in densely populated Gaza are high-rise buildings, not villas.

According to the agreement, Israel will destroy the homes but the Palestinians will remove the debris and use it in the construction of the Gaza seaport.

Another Israeli proposal, that the international community help finance a major high-rise housing project in the evacuated area for the resettlement of Palestinian refugees, also is under consideration.

American economic envoy James Wolfensohn, who until recently was president of the World Bank, is reportedly trying to raise $3 billion for Gaza rehabilitation projects.

“The hope is that if they materialize, these projects will provide work for thousands of Palestinians and help stabilize the security situation,” a senior Israeli official told JTA.

Such actions amount to conflict management, Menachem Klein, a political scientist at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University, told a hearing Tuesday on Capitol Hill in Washington. What the United States needs to advance to is conflict prevention, he said, by producing a breakthrough between the sides that would help placate Israeli fears of renewed violence and Palestinian fears that Sharon wants to squeeze them out of a state.

Currently, “the U.S. strategy is to help Mahmoud Abbas to survive — not succeed, but survive,” Klein said. “In my view, conflict management is not enough because we face the renewal of the intifada.”

With the evacuation less than two months away, finalizing these ambitious coordination plans will be a race against both the clock and Palestinian militiamen. Indeed, the degree of coordination could decide the immediate future of Israeli-Palestinian relations: whether or not the ongoing violence finally gives way to economic cooperation and the beginning of a credible peace process.

JTA Washington Bureau Chief Ron Kampeas contributed to this report.

Leslie Susser is the diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem Report.