When the bus 'gets a boo-boo'

The latest terror attack in Jerusalem brings back bad memories.

bulldozer terror 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
bulldozer terror 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
They're back. That was the first thought that went through my mind as news of the attack on Jerusalem's Jaffa Road pierced a somewhat slow news day, in Israeli terms. It was a very "Israeli" attack. Minutes after the bulldozer overturned the No. 13 and plowed into several private vehicles, killing three and wounding scores, the story broke and friends called each other, just checking that everyone was OK. In London's 7/7 attacks three years ago, residents of the British capital refused for hours to believe that the Underground and bus bombings were terror related - although Israelis straightaway realized buses don't explode by chance, at the same time as the train system is undergoing a "lethal power surge." Here we have a standard operating procedure for such an incident: phone a mental checklist of those possibly involved (which in this case included checking up on my dad) and those who'd want to be informed (Mum); turn on the television/radio for updates; consider the implications and logistical consequences (alternative routes for my father's journey home). When the London bombings took place, my immediate concern was for my two nephews who used King's Cross station every day. Global jihad being, well, global, the fears were the same even if the location was different. Probably the biggest difference is that Israelis have been the victims of so many terror attacks that, unlike my friends and family in England, we tend to assume the worst first. MY SON was born at the height of the "second intifada." The week I gave birth, I called my mum four times to check she hadn't been involved in an attack on her way to or from the hospital to visit me. The day of his brit, there were three terror attacks. That was September 9, 2001. The next day, the Durban parley - blaming Israel for just about all the world's evils - wrapped up. And the day after that, September 11, our troubles in Jerusalem seemed suddenly small by comparison. I felt for a long time like I was acting in some kind of surreal movie - Life is Beautiful transposed to my beautiful, holy city. When my son got excited at seeing lots of ambulances and police cars, I played along: "Let's count them," I'd say, while going through my list of who is meant to be where and when, because so many sirens could only mean one thing. I feared "pigua," a terror attack, would be his first word in Hebrew because his day-care giver turned on the radio one morning following a bus bombing which killed 19 people, and started calling her list of friends and relatives. It was the 70th suicide bombing within less than two years. At two-and-a-half, he glanced at the front-page picture of what remained of a bombed bus we frequently rode and said sadly: "Ooh, Mummy, the bus has got a boo-boo." I continue to try to protect him - physically and mentally, which is not easy when the bus you take to work is the No. 13 or the 18, which was blown up on Jaffa Road on two consecutive Sundays in 1996 ("Mum? Where are you? Are you OK? That's good.") But by time he was five, it was clear I needed to give my son a carefully censored version of the news as he listened into me phoning our friends in Sderot or friends in the North during Lebanon II. The last time I tried to hide something from him it backfired. On March 7, he ran out of school eager to tell me how the day before a "bad guy went into a yeshiva and killed lots of people but then along came a soldier and shot the baddie, twice, because that's what you do, Mum. I thought you'd want to know because you're a journalist." So I found myself not only in the strange situation of pretending that I hadn't heard of the Merkaz Harav yeshiva attack, but also telling him the Hebrew term "vidui hariga," verifying a killing. BY STRANGE coincidence, it turns out the soldier who shot dead the bulldozer driver on the terror spree down Jaffa Road, and made sure he was dead, was related to the officer who "knew what to do" in the yeshiva attack. In some ways, the July 2 Jaffa Road terror rampage was reminiscent of the yeshiva massacre - most obviously because of the fact that the terrorist came from an east Jerusalem neighborhood, worked in the city and traveled freely around it before carrying out his deadly deed. (Was there a mother in Sur Bahir carrying out an ugly mirror image of my checklist - Who could have carried out the attack? Who to call? What happens next?) In other ways it reminded me of the "old" - first intifada - attacks of the late 1980s-early '90s, when terrorists armed with knives set off on killing sprees in the center of town or the quiet Baka neighborhood. Or when a terrorist grabbed the wheel of the 405 bus, overturning it in a ravine on the road to Jerusalem, taking at least 14 lives. I spoke to someone involved in treating the terrorist at a Jerusalem hospital after one such attack. In those days it was considered better to try to grab the terrorist alive so that he could be interrogated and hopefully lead to the head of the terror cell. Of course in those days, too, we still naively believed that if the terrorist were put behind bars he would remain there - not be released in some kind of "gesture of goodwill" or exchange deal following even more attacks. "He seemed on such a high when we got him to the hospital it was decided to test him for drugs," the nurse said. An eyewitness involved in last week's attack repeatedly described the bulldozer driver as being in "atraf," crazed. It was the same word the nurse had used 18 years ago. A New York Times story on the October 1990 Baka stabbings, in which an unarmed woman soldier, a gardener and an off-duty policeman who rushed to help were killed, read: "MIDEAST TENSIONS; Palestinian Stabs 3 Israelis Dead; Revenge for Mosque Melee Is Seen". Omar Abu Sirhan - "Mr. Abu Sirhan" in politically-correct New York newspeak - was a 19-year-old plasterer who left home carrying a 15-inch commando knife. What was the excuse of last week's killer? And who could have predicted it? Or prepared for it? Iris Azulai, the young soldier slain as she left her home in Baka, had been a pupil at my son's elementary school. Her name is read out on Remembrance Day with that of other young victims of terror who attended the school. Her nephew, Lior Azulai, was killed in February 2004 as he traveled on the bus that got "the boo-boo." I do my best to physically protect my son, but it's hard to protect him from these ugly truths, so close to home. All I can do is pray to God; get on with life; and call on colleagues in the world media to recall 9/11 and 7/7 and not look for excuses for the terrorists' actions. Terror might be explicable. It's never excusable.