Ben Yehuda draws visitors who wont give in to terror

JERUSALEM — The mood was somber in Israel this week, just days after three suicide bombers struck on Jerusalem's popular Ben Yehuda Street.

The attack has left Israelis, and Jerusalemites in particular, in a state of anxiety, according to psychologist Tehila Blumenthal.

"People feel a need to vent their feelings, to express their fears. In Jerusalem, everyone feels a connection to Ben Yehuda," she said. "They feel this tragedy very personally."

The Sept. 4 attack immediately claimed the lives of four Israelis, including three teenagers. A fifth victim died Monday from his injuries. More than 190 were wounded by the near-simultaneous blasts.

The fact that three teenage girls died in the bombing "only adds to the feeling of helplessness," Blumenthal says.

"These girls were shopping for school supplies at 3 o'clock in the afternoon. What could be safer than that? Parents feel they have no control over their children."

Some of this uneasiness could be felt this week in the center of town, where all but a few shops and cafes have reopened. Although far from deserted, the city was not as packed as usual.

Normally, the warm September weather attracts flocks of teenagers, including hordes of American yeshiva students. But many of them seem to have heeded their parents' pleas and stayed home.

Those who barely escaped serious injury said they are still in a state of shock.

"I'm a wreck, a total wreck," said 20-year-old Yael Pizov, who was on her way to work when the blast occurred.

"I was standing at the top of Ben Yehuda, going to the T-shirt shop I work in, when boom! The whole promenade blew up before my eyes. I keep asking why I'm alive and others aren't."

Pizov said she supports the establishment of a Palestinian state "now more than ever." The Palestinians "have to live separately from us. Attacks like this only underscore what I already knew: that we can't live together."

Although admittedly nervous about coming to Ben Yehuda Street from their home in Ramot, a Jerusalem suburb, Yuval and Lior Yotvat said they had "come to show solidarity with the people who suffered."

Keeping an eye on her two young sons, who were running up and down the promenade, Liora Yotvat said, "We're afraid, of course, but you can't just sit at home.

"There have been attacks on buses, in shopping areas, in the shuk," she said, referring to the July 30 twin suicide bombing at Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda market.

"What's left? We can't just stop going to these places. If we do, we're giving in to terror."

Yuval Yotvat, who described himself as a political moderate, said, "When a suicide bomber wants to blow himself up there isn't much you can do."

This view was shared by a clothing-store owner who gave his name as Nissim.

"This situation is no good, no good at all, but there's no way to stop suicide bombers," he said. "Anyone crazy enough and evil enough to blow himself and everyone else up is practically unstoppable."

Last week's attacks, Nissim said, hurt not only his sense of security but also his business.

"People aren't buying because they're depressed. Business is down 80 percent. I can't say I blame shoppers for staying away."

Tassi Boontawer, the Thai manager of a Chinese restaurant in the center of town, said business has suffered.

"Everyone is afraid to go out, even me. I'm afraid, too."

Boontawer, who moved to Israel eight years ago, said she had reason to be grateful.

"I live right next to Ben Yehuda, on one of the side streets. Usually I'm home at 3:00 and the attacks occurred at 3. For some reason I didn't go home, and it's a good thing because all my windows exploded."

Despite the bombings, many tourists remained in the city.

Sitting outside Boontawer's restaurant, Bert and Carolien Hunnersen, a couple from Holland, said they are not afraid to be in Jerusalem.

As she fed her 18-month-old daughter, Carolien Hunnersen said the family had come to Jerusalem that morning from northern Israel and that neither she nor her husband had even thought of not visiting the capital.

"We're certainly happy we weren't here when the attacks occurred, but we had no intention of cutting Jerusalem from our trip," she said.

"Unfortunately, things like this can happen anywhere these days."

The family's only precaution, her husband said, was to take taxis instead of buses.

"This is our third time in Israel. When we were here in 1994, there were two attacks in Jerusalem and one in Tel Aviv, and each time we were very close by," he said, referring to a series of suicide bombings on city buses.

"This is our vacation and we have tried to put the attacks out of our minds," he said. "It never helps to live in fear."