Mother whose family endured bus bombing: Proceed with prisoner swap 'for Gilad's mom'

'There is nothing worse than not knowing where your child is.'

aviva schalit mother tent 248 88 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
aviva schalit mother tent 248 88 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Six years after her family endured the horror of a Jerusalem bus bombing, Ora Cohen said Saturday night that she could never say that a deal should not be pursued to get kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit back, if only for the sake of Schalit's mother, Aviva. Cohen, her husband and her five children were on the No. 2 bus when it exploded in Jerusalem in August 2003. Although they are still affected by wounds they suffered in the bombing, each of their lives was miraculously spared. And while thoughts of releasing terrorists like the one who attacked them fills Israelis, and the Cohens among them, with fear, the pain and suffering Ora endured when she lost sight of her five children immediately after the incident allows her to relate to the intolerable pain Schalit's mother must feel when the world knows little of his whereabouts. Her motherly instinct enables her to accept that Hamas terrorists need to be released so that Schalit can be reunited with his parents. "I feel completely torn," said Ora from her Jerusalem home. "My own family and many others among the Israeli people were robbed of our former lives by a suicide bomber who wanted to destroy us. Now though, more terrorists will be released if Gilad's mother is to be allowed to see her son again. As a mother, I felt deep pain for just a few hours after the explosion, when I did not know where my children were. I can't imagine the heartache Gilad's mother feels every minute of every day. As a mother who has felt just a small amount of that pain, I could never say that a deal should be not done if it meant getting Gilad back," she said. A month after she gave birth to the couple's fifth child in 2003, Ora Cohen and her husband Moshe celebrated their ninth anniversary by visiting the Western Wall with their children. "At the Western Wall plaza, I was so happy to see my children running, jumping, playing, laughing and eating happily," she recalled. However, when she stood before the Wall, her instinct told her something bad was going to happen. "I had a recurring dream that is very disturbing for me. I imagine that it is during the Holocaust and the Nazis come to Jewish houses and take the children away from their mothers. As the mothers run after their children, crying and screaming for them to be released, the Nazi officers stop and say to them: 'Choose just one of your children for yourself and the rest will stay with us.'" Ora feared that one day she would have to make that decision, but there is no mother who would choose to give up one of her children. Having visited the Western Wall, the Cohen family boarded the No. 2 bus. "I never saw such a crowded bus in my life," she said. The family fought to find seats in the middle of the bus, but as it was about to pull away, "a grossly large man, much fatter than you would expect a large person to be and dressed as a haredi, jammed his hands into the double doors of the bus and shoved them open," she explained. As she nursed her baby from a seat opposite the double doors and kept an eye on the other four kids, she looked over her right shoulder at the man who had entered the bus. When she turned her head back to face the front of the bus, her world turned black and she watched as her baby fell from her arms into the fire that consumed the floor of the bus during the explosion, her other children disappearing from sight. As the walls and ceiling of the vehicle collapsed, people started screaming and Ora said she heard a voice inside her head saying: "Mother, choose just one of your children." Ora cried out to God and begged Him never to put any Jewish mother through such pain. Once in the hospital, she was informed that three of her children were in the same hospital, and she was given a picture of her baby, who had miraculously been pulled out almost unscathed from under what was left of the bus. However, one of the Cohen children, Shira, was missing. "Even if a mother has 100 children, and only one is missing, she will not be consoled," said Cohen. "I continued to feel incomplete, exhausted and at a loss until I found out where Shira was." Eventually, the doctors brought Ora the shoes Shira had been wearing at the time of the explosion. They had washed away the blood from them, and did not immediately tell Shira's mother that her daughter had absorbed a significant amount of shrapnel into her face, particularly in her left eye. "Six years later and we still suffer greatly," said Ora. "Every day I look at my children and see their misery, we continue with more surgery and treatment to remove pieces of shrapnel. Our lives are a shadow of what we had before the bombing." But, she added, "all the pain and suffering combined is still nothing compared to the suffering I felt for those few hours after the explosion, when I did not know where my children were. There is nothing worse than not knowing where your child is. I can't imagine how Gilad's mother is coping at the moment."