Jerusalem — Smadar Elchanan was only a baby when she became a poster child for the peace movement.
Her photograph appeared in a 1984 flier that called for peace with the Arabs so that the children of Israel might enjoy a better future. The brief message on the flier mused about what life in Israel would be like when Smadar reached the age of 15.
Who would have guessed that she wouldn’t make it?
Smadar Elchanan was killed by an Islamic suicide bomber 10 days ago as she went shopping for a birthday present on Jerusalem’s Ben Yehuda Street. She was just two weeks shy of her 14th birthday. And in death, as in life, she has become something of a symbol for Israel.
The girl’s truncated biography is weighted with irony. Her grandfather was the late Brig. Gen. Matti Peled, a hero of the Six-Day War of 1967, who was one of the first Israeli officials to talk with the Palestine Liberation Organization.
In deference to Peled, Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat sent a personal envoy to Smadar’s funeral last Sunday at a kibbutz in central Israel. That was shocking in itself, but then Smadar’s mother, Nurit Peled-Elchanan, issued the coup de grace when she made a startling accusation in a radio interview: “I hold the government of Israel responsible for the death of my daughter.”
On Friday, as she sat at a round kitchen table covered with offerings of cakes, cookies, and newspaper clippings about Smadar’s death, Nurit, 48, repeated her indictment of her country’s leadership:
“I really believe it is the fault of the Israeli government more than the terrorists. Israel is breeding terrorism by heaping these humiliations against the Palestinians. By behaving like conquerors, we’ve brought it on ourselves.”
Nurit said she had voiced her opinions to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who, as it happens, is a friend from childhood. He called to offer condolences. However, Smadar’s father, Rami Elchanan, was so angry that he refused to take Netanyahu’s telephone call.
The Peled-Elchanan family’s views are radical by Israeli standards, but they do reflect a growing despair over the state of the nation and the Netanyahu government. In a poll published Friday in the newspaper Ma’ariv, 72 percent of Israelis said that Netanyahu had no solution to the terror predicament. Asked how to describe the “national mood” today, 34 percent selected the answer “terrible” and 26 percent “not good.” (In contrast, only 5 percent chose “good.”)
Their frustrations were echoed Thursday by Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright. While she told the Palestinians they had to be “relentless” in combating terrorism, she asked Israel to stop responding with measures she said undermine the “partnership” required for peace. She left Israel on Friday, saying it was up to both sides to resume the peace process.
The apartment where Smadar grew up is in the leafy Jerusalem neighborhood of Rahavija. Inside is a comfortably disheveled home filled with houseplants and paintings. Instead of the standard death notice, the 1984 poster with Smadar’s baby picture is taped to the front door.
In Smadar’s tiny room, tacked to the walls between portraits sketched by an older brother, an artist, is a photograph of the funeral of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, architect of the 1993 peace accords with the Palestinians, and also a family friend.
Nurit Peled-Elchanan says her daughter was just becoming interested in politics, but still preferred the more conventional teenage passions of music and style. (“She tried to join the leftist youth movement, but it bored her to tears,” her mother said.) Smadar idolized John Lennon, Tom Waits and especially Sinead O’Connor, whom she emulated by shaving her own head and piercing her navel and nose.
“She liked to say, ‘Mom, I’m a bit freaky,’ but really she was quite a little girl and very feminine,” Nurit recalled. “She loved perfume. She loved to cook.”
Like others in the family, Smadar was heavily influenced by her famous grandfather, Gen. Peled. She was avidly studying Arabic in junior high school and prided herself on her views. She told her family recently about an incident on a public bus in Jerusalem when she yelled at an Israeli who was being rude to an Arab passenger.
A few days ago, when her mother, Nurit, was taking an early-morning walk, a Palestinian street-cleaner approached her to offer condolences following the bombings, which killed four other Israelis and the three suicide bombers.
“Your daughter would always say hello to me in the morning,” the street-cleaner told Nurit. He then added a personal note: “I know what it means to cry. I lost two brothers in the intifadah [Palestinian uprising].”
Not all of the Peled and Elchanan family is leftist. Smadar’s paternal grandfather, a Hungarian-born survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp, traditionally supported the conservative Likud Party and voted for Netanyahu in the 1996 election. He often argued about politics with Gen. Peled, who died of cancer in March 1995.
The general maintained that the creation of a Palestinian state was an absolute necessity for Israelis to live in peace. “He believed that only with two states, divided, would we be able to overcome our differences and that only after some years separation would there be real peace,” said Nelly Levy, one of Smadar’s aunts.
The general had strong views on the West Bank and Gaza as well. He resigned from the army to protest its refusal to withdraw from those territories, captured in the Six-Day War.
In the last year of his life, Peled squabbled with his old friend Yitzhak Rabin about delays in the peace process. Nevertheless, he remained optimistic. The family recalls that a few months before his death, Peled told Smadar’s oldest brother, Elit, who is now 20, that he should try to defer joining the army until after completing university.
“In five years, by the time you are finished with university, they’ll really need educated people in the army because it will be an army of peace, not war,” Nurit Peled-Elchanan remembered her father saying.
Smadar Elchanan was buried last Sunday under a grove of carob trees at Kibbutz Nachshon, next to the grave of her grandfather. The funeral was attended by many political notables — among them former Prime Minister Shimon Peres and Dalia Rabin, the daughter of the late prime minister. Rami Elchanan read the Kaddish, the traditional Jewish prayer for the dead, losing his composure only when he came to the passage, “Whoever makes peace on high, will make peace for us and the whole of Israel.”
For many of the family’s friends and relatives, the loss of the dream was almost as grievous as the loss of Smadar herself.
“This is such a paradox. We’re looking at a family that raised its children on the values of peace and love and equality and tolerance,” said Hannah Altman, 47, an old friend of the Peled and Elchanan families. “Smadar was raised on hope for the future. Where will that go now?”