I was on a bus, or maybe in a taxi. I was on my way to work. Thinking of the day ahead, or, more likely, not thinking at all. Then, that voice on the radio: A suicide bomber had just exploded himself, a few blocks from my apartment, on a bus I rode so frequently that it was virtually my second home.
I was on my way to Jerusalem, where I worked as an assistant to the correspondent for the Los Angeles Times; I was experienced enough to know that I needed to get out of the vehicle I was in and immediately into another, to return to Tel Aviv to cover the scene. And so I did, and you can read the report that I ultimately helped to file, here. At some point the next day, I remember sinking to the floor in my hallway, putting my head on my knees, and sobbing.
That was October 19, 1994, and fifteen years later (almost to the day, it occurs to me), that bombing is what comes to mind for me when I pause to take in the news that somewhere on the globe, a human being has blown his or her body to bits in order kill other human beings.
The shell of the bus had been peeled away, it seemed — like a Playmobile bus, where you could put little plastic dolls in and out. But it was charred, and ragged, and there was a woman’s head, caught by her hair, hanging from the bar that standing riders would use to catch their balance. There were parts of bodies — twenty-two bodies, all told — flung every which way, like someone had up-ended a box. I remember being surprised that I was surprised that bodies don’t blow apart neatly.
I have clear memories of covering two other such bombings (one at the end of my street), and I know I must have helped with others — probably in the office, fielding comments and reactions, maybe translating for my boss, comparing the numbers, the location, the perpetrators of this bombing, to that. There were so many. It was terrifying.
And each one stopped our lives, flooded the news, changed the radio playlists, as we mourned and mourned and mourned. It felt like surely something drastic must happen, something enormous must change, because how could the fact of human beings exploding their veins and sinews and bones and teeth in order to try to kill me and mine not change everything?
It is humbling, at the very least, to read the report that ran the next day and see how little change there has been. There they are, in 1994, Israel’s leaders demanding harsher and yet harsher action against Hamas, and Israelis on the street, begging for peace and quiet. Two changes: The prime minister we quoted back then, Yitzhak Rabin, was killed for trying to bring that peace, and Hamas now leads the legitimately elected government of the Palestinian people. So much for then-President Ezer Weizman’s assessment: “This cannot be allowed to continue…. We will have to catch (Hamas members), to tear them apart, to chop them to pieces. This is what I’m certain the Israel Defense Forces and the security service will do.”
Why do I write about this now? Because yesterday, at least 155 souls were taken to their God in the streets of Baghdad, and I want to remind myself, at least this time, of what that means. What it looks like.
And from there, to try to expand my mind to encompass and understand one hundred and fifty-five people killed, dozens of them, apparently, children. To try to imagine, for just a moment, what it must be like to live with that terror on a nearly daily basis, to be living a life in which just setting foot outside your front door requires a certain courage. To try to feel in my bones what Baghdadis must feel in theirs — that this may have been the worst attack since 2007, but that’s just because these bombers were luckier than all the other bombers. There have been so many.
I hardly pause, anymore, when I hear the words “suicide bomber.” It took 155 dead to get my attention. I want, at the very least, to honor them.
יהי זכרם ברוך
May their memory be for a blessing.