By Ariel Natan Pasko

One of the most horrendous bus bombings that Israel has ever seen just occurred recently in Jerusalem. Jews were returning from evening prayers at their most holy site, the Western Wall of the Temple Mount. Twenty-one people were murdered, including seven children; over 130 were injured, including 40 children. That's two-year-olds, and three-year-olds, and six-year-olds, and nine-year-olds, and 11-year-olds. Of the children uprooted from their families and life, one was only three-months-old, another was only 11-months-old, and one lived to the ripe old age of three. Pure souls returned to their maker intact. A one-month-old infant and an 18-month-old baby girl were among the wounded. Who can fathom the depths of evil that perpetrated this, truly man's inhumanity to man?

This murder-suicide bombing - joint credit was enthusiastically claimed by both Hamas and Islamic Jihad - took place when officially there was a "hudna" - cease-fire - that both groups had agreed to with the Palestinian Authority. The last bus bombing in Jerusalem, two weeks before the hudna started, killed 17 people.

In fact, since the hudna "started", 28 people have been killed and over 160 injured. There have been 210 shooting attacks in Judea, Samaria - the West Bank - and Gaza. During the 49 days that the hudna had been in effect, before the bus bombing, there were no fewer than 180 terrorist attacks, and 40 others that were stopped in time by Israeli security forces. The security forces arrested 19 would-be terrorist bombers since the PA's unilateral hudna - cease-fire - that began on June 30th, 2003.

An Israel Defense Force spokesperson announced - two days after the Jerusalem attack - that a suicide bombing in Haifa was thwarted the same day as the bus bombing in Jerusalem. The would-be suicide terrorist - who was only 16-years-old - was arrested only a few hours before the planned detonation. He had already made his "goodbye" video. The three Islamic Jihad members planning to carry out the attack were arrested near Araba -southwest of Jenin - and a 10 kg explosive device was seized. Some cease-fire huh? I'm not sure I see the difference, do you?

After the bus bombing, the Israeli government decided to halt contacts with the PA "temporarily" and begin military operations in Jenin, Nablus (Shechem), Tulkarm, Ramallah, etc. They went looking for more wanted terrorists, arms depots, and bomb factories. No sooner did Israel's mini-security cabinet decide that leading terrorist figures were fair game again, Israel Air Force attack helicopters shot five rockets at the car of one of the most murderous terrorists of all - Ismail Abu Shanab. Killing him as well as his two bodyguards. Abu Shanab was a senior Hamas terrorist who was in close contact with Hamas leader, Sheik Ahmed Yassin and acted as deputy Hamas leader when he was abroad. Abu Shanab, in his position as one of the Hamas leaders, was responsible for policy decisions, directing and approving terrorist attacks. Top Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists are reported to be running scared and have gone underground, for fear of Israel's long arm of justice.

Predictably, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Fatah related Al-Aksa Martyrs Brigades - Arafat and Abbas' group - announced that the cease-fire was off; it was supposed to last three months, till September 30th. It's not much of a threat. I hadn't noticed it was on.

Hamas "spiritual" leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin said his organization would take revenge for the assassination. "This [assassination] crosses all red lines," Yassin said. Addressing the Israelis, he said,"You will pay the price for these crimes." Following the strike, senior Hamas official Ismail Abu Haniyah called on PA Prime Minister Abbas to resign and leave the Palestinian territories if he wanted to end the intifada or wished to extend the temporary cease-fire. "The assassination of Abu Shanab... means that the Zionist enemy has assassinated the truce, and the Hamas movement holds the Zionist enemy fully responsible for the consequences of its crime. We consider ourselves no longer bound by this cease-fire," Abu Haniyah told reporters in Gaza.

It's almost laughable, their threats, as if they hadn't been doing all they could to kill Jews till now. It reminds me of the failed Israeli attack on Abdel Aziz Rantisi back in June, where speaking from his hospital bed after the attack, Rantisi - political head of Hamas - threatened revenge, "We will continue with our holy war and resistance until every last criminal Zionist is evicted from this land. By G-d we will not leave one Jew alive in Palestine. We will fight them with all the strength we have. This is our land, not the Jews," he told the Arab TV satellite station Al-Jazeera.

Just after that incident, I had to pay a "Shiva" call - a condolence visit after someone dies - for thank G-D, someone who died of old age. Speaking to one of the mourners - I wanted to try and cheer him up - I said, "I have two jokes to tell you, I heard today". In my most deadpan delivery I said, "First, I heard Rantisi threatened, that now no one is immune, Hamas will target every man, woman, and child in Israel". I stared at him waiting, and then he got it. A smile started to break across his face. I joked, "As if they weren't already trying to kill everyone, with their indiscriminant suicide bombings? Gee, I'm scared now!" He agreed.

"The second joke," I said, "is that I heard on the radio that one of the top Hamas officials was on a live telephone interview with Al-Jazeera TV, when he heard something outside, the sound of helicopters in the distance. He immediately told the reporter, 'I am sorry, this interview is over, I have to go now'. Click went the phone."

I told him, "The good news is that all the top Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists are reported to have gone into hiding. They're all running like rats. Those so-called "holy warriors" who send off others to murder and die, they're terrified." That cheered him up, and it should cheer us all up. Imagine what Israel could accomplish against the terrorists and their infrastructure, if it only kept up a sustained offensive? Think about it.

It's not only Hamas and Islamic Jihad who are frightened but still indignant. When PA Prime Minister Abbas heard of the "targeted killing" of Abu Shanab, he condemned the assassination. "There is no doubt that what the Israeli troops carried out today is an ugly crime," said Abbas from outside his office in Ramallah. "We condemn such acts. This is against peace and the peace process." He said the same thing after the failed Rantisi strike. Abbas's office said in a statement issued then,"Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas condemned the criminal and terrorist Israeli attack today." Notice that killing terrorists is now "criminal", although Abbas himself committed the PA to fight the terrorists and uproot them, in the roadmap.

PA Prime Minister Abbas, it was reported, telephoned Hamas leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin to express his condolences over the death of Abu Shanab. The Palestine Media Center - an official arm of the PA - reported that about 150,000 people in Gaza attended Abu Shanab's funeral. Earlier, it had been reported that fireworks celebrations were set off over the Arab part of Hebron and Palestinian radio stations began broadcasting upbeat, happy music when news of the bus bombing reached them. Who said that Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror against Jews doesn't have popular support amongst the Palestinians?

Raed Abdel-Hamid Mesk - the bomber - was a 29-year-old teacher and prayer leader, the father of two. His wife was five months pregnant with their third child. He was finishing his master's degree at A-Najah University in Nablus (Shechem). Again, disproving the model promoted by pro-Palestinian propaganda and repeated ad nauseum in the media. It is not only single, desperate, impoverished, or troubled young Arab men who are killing Jews, but women from "good" families - one was almost a medical student - and happily married men with jobs and families as well. After the bombing an Israeli journalist went to his hometown, Hebron. During all the interviews not one single person expressed sympathy for the victims of the bombing or their families.

Nabil Mesk, Raed's first cousin was supportive of him, "It was his decision. He was a faithful Muslim who taught the Koran and knew it by heart; he knew what a sin was and what was not." When the journalist asked, if they were shocked by the enormity of such a bloody attack on civilians, Nabil casually denied that those killed were civilians. "In Israel, people are soldiers from the age of one to 100."

At the Polytechnic technical college (where they learn to make bombs?) none of the students interviewed, admitted that Israel was anything but 100 percent at fault for the escalating violence. Information technology major Ashraf Tamini didn't see anything wrong with the attack. He also was not convinced that the victims were all civilians. "In Israel, plenty of people carry guns. How can we tell who is in the army and who is not," he said. I guess, he thinks that some 50-odd children including one, three, and 11-month-olds, were going to terrorist summer camp, like his friends' little brothers.

But on a better note...

Most of the passengers on the bus were religious Jews, returning from prayers as I said before. There hasn't been such a high concentration of religious Jews killed in a bombing before. But they usually are at the scene, involved in the aftermath of these atrocities anyway. See, most of the volunteers of ZAKA - the emergency service and victim identification organization - are religious Jews as well. ZAKA responds to terrorist attacks, car accidents and the like. Their volunteers search for body parts and human remains at every terror attack, regardless of who is killed and injured, ensuring burial for all human remains in complete accordance with Jewish law. ZAKA also deals with non-Jewish victims of terror attacks, helping to accommodate other religious customs when necessary.

There has been a huge outpouring of love and support for the victims of the bus bombing within the religious community in Israel. Even Israeli television and newspapers has given it unusual coverage. The next day after the attack, Israeli television showed scenes of people returning to the place of the bombing, thousands, reciting Tehilim - Psalms - and praying for the well being of the injured and all the Jews in Israel. The injured and their families, who were interviewed on television at the hospital that night and the next day, exuded a strong faith in G-D, expressing trust in the way He runs the world, thanking the security and rescue services, and praying for the full recovery of all involved.

When asked by reporters how they felt about the fact that it was a busload of believing Jews who were killed this time [as opposed to Russian immigrant teenagers at a disco, or more secular Israelis out shopping in Tel-Aviv or Haifa] everyone without exception answered that there is no difference between Jews and prayed that G-D should help them all. Such an outpouring of spirituality and love in the midst of tragedy, I'm sure, was a refreshing relief to "Joe Israeli TV viewer", glued to his set, as many people are during these trying times. Life in Israel goes on, beyond the politics, murder and mayhem all around. In the end, people are just trying to live normal lives; Jews in their redeemed ancient homeland. Nothing will change that. So, again I challenge Hamas defiantly, "Gee, I'm scared now!"


Ariel Natan Pasko is an independent analyst & consultant. He has a Master's Degree in International Relations & Policy Analysis. His articles appear regularly on numerous news/views and think-tank websites, in newspapers, and can be read at:

(c) 2003/5763 Pasko

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