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Friday, June 21, 2002 | return to: international


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Community mourns bus bombing victims from Gilo

by NAOMI SEGALJewish Telegraphic Agency

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Among the victims identified so far were Boaz Aluf, 54; Leah Baruch, 59; Gila Nakav, 55; Shiri Negari, 21; Liat Yagen, 24; Rahamim Zidkiyahu, 51; Yelena Ivan, 33; Tatiana Braslavski, 41; Galila Bugale, 11; Mendel Berzon, 72; and Baruch Gruani, 56. All were Jerusalem residents.

Tuesday's bombing also killed something else: the belief many Gilo residents had that their lives were finally returning to normal.

Tuesday's explosion occurred on a crowded bus during the morning rush hour. Most of the passengers were office workers and students on their way to school.

A cloud of grief descended over the district on Tuesday as staffers at the local community center fielded seemingly endless calls with news and funeral details.

While not all the names of the victims were released Tuesday, reports said 14 of those killed were residents of the community.

Final preparations had been underway in Gilo for a festive dedication ceremony for a new music center. As it turned out, the stage would have to be used instead for memorial services.

"We lived through one-and-a-half years without so many physical injuries, though certainly sustaining emotional ones," which led residents to believe "that somehow we would get through it," Yaffa Shetreet, a staff member of the neighborhood council, told Channel Two news. "We believed we had a sort of communal invulnerability. But it's all been shattered."

Shiri Negari, who was two weeks shy of her 22nd birthday, was on her way to work in a bank when the bomber struck. She was wounded and died of her injuries in hospital.

Family members described Negari as warm and smiling. Since returning to Israel from a trip to South America, she was full of plans, and was due to begin university in the fall, they said.

"All of this crying doesn't suit her," Negari's sister, Sheli, told Channel Two. "She was so happy. So strong. Someone who does things. Especially after she came home from South America, there were so many things she wanted to do."

Her sister recalled the deliberations that had preceded Negari's return to Israel.

"Everyone said she should come back, we had several weddings over the summer," Sheli Negari said. "I told her that if she's having so much fun, maybe she should stay there. My mother said the situation here is so bad that maybe she should stay there, because it's difficult to say where it's safer."

Negari was conscious when she was admitted to the hospital after the attack. Just before she was to undergo surgery, however, it became apparent that her injuries were more extensive than initially thought.

"I'm studying medicine, and I'd like to believe that a person can be strong and help. But actually, we're nothing," her sister said. "When someone is really hurt, you can't help them."

Negari is survived by her parents and four siblings.

Rahamim Zidkiyahu, the driver of the bus, was not supposed to be driving that bus. But a colleague was late and Zidkiyahu, who wanted to finish the route in time to catch a World Cup soccer match, insisted on taking the earlier route.

"All he wanted to do was finish in peace," Rami Yitzhakov told Channel Two. "He wanted to get back in time to watch soccer. It was six fateful minutes."

Colleagues described Zidkiyahu as hard-working and dedicated, a warm person who loved to laugh. An Egged employee for 27 years, they said he knew many of the passengers on the line. He was married and a father of four.

"He was full of life, young at heart," a relative was quoted as saying. He was "an exemplary father who always wanted to help others."

Despite the difficult security situation -- and even after terrorist attacks -- Zidkiyahu showed no fear of driving, colleagues said. He insisted that it was a duty to continue serving the public, they said.

Tuesday's attack exposed the apprehensions of drivers, who realize that buses are prime targets for terrorist attacks. Many attributed their survival to luck.

"How do we know if it's a terrorist?" one driver, identified only as Amnon, told Channel Two. "If he doesn't explode, he's not a suicide bomber."

Leah Baruch, 59, boarded the bus Tuesday morning on her way to the president's residence, where she had worked for the past 23 years.

"Leah was an asset," colleague Sima Shariki told the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot. "Among those she worked with were the presidents the late Chaim Herzog, Ezer Weizman and Moshe Katsav. They all loved her."

"She was a wonderful woman, always ready to give of herself. If she saw an injured cat, she would take it in," Shariki continued. "She loved plants and animals. She loved life."

It was not immediately clear who carried out the attack. Hamas claimed responsibility, saying the bomber came from a refugee camp near Nablus.

An Israeli intelligence officer, however, told Knesset lawmakers earlier Tuesday that the attack was carried out by Palestinian terrorists based in Bethlehem.

Israel Radio quoted security officials as saying it was possible the bomber was dispatched by a suspected Palestinian terrorist who was killed by Israeli snipers Monday.

The officials were quoted as saying that Walid Sbeh, a member of the Al-Aksa Martyrs Brigade in the Bethlehem area, may have dispatched the bomber who carried out Tuesday's attack. Israeli snipers killed Sbeh on Monday in a village near Bethlehem.

Jerusalem had been on high alert for terrorist attacks since Monday, amid a general alert throughout the country for several suicide bombers believed to have infiltrated from the West Bank during the weekend.

Police helicopters had hovered over the city Monday night, while checkpoints were set up at various junctions and streets to check cars and drivers throughout the city.

Everyone has been feeling "slightly scared and suspicious," an Israel Radio commentator said, "just waiting for the next bomb to hit."

The psychological effects of a suicide bombing can last long after the actual physical damage, advised Esti Galili Weistub, director of pediatric psychiatry at Hadassah.

Around 50 percent of terror victims develop post-traumatic stress disorder. At least eight of Tuesday's bombing victims were between the ages of 8 and 18.

Most were fully aware of what had happened and gave clear descriptions of where they were and what they were doing at the time of the attack.

But fears may emerge later in the grieving process.

"Imagine if they spent the morning trying to find their older sister?" Galili Weistub asked. "They can be traumatized at the idea of ever taking the bus again."

JTA reporter Jessica Steinberg contributed to this report.


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