"I love you Daddy." These are the words that melt every father's heart. Especially when told to you by your teenage boy. These were the last words told yesterday by 13 year old Yuval Mendelevitch, to his father. Yuval was speaking to his dad on his cell phone, before the line went dead, cut off in mid-sentence by the suicide bomber that destroyed the boy and his phone on Bus 37 in Haifa.
Nine school kids were among the 15 Israelis killed yesterday. Schools all over Haifa suspended studies so that 13, 14 and 16-year-olds could attend their classmates funerals. A couple of kids died from each school. On TV tonight you saw dazed kids sitting on the ground, building memorials, lighting yahrzeit memorial candles and talking about how they just saw so and so a few minutes before they got on the fateful bus. Other kids telling the stories about how lucky they were that they stayed behind to ask a teacher a question. Most kids sharing the stories about the departed, and how much they loved life, played soccer so well, wanted to be a pilot.
The stories of the victims are almost too painful to bear. The Hershko family, where Moti, 41, the father and Tom, 16, the son, were both killed as they came back from a "special day" together in order to buy mom a birthday present. Abigail Leiter, 16, was an Ameican Christian girl active in Arab-Jewish co-existence projects. Daniel Harush, 16, who stayed behind while his class was on a field trip to the death camps of Poland. Tal Kehrmann, 17, and Liz Katzman,16, close friends who died on their way to pick up costumes for the school play they were preparing, "The Best of Friends."
The unspeakable pain of this all too familiar Israeli drama was somewhat forgotten for much of the past two months. We were amazed and superstitious about the respite from the bestial Palestinian terror. The fact that there were no suicide/homicide bombings for the two-month period was not for lack of trying by the terrorists. The IDF thwarted over 120 terror attacks in the month of February alone. The odds were bound to catch up with us. We all knew this. Our young soldiers were busy every day arresting and eliminating scores of terrorists who were desperately trying to get through and kill Jews. Such prevention is effective, but never completely effective against implacable blood lust.
I was speaking to a friend in America by phone, on the afternoon of the bombing, and he asked, "How is the situation in Israel?" I hesitated, fearful to jinx what good fortune I felt, and ultimately answered, "Well, its been actually pretty good lately, believe it or not. Business is picking up. We have a new government, and its been relatively quiet, thank God." Just as I said this, my friend went silent on the phone and then told me that an e-mail alert had flashed across his computer screen about a bus bombing in Haifa. The idyll was over, cut off, and I was yanked abrubtly back to the "reality" of our Israeli situation.
We all know the drill. You first call your family and friends. Make sure everyone you know is all right. Then you hit the web, flip on the radio, go to the TV and get your dose of pain. A truly bolus dose. And only then can you force yourself to go back to work. You still start every phone conversation, every meeting with a reference to the "Pigua" (attack) but somehow you go on, you must go on. It helps me to visualize myself at work as a soldier, on the economic front lines, fighting to save jobs. Doing my part, albeit in a vastly inferior and wimpy way relative to our unbelievably heroic and unassuming young IDF guys and girls crawling through the scum of the Nablus casbah or driving tanks in and out the infernos of Gaza City.
When the day finally winds down before I go home, that is when I get my own special helping of Jewish angst. I visit leading websites of the media elite (The NY Times, The Washington Post, The L.A. Times, etc.) to see how the bombing is being portrayed. How is our story being told? It is then that I feel like I have to scream or slam a fist in my screen or just puke my guts out, because the story being told in this coverage is not my story, it is not our story. It is science fiction. It is a bad horror film.
The bombing they describe is a "retaliation" coinciding with an Israeli "offensive." (Since when does killing terrorists classify as anything but a good defense?) They don't describe the kids, the heartbreaking stories, the father and son killed together in each others arms. The NY Times headline says the "Bomb Shreds Israeli Bus," as though there was no bomber, and the bomb just came down from the heavens by itself. They don't tell you that the bomber left a note praising the terrorists who brought down the Twin Towers. They don't tell you of the unmitigated joy in Palestinian cities when the bombing was announced, where people stopped their cars in the middle of the streets and honked for joy and passed out sweets.
What they do fill their stories with is ersatz "balance," detailed reports of the battles and casualties in Gaza, to offset the horror of the bus. They give you the famous score card of dead; how many Palestinians and how many Israelis died in the period - almost like it's a weather report! - like there is a moral equivalence between kids targeted on their way home from school and terrorists brought down on their way to kill those kids.
Sure there have been tragic and innocent Palestinian victims during the battles against terror. You have to be inhuman not to share the pain of a Palestinian family loosing its pregnant mother under a fallen wall. Yet to fail to establish context, to explain why these battles are happening in crowded civilian areas because the terrorists have deliberately set up shop there, is to miss the story, to fabricate a false equivalence where none exists.This is not an "uprising" for Palestinian independence as simplistic reporters would have you believe. Palestinian independence has been supported by Prime Minister Sharon and by a majority of Israelis and was offered to them at Camp David, which is exactly when they chose to begin their war. This is a struggle for our existence. The Palestinian terrorists don't want independence; they want us gone - and they want us dead. Especially our children. The "resistance" of the Hamas and the Al Aksa Martyrs is the genocide we Jews know all too well.
Later that night after the bombing, when I went home and hung out with my family and gave my kids more hugs than usual, I realized that our reality here in Israel is really pretty hard to explain. My kids told me about their days at school, and how much fun they had, before the bombing was announced. It was after all Rosh Hodesh Adar Bet, the new moon holiday, the beginning of the "happiest" month of the year, where the kids go wild in school. They dance on tables, and play pranks, and in general let loose. Each child competed with the other to tell me the most outrageous hijinx that happened in his class. When one of my kids reflected that some families would have a tough time celebrating Purim this year, we turned off the TV coverage and tucked the kids in. As I scratched his back, my 13 year old said, "I love you Daddy," and it melted my heart.