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Present and Accounted For?
by Judy Lash Balint,
12 June 2003

The aftermath of the latest suicide bombing in Jerusalem.

Jerusalem -- Deep into deadline panic,  I sat hunched over my computer rushing to complete an article due in New York this morning. The stream of screaming ambulance sirens penetrates the periphery of my consciousness. Every Jerusalemite within walking distance of the center of town has grown to recognize the sound as a harbinger of tragic news.

I turn on the radio with trepidation, but to my relief find music playing.  Back to work for a few blissful moments until the phone starts ringing. Pigua (terror attack) on Jaffa Road--everyone calling to check up on friends and family.

I actually experience a physical reaction to the news.  My stomach clenches and I find my knees shaking as I get up to turn on the TV.  My mind races to think who might have been on that fateful bus.  The tragedy occurred in the afternoon rush hour, one day before the start of our Thursday night weekend, just after the bus picked up shoppers from the busy Machane Yehuda market.

Just this morning, the dental hygienist cleaning my teeth was telling me about a visiting friend from New York.  "She's been in the apartment the whole time she's been here," Moran said. "She's paralyzed with fear..."  I pooh-poohed the American's reaction. Why should it be OK for all of us to go about our lives and live with the danger and not for Jews from outside the country.  "We're used to it already," replied Moran glumly.

But you never get used to the reaction of the world that tells us to exercise restraint when we go after terrorist leaders, as we did unsuccessfully yesterday. 

In the first three days since the Aqaba Summit there were 24 Arab terror attacks.  Over the next few days another five Israelis were killed and today's toll is still not confirmed--reports indicate at least 15 dead. But when we go after Hamas, who claimed responsibility for the majority of the violence, sophisticated leaders inform us that Abu Mazen must be allowed to reign in the military wing.  I guess there wasn't too much coverage of  Abu Mazen's news conference in Ramallah on Monday when he brazenly ruled out the possibility of confrontation with terrorist groups.  Abu Mazen vowed to use "dialogue," instead...

All the more extraordinary that Secretary of State Colin Powell told Fox News that the US has "...made our choice. We are going to be supporting Prime Minister Abbas."

Now Israel Radio is interviewing people who witnessed today's bombing.  Shaken passers-by are recounting their brush with death.  The cameras pan up to the landmark Clal Building with its shattered windows, looking over the twisted bus. The holy men of ZAKA, the victim identification unit, have begun their grisly work picking through the carnage to salvage every possible fragment of human flesh.

But you'll have to excuse me, there's an urgent call for blood donors, and several of my friends are still not present and accounted for.

Judy Lash Balint is a Jerusalem based writer and author of Jerusalem Diaries: In Tense Times (Gefen).  Reprinted by permission of the author.

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