My friend David, an American Jew in his mid-twenties, was shopping for fruit at the Mahane Yehuda marketplace in Jerusalem at approximately 1 p.m., July 30. Standing next to a watermelon stand, he realized he forgot his wallet. As he turned to go home, the first bomb exploded, sending watermelon pieces and body parts flying over his head.
Two Arab suicide bombers, each carrying a briefcase containing 10 kilograms of explosives and standing at opposite ends of a crowded alley, killed 15 people and injured 170 in the terrorist bombings.
Thrown to the ground, David immediately jumped up and began hauling the injured from the bloody scene. An hour later, at about the time I showed up at Mahane Yehuda, David returned to his home in virtual shock. He still refuses to discuss the matter. It is just too painful.
Standing on a rooftop overlooking the bloody mess, I took photographs of an ambulance crew removing a body from underneath a vegetable stand. By now, hundreds were assisting the rescue effort, placing the wounded on stretchers and heading for the fleet of ambulances. Fist fights were breaking out everywhere as tense crowds pressed police lines to catch a gory glimpse.
I suddenly got bumped from behind by an Orthodox rabbi. Wearing fluorescent vests, a whole team of rabbis appeared and began filling a clear plastic bag with body parts that had been launched from the street below, collecting them for burial.
Immediately after the bombing, the Middle East News Service contacted Palestinian media sources in Gaza and Jericho. The agency’s request was simple: What is Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat saying to his own people about the bombing?
During its 2 p.m. report, the Palestine Broadcasting Corporation, the official PLO radio station, reported an “operation” in Jerusalem. The station continued to report it as such throughout the day. Arafat phoned the Israeli Prime Minister with condolences, regrets and condemnation. In Jericho two hours after the attack, the Arab media asked Arafat for a direct comment in Arabic. The PBC waited for his response. Not a word.
“He said nothing,” Prime Minister Netanyahu’s director of communications, David Bar Illan told the Middle East News Service on Aug. 3. “Arafat still has not condemned the bombings in Arabic. He hasn’t even spoken out against these terrorists. He condones it only in English, only to foreign correspondents and in condolence calls.”
Said Bar Illan: “Arafat has yet to do what (Israeli) President Ezer Weisman asked of him – to say to his own people that `the armed struggle is over. We have chosen the path of peace’.”
Despite the appeal of Israel Chief Rabbi Meir Lau to the Moslem world to repudiate the violence, no Middle East based Moslem authority has condemned the attack.
In covering the bombings, the Palestinian Arab papers headlined Arafat’s condemnation of the Israeli government for declaring “war against the Palestinian people” by sealing the borders and continuing settlement building.
The PA Minister of Information’s statement, placing the onus for the attack on Israel, was circulated on Capitol Hill the day after the bombing by Rep. James Saxton (R-N.J.).
“Arafat is not saying much, which is not normal,” said Ghassan Khatib, director of the Jerusalem Media Communications Center and a liaison to the PA from Jerusalem. “He is very cautious in speaking, perhaps fearing that he’s under attack.”
Last week, Arafat went to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan’s King Hussein to enlist their stinging condemnations of Israel for the closure.
According to Ghassan, this closure is the strictest ever. Besides blocking the border with Israel proper, Netanyahu has sealed off Palestinian cities and, for the first time, closed the bridges between Jordan and the West Bank. Israel also has denied movement to most Palestinian VIP passport holders and attempted to jam the PBC for alleged incitement to violence. The Knesset, including the left wing Labor and Meretz parties, are not objecting to Netanyahu’s response. Labor Party leader Ehud Barak directed a moratorium on his party’s criticism of Netanyahu’s security actions. Former Tel Aviv mayor Shlomo Lahat, head of the pro-Oslo Council of Peace and Security, has sent an ultimatum to Arafat linking the renewal of talks with Arafat’s stepped up fight against terrorism.
Gauging the Palestinian official reaction to the attack, the Middle East News Service visited Orient House, the PLO’s headquarters in East Jerusalem. Officials there denounced the violence. However, they issued no memo, statement or press release to the Palestinian public. On the contrary, Orient House officials blamed the attack on Israel.
“This is the result of people’s frustrations with Israeli government policies,” said Adnan Jalani, foreign press coordinator at Orient House.
While Netanyahu has called on Arafat to destroy the Palestinian terrorist infrastructure, Jalani claimed that Arafat has done enough to combat terrorism.
“If Arafat recognizes Israel’s right to build settlements in the West Bank and also cracks down on whoever opposes these settlements, then Arafat is just becoming another Israeli policemen.” Jalani said. “Arafat is not an Israeli policemen.”
Although the PA has arrested scores of terrorist suspects, Bar Illan declared that Arafat must move to destroy the terrorist infrastructure. “Nothing has changed. If anything, it’s gotten worse,” said Bar Illan. After the March 1996 suicide bombings, Bar Illan said, the PA arrested hundreds of suspects, some of whom admitted involvement in terrorist attacks. The PA has released the vast majority, he noted.
Jalani maintained that: “Arafat did not put them in jail for a reason. They were put in jail because Israel wanted them to be put in jail. For how long can he keep them in jail without evidence of them being guilty?” With negotiations frozen, Jalani threatened that: “If there is no progress in the peace process, then similar explosions are going to happen in the future.”
At Mahane Yehuda marketplace, the typically robust atmosphere was eerily quiet and introspective the day after the bombings. Tempers flared as merchants cleaned up the debris and makeshift memorials were set up at the murder sights, along with funeral notices.
Israel’s defense minister Yitzhak Mordechai surveyed the bomb scene that afternoon, facing a swarm of journalists and angry merchants. “Kill the murderers, kill them all!” roared an Orthodox butcher, whose poultry stand was riddled by the blasts and whose brother was hospitalized.
Mordechai assured the butcher swift justice, but there was no appeasing this man. Moments earlier, a police officer held the butcher back as he shouted down a teenaged girl. The girl was merely photographing the wreckage of a scooter, used by an elderly bomb victim to carry fruits and vegetables, now covered with memorial candles. She ran away crying.
(David Bedein, senior media research analyst at Beit Agron International Press Center, contributed to this story.)