JERUSALEM -- The Sbarro restaurant on Ben Yehuda Street today looks like any other. To be sure, a security guard sits out front and examines all who enter. But most restaurants in Jerusalem employ security guards. There is no formal recognition or plaque for the events of August 9, 2001. On that day, a Palestinian Hamas member carrying a guitar case filled with explosives and nails detonated his bomb in the restaurant and killed 15 people, including seven children, and wounded more than 130.
There are bad apples in every group, right? Yes, but. Israel has spawned its own terrorists. There was Eden Natan-Zada, a 19-year-old Israel Defense Forces (IDF) deserter and convert to the teachings of an extremist Jewish American called Meir Kahane. In 2005 he shot and killed four Palestinians on a public bus, wounding 13 more. In 1994, Baruch Goldstein entered a West Bank mosque and murdered 30 Palestinians at prayer. And in 1982, Alan Goodman fired at Palestinians at the Al-Aqsa mosque, killing two.
There is a tiny extremist element in Israel (which includes former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's murderer) that endorses violence. But the response of the overwhelming majority of Israelis to these atrocities was horror, condemnation and guilt. Typical was then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's response to the Natan-Zada case. He called it "a despicable act by a bloodthirsty terrorist who sought to attack innocent Israeli citizens." The Israeli citizens in question were the Arabs who lost their lives. The IDF declined to give Natan-Zada a military funeral (he was killed by Palestinians immediately after the murders), and every leading newspaper in the country denounced him. It was the same with the earlier Jewish terrorists (who, one cannot escape noticing, can be counted on one hand).
Things are different in the Palestinian territories. Because it happened around the time of the September 11 attacks on the U.S., many in this country missed the sequel to the Sbarro story. A month after the bombing, an exhibit opened at An-Najah University in the West Bank town of Nablus. It was a model of the post-attack Sbarro restaurant complete with the "Kosher" sign on the front awning, with blood, pizza slices and (fake) body parts strewn about. Students filed through to bask in the memories. The terrorist who committed the act (like those who have committed thousands of other attacks on Israeli civilians) was lionized, labeled a "shaheed" (martyr) and held up as a model for children to emulate.
Things have quieted down since the erection of the security fence. The number of successful attacks has been reduced by 90 percent -- though the world (from the International Court of Justice to so-called human rights groups) has clucked its disapproval. Israelis are no longer living with the kind of gnawing daily anxiety they suffered between 2000 (when Arafat rejected 95 percent of the West Bank and launched the second intifada) and 2004. Not that life is normal. The first gift Israeli parents give their children continues to be a cell phone.
Last summer's war with Hezbollah has left fresh scars, both physical and psychological. It was the first war Israel failed to win decisively. The corruption in high places (not unrelated to the unsuccessful war) has contributed to low morale. Perhaps the best one can say is that life is more livable than in the very recent past -- as well as more compatible with tourism.
And there is so very much to see. The Roman city at Caesarea can hardly be called a ruin. The baths are in such excellent condition that you can admire the mosaic floors and the smooth marble decorations. The amphitheater remains in use. Go for a hike in the nature reserve called Tel Dan and come upon the remains of the ancient city of Laish, mentioned in the Bible and dating back to 2700 BC. The Nimrod Crusader fortress in the Golan sits perched near Mount Hermon against the sheer cliffs. How could they have built it in such a place? And how has it withstood the intervening centuries in such amazing condition?
Israel is a spectacular little jewel suffering from too much news.
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