Friday marks six years to the day, according to the Hebrew calendar, since a Jerusalem grocer, Yehuda Haim, was murdered on a bus that Arab terrorists blew up in Jerusalem.
Ever since the restaurant at the Beit Agron Press Center in Jerusalem closed in 2001 because of declining tourism, Haim’s sandwich business at the corner grocery store had been booming for reporters.
Yehuda would make each reporter a pre-prepared sandwich with fresh bread and any condiments the customer would ask for.
For me, he knew exactly how many pickles I liked with my tuna fish, and just how I liked my egg salad. And he carefully cut each fresh vegetable to order.
I had a special need, since I would wash my hands at Beit Agron and make the blessing over the bread only when I got to the store. I became used to hearing Yehuda’s “amen” to the first bite in my sandwich, before he would fill it with his goodies for me yet again.
One Sunday morning, on the bus to work, passing the old Jerusalem train station, the bus in front of ours blew to bits. The first instinct was to run to the bus, don the proverbial press badge and grab a camera to report the event, snapping shots and getting them to the wires in real time. Not knowing at the time that one of the bodies flung from the bus window was Yehuda Haim, who was on his way to work.
The names of the victims were solemnly announced on the radio news, including that of Yehuda Haim.
All I could think about was Yehuda’s smiling face on Friday, when he said “amen” to my blessing on a tuna bagel, when he wished a good Shabbat to three reporters who came by his store.
His smiling face was turned by an Arab terrorist into lifeless body parts on Derech Hebron. That day at lunch, I had lost my lunch partner. Maybe Yehuda would say amen to my blessing from heaven for that day’s bagel, I thought.
The reality of media reporting continued, as Yehuda was being buried.
And the name Yehuda Haim became one of the 1,478 people murdered by Arab terrorists during what has been termed a “peace process.”
ON THE day of the funeral, Fanny Haim, Yehuda’s widow, had the presence of mind to write an open letter to the judges in The Hague, which she asked our agency to translate for her, where a European court held hearings on the legality of a fence designed to keep murderers from killing people like Yehuda.
In the hours before she buried her husband, she wrote the following letter:
“Today, in The Hague, you will sit in judgment. Today, I will bury my husband, my heart has been cut in two. I am not a politician. I am appealing to you as someone who has lost her husband, a woman whose heart has been silenced – and a woman whose tragedy the separation fence could have prevented. I was married to Yehuda for 21 years. He was the love of my youth, since I was 15. Yehuda’s sister is the wife of Israel’s economic attache in The Hague and works in the embassy there. For months, she, her husband and the embassy staff have been trying to open the world’s eyes. For months, they have been fighting for the rights of the State of Israel.
As for me, what could I have asked for? Only for my small right, my husband’s right, the right to see our children grow and prosper, go to school and serve in the army. I will no longer receive this right. But today, you can see to it that other Israeli families will merit this basic thing – to raise a happy family, to get up in the morning without bereavement, without gravestones, and without cemeteries.
Today, as you begin your deliberations with open eyes, think, just for a moment, about the ordinary people behind this bloody conflict. Think for a moment about the golden heart of my husband, Yehuda, and about our young son, Avner. Maybe you can explain to him – he’s only 10 years old – why in God’s name he doesn’t have a father any more? People will enter your hall today, who will speak, who will accuse. Mourners will enter my home and I will be unable to understand and I will certainly not be consoled. This evening, you will go home, kiss your spouses, hug your children – and I will be alone.
True, the politics are far from me, but now as the pain is far too close to me. I think that I have acquired, with integrity and with tears, the right to appeal to you and say: If there had been a fence all along the length of the state, then maybe I, just like you, could kiss my husband this evening. Do not judge my country; do not restrain it from preventing additional people from becoming victims. Today, I am burying my husband; don’t you bury justice.”
Each day, we take the bus to work, and we remember people like Yehuda Haim who paid with their lives, only because they took the bus to work on one sunny February morning in Jerusalem.
The writer acts as the Middle East correspondent for the Philadelphia Bulletin and as the director of the Israel Resource News Agency and the Center for Near East Policy Research, both of which are based at the Beit Agron Press Center in Jerusalem, and on the Net at www.IsraelBehindTheNews.com.