For Jerusalem residents, life, and bus rides, roll on
By By Peter Hermann
Sun Foreign Staff|
Aug 21, 2003 at 3:00 AM
JERUSALEM - She climbed aboard Bus No. 2 in the Old City without hesitating, her small grandchildren trailing behind, tired after a busy day touring a museum and the ancient ruins in the Jewish Quarter.
They sat in the middle, by the swivel point of the articulated bus, and settled in for the short, jerky ride across town. They hardly seemed concerned that the night before on the same line a Palestinian suicide bomber had blown up a nearly identical bus, killing 20 passengers.
"That happens all the time," said Judy Berkovitz, smiling down at her 7-year-old granddaughter squirming in the seat beside her, the family exhibiting the stoicism typical of Israelis determined to go about their routines despite attempts by Palestinian militants to create fear and havoc.
But as the bus approached the site of the bombing, an ambulance raced by with sirens blaring, and Berkovitz's resolve suddenly crumbled. She grabbed the armrests, shuddered and whispered so that her granddaughter would not overhear: "I hate that sound now."
All over Jerusalem yesterday, people climbed aboard buses and rode to work, to home and to stores, images of the previous night's carnage still prominent on the newspapers' front pages and on television screens.
"What am I supposed to do, go home and live in a hole?" asked Moshe Poupau, standing next to Berkovitz on the bus, which starts at the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site, and travels through a string of religious neighborhoods.
"Life must go on as normal," he said. "And living normally means taking the bus."
Life may go on, but people seemed a bit more cautious yesterday. There were fewer bus riders than usual and more people taking taxis. Crowds were thin downtown, and police stood guard everywhere. The mayor announced that a crafts fair would go on as scheduled but, to limit crowds, canceled the performance of a band there.
The number of dead from Tuesday's bombing climbed to 20 from 18, including six children ranging in age from 3 months to 15 years. The U.S. Embassy said five of the dead were American citizens, with two having dual Israeli citizenship.
The Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, who had refused up to now to arrest or disarm members of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other militant groups, ordered Palestinian security forces to arrest the militants responsible for the bombing. Abbas and the Palestinian security chief, Mohammed Dahlan, put police forces on high alert last night. Abbas also was expected to confer with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
Last night, Palestinians in the West Bank city of Ramallah reported seeing a column of Israeli tanks on its outskirts, and Israel Radio reported that Israeli forces had arrested more than a dozen Palestinians in Hebron, the hometown of the suicide bomber.
Most Israelis in Jerusalem seemed to stick to their routines. Passengers boarded buses near the Western Wall because they are still the cheapest, most convenient mode of travel. On one midafternoon trip, 18 people got on the No. 2, each paying a fare of about $1.20.
The first to board were mostly Orthodox Jews who had come to pray in the Old City. There was a merchant heading home, a police officer with an M-16 rifle returning to his post, a group of children and the grandparents on their outing.
An elderly man fell asleep in the front while a religious man recited psalms two rows behind him. Along the route, a mother taking her child to a rehabilitation hospital boarded. A seller of phone book ads had a pistol tucked into his waistband.
The driver was Hussein Abu Tayab, a Palestinian from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan. He has been driving buses in Jerusalem for 11 years, the past two on the No. 2 route.
He joked with passengers and the police officer as he deftly maneuvered the long bus through the narrow streets of ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods. He asked one would-be passenger what was in his bag before allowing him to board.
"I believe in one thing, only what comes from God," Tayab said after completing his route and stopping to fill the gas tank. "Of course I'm afraid. Even as an Arab, I'm afraid. Am I not a human being?"
A friend from a neighboring village was driving the bus that blew up Tuesday night. Tayab's bus was just ahead of the one that exploded.
"I cried, not out of fear, but because of what happened to those people," he said.
Passengers pointed and stared out the windows as the bus slowly drove by the site of the bombing. Two girls, their heads bowed in silent prayer, stood where emergency workers had piled the bodies. A single wreath was in the center of a traffic circle, and cards and candles lined the sidewalk.
Riders stopped their chatter when the bus stopped where police said the bomber, disguised as an ultra-Orthodox Israeli, had waited to board the bus Tuesday. The doors creaked open, but no one was waiting. The bus lumbered on.
Elazar Ganot, a 24-year-old salesman, got on a few stops later. He rides buses every day to make his rounds as an ad salesman for a phone directory. Ganot said he thought twice about coming to work, knowing that his rounds required that he ride the No. 2.
"I am scared," he said, cell phone in hand. "I was on another bus just before this one, and I saw a woman. But I couldn't tell if she was a woman. She was large and had no distinguishing features. She looked strange."
Ganot said he stared for five minutes before he realized that the figure in the oversized black dress was indeed a woman and probably not a threat.
"I look closer at people today," he said. "My heart is beating fast."
Ganot rose to ask the driver about the next stop, the black handle of a handgun protruding from his trousers. He said he'd bought an American-made Smith & Wesson "because Americans know how to fight terror."
"I do it because I have to protect myself," he said. "This is my capital, not enemy territory. But I can't come here without my gun. I hate having to carry it."
Berkovitz, the grandmother from the Givat Shaul neighborhood, has two choices when she needs to get downtown - the No. 2 bus or the No. 14.
The No. 14 was blown up in June on Jaffa Street. Seventeen people died.