Conference Gets Close Look at Bombing

By Elli Wohlgelernter

Published February 27, 2004, issue of February 27, 2004.
  • Print
  • Share Share

JERUSALEM — Malcolm Hoenlein is accustomed to being updated by Israeli officials about “the situation,” but he has never been as close to it as he was this week.

Hoenlein, head of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, personally witnessed his first suicide bombing up close, and was visibly shaken describing it an hour later.

“It really puts a reality to all that we have been learning about and all that we have heard,” said Hoenlein. “As we were standing there, I pointed out that at our feet were pieces of body, of flesh. We saw some of the pellets and some of the shrapnel that was in the bomb, and you know what devastation that does to the bodies of people who were in such close proximity. It is so seared in your memory, I can say I will never forget that scene.”

The Presidents’ Conference was on its annual leadership mission for briefings by Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and a handful of Cabinet ministers. While being addressed by Chief of Staff Lt.-General Moshe Ya’alon on Sunday morning, word came in that there had been a bus bombing not 150 yards from the hotel.

Hoenlein and members of the conference rushed down the street to observe first-hand the carnage, in which eight people were killed and more than 60 wounded. While members of Zaka, a volunteer organization that attends to disaster victims, picked through the wreckage inside the bus looking for pieces of flesh and blood to bury, others outside tore off white body bags from a plastic roll to place over six bodies lined up on stretchers along the sidewalk.

Hoenlein said pictures of such scenes don’t adequately convey the totality of a terrorist bus bombing. “Ein doma reiya lishmiya,” he said. “There is no comparison between hearing it and being a distant observer, to being so close to it, as it really brings home the war on terrorism.”

The bombing took place a day before the International Court of Justice began hearings on Israel’s security fence. That subject, together with Sharon’s plan for a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, was the main topic addressed by most of the speakers at the Presidents’ Conference.

Minister of Industry and Trade and Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, a longtime hawk, surprised some of the delegates with his forthright explanation of why Israel must pull out of Gaza.

The status quo, Olmert said, helps Israel neither as a preventative measure against suicide attacks nor in its standing in the international community, even while that community has come to understand “that the Palestinians are not delivering, that they are not in a position to enter into a serious and meaningful process.”

The idea of a pullout from Gaza frightens the Palestinians, he said, because “if we do not make a comprehensive permanent agreement that will satisfy them altogether, they’d rather we be stuck where we are today, because [it] serves them better than any other situation. They want us to be stuck in Gaza and the territories and have these pictures and have these confrontations and occasionally kill innocent civilians, because they know how to manipulate this to serve their purpose, to increase the pressure on Israel and to make Israel pay a lot more.”

While the security fence will not eliminate terror, he said, it will reduce it to a minimum, and a withdrawal from Gaza will fundamentally change the nature of the conflict.

“Once the majority of Palestinians will not be under the day-to-day control of the Israeli military, this conflict will not be as sexy as it is today to the international press,” Olmert said. “It will cease to be front-page everywhere. There will be no reason for it to be front-page everywhere. There will not be soldiers and tanks and military confronting civilian populations.”

Likud lawmaker Yuval Steinitz, chairman of the foreign affairs and defense committee, said that while a pullout from Gaza would be “difficult, complicated and dangerous,” he might support it if “it will enable us to strengthen our position vis-à-vis the Palestinians in a few years time, and if it will be clear that this is not the beginning of a slippery slope.”

Steinitz said that if the end result of the “road map” peace plan is a transitional Palestinian state led by an unreliable Palestinian leadership, then “it might be a good idea to limit it to Gaza first for a few years, and then to say, if after a few years and after [Yasser] Arafat we see that in Gaza something positive has developed, and the direction is peaceful coexistence, we can resume negotiations after Arafat with another reliable and anti-terrorist leadership.”

Find us on Facebook!
  • The rose petals have settled, and Andi has made her (Jewish?) choice. We look back on the #Bachelorette finale:
  • "Despite the great pain and sadness surrounding a captured soldier, this should not shape the face of this particular conflict – not in making concessions and not in negotiations, not in sobering assessments of this operation’s achievements or the need to either retreat or move forward." Do you agree?
  • Why genocide is always wrong, period. And the fact that some are talking about it shows just how much damage the war in Gaza has already done.
  • Construction workers found a 75-year-old deli sign behind a closing Harlem bodega earlier this month. Should it be preserved?
  • "The painful irony in Israel’s current dilemma is that it has been here before." Read J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis of the conflict:
  • Law professor Dan Markel waited a shocking 19 minutes for an ambulance as he lay dying after being ambushed in his driveway. Read the stunning 911 transcript as neighbor pleaded for help.
  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels.
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.