The sirens that followed said it all

What initially sounded like thunder brings a rainy Jerusalem back to more terrible times.

Jerusalem bus bomb_311 (r) (photo credit: REUTERS)
Jerusalem bus bomb_311 (r)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Jerusalem echoed Wednesday afternoon with a noise, once common in the capital’s streets, that many residents mistook initially for a lone clap of thunder on a day of intermittent rain. But within minutes, when the thunder was followed by what became a steady drone of sirens, Jerusalemites quickly remembered that sometimes thunder can be the sound of a bomb.
The explosion at a busy bus stop quickly led to chaos on the main thoroughfare leading in and out of the city, at the point where it passes between the Central Bus Station and the Jerusalem International Conference Center, known as Binyanei Ha’uma. The wide roadway filled with ambulances, pedestrians, curious and frightened bystanders, and dazed victims of the attack, who wandered in the initial minutes after the blast with bloodied clothes, searching for help.
Police and Border Police forces soon followed, attempting to cordon off the area, pushing away the most brazen bystanders, spreading police tape and clearing the way for rescue vehicles.
Some members of the Border Police were at best high school students the last time a Jerusalem bus turned into a nightmare – and more than one veteran observer on the scene noted that police seemed “out of practice” in dealing with the incident.
At the center of the turmoil, one of Egged’s newest articulated-buses was still stopped at the station. The back section seemed intact, unscathed, ready to continue its route. But the front of the bus, the part closest to the phone booth where the bomb went off, told a different story. Windows were blown out and metal was twisted. On the sidewalk between the vehicle and the bus stop, hidden from the view of passers-by, shattered glass and metal shrapnel was scattered alongside blood on the pavement.
As officials made their way to the scene and stood in the center of the road to deliver statements to reporters, a large crowd of haredi men, pushed to the sidelines, began to advance toward the limits of the police cordon. In an impromptu demonstration, the crowd first chanted “We don’t want to live with Arabs” and then switched to “Death to Arabs,” a call that within minutes subsided into a tense silence, broken by applause for National Union MK Michael Ben-Ari, who appeared on the scene and called for a tough response to terror attacks.
“What should I do if I can’t find someone?” a harried-looking man asked the nearest Border Police officer, who had stopped him at the cordon. Nearby, a concerned woman, face blotched, attempted over and over to make a cellphone call. Ambulances cleared the most critically wounded from the scene, and emergency workers eventually milled about.
Jerusalem, in just a few minutes, had returned to an uneasy routine. The once-familiar pattern – the bomb, the destruction, the pain and the disorder, all absent from the capital for years – had returned with one burst of thunder on a rainy day.