Fear and horror turn to anger in wake of bus bombing deaths

JERUSALEM — When Esther Biger, an 80-year-old Jerusalemite, heard the 8 a.m. news Monday, her heart skipped a beat.

Upon hearing of the suicide bombing that destroyed one bus and badly damaged another in the northern Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Eshkol five minutes earlier, she thought of Lisabeth, her grandson's new wife, who was taking Hebrew ulpan classes at the Hebrew University.

The bus Lisabeth took every morning would have passed the site of the bomb blast on its way to Mount Scopus.

"My son, who is in reserve duty, called to see if I had any information, since he knew Lisabeth took the bus at 7:30," she said.

"I was worried, so I called around to the hospitals. Finally, my grandson called to say that they had driven to the campus today. They were very, very lucky."

Throughout the country, as information about the attack spread, Israelis fought a familiar wave of fear while trying to determine whether someone they loved might have been near the bomb blast.

People made frantic phone calls. When there was no reply, they tried the hospitals, where special lines were quickly established to provide information on the wounded and dead.

The bomb went off on the No. 26 bus during the morning rush hour as it passed the No. 9 bus, killing at least five people, including an American, and injuring more than 100 others. Those identified included Rivka Cohen, 26, of Jerusalem; police chief superintendent Noam Eisenman, 35, of Jerusalem; Joan Davenny, 47, of Connecticut and formerly San Francisco.

The Islamic fundamentalist Hamas movement claimed responsibility for the attack, which occurred one day after Israel lifted a 10-day closure on the Gaza Strip.

Israeli officials were investigating the possibility that one of the dead was the suicide bomber, who may have been a woman. Police said the attacker was sitting toward the back of the bus and carried a pipe bomb weighing 9 to 13 pounds packed with nails.

Police said the bomb was similar to others built by tbe Hamas fugitive Yehia Ayash, dubbed the "Engineer."

According to the driver of the targeted bus, most of the passengers were students traveling to Hebrew University's Mount Scopus campus.

At the bomb site, rage soon replaced fear as the initial shock of the blast subsided.

At first, local residents and those from neighboring Orthodox communities stood stunned as emergency crews rushed the bomb victims to area hospitals and as Orthodox men, members of the chevra kadisha, or burial society, searched for dismembered body parts to bury, as prescribed by Jewish law.

Less than two hours later, though, the mood of the crowd turned angry.

As clean-up crews towed away the scorched, twisted bus and washed away all tell-tale signs of the attack, people began to demonstrate.

Most of the protesters went no further than shouting anti-government slogans, but others got into shoving matches with police.

Some of the demonstrators carried placards that read, "This Peace is Killing Us," or carried posters that bore the faces of previous terror victims.

One woman, Shifra Hoffman of the group Victims of Arab Terror, tried to block traffic when the busy intersection was opened just three hours after the blast.

"We need to call attention to the Jewish victims of Arab terror who have died since the signing of the peace accord," said Hoffman, a veritable fixture at such demonstrations.

While "the government is guilty, the Jewish people are guilty as well," she said. "Just minutes after the attack, they are back in the cafes as if nothing has happened.

"Jews should do the same thing that Arabs do when they want to make a statement: We should close down our stores and businesses so Rabin will know that it isn't just the `extremists' who are fed up," she said.

Salomon Cohen, 68, blamed Arab Knesset members for the political situation.

"If Arabs weren't sitting in the Knesset, the government would fall," he said. "I emigrated from Morocco 26 years ago and I sometimes wonder why I bothered.

"The situation is horrible," he said. "First they started with Gaza and Jericho, next it will be Hebron and Bethlehem. They're even demanding Jerusalem. Where will it all end?"

Others, though, shied away from political discussions.

A Chassidic man from New York, who identified himself only as Joseph, instead praised the work of the burial society.

"It was an emotional experience to watch how people put away their emotions in order to gather blood and bones according to the precepts of the Torah," he said. "These are people who are just doing their jobs, without getting into the political fray."

Dozens of neighborhood children, still on summer vacation, witnessed the attack or arrived soon afterward.

Pointing to the site where the buses had stood, 13-year-old Elisheva Machlis said, "We saw skin hanging from trees and piles of notebooks and pens covered with blood. Pieces of the buses were strewn everywhere and everyone was crying."

"I walked by here just a few minutes before the bombing," said Machlis' friend Yehudit Shapira, also 13. "It's very scary to think that something like this could happen in my neighborhood."