Israeli yuppie town of Kfar Saba now finding itself on the front line of the battle with the Palesti

KFAR SABA, Israel — Mario Goldin, a 52-year-old Israeli doctor, was waiting for a bus the morning of April 22 because his car wouldn't start.

He was planning to take the No. 29 bus to the nearby Meir Hospital, where he worked.

He never made it. A Palestinian suicide bomber standing near Goldin detonated explosives strapped to his body, killing the doctor and wounding at least 50 other Israelis.

The deadly attack followed two other incidents that rocked this upscale Tel Aviv suburb, located in central Israel where the West Bank bulges into Israel's coastal plain, toward the Mediterranean Sea.

On April 14, two pipe bombs exploded an hour apart, with the second blast moderately wounding an elderly man walking along a quiet side street.

On March 28, a Hamas suicide bomber killed two Israeli teenagers when he detonated a nail bomb among a group of students waiting at a bus stop near Kfar Saba for their ride to school. Four teenagers were wounded, one of them critically.

The spate of attacks has made Kfar Saba, an upscale address for Israeli yuppies enriched by the country's high-tech boom, into an unlikely front line in the war of attrition foisted on Israel since late September.

Established in 1937 by the British, Kfar Saba was surrounded for years by farming cooperatives growing oranges for export.

In recent years, the city's population reached 80,000 as a result of Israel's high-tech boom, and the orange groves fell to the sea of concrete expanding in all directions from the Tel Aviv metropolis.

The recent attacks have shattered the calm of this palm tree-lined enclave.

"People are more tense, and they're paying more attention to their surroundings," said Dov Rakovitch, a local resident.

There have been a dozen bombings or attempted attacks in central Israel during the past few weeks. In addition to Kfar Saba, attackers also have hit in Petach Tikva, Netanya, Neveh Yamim and Hod Hasharon.

The central region is Israel's "soft underbelly," according to Israeli Police Chief Shlomo Aharonishky, primarily because of its proximity to Arab villages located just over the "Green Line" — Israel's pre-1967 border — in the West Bank.

"People are anxious about the entire country," said Jonathan Rimon, mayor of Kochav Yair, a nearby Jewish suburb that is home to former Prime Minister Ehud Barak and the army's chief of staff, Shaul Mofaz. "When things happen close to a person's house, that makes a strong impression."

Life in Kfar Saba has undergone subtle changes since the Palestinians launched their intifada last September, Mayor Yitzhak Wald said.

"We don't raise our hands" in despair and "won't let it control us," Wald said. "But there's tension in the air."

Last week, some 25,000 residents showed up for the Memorial Day and Independence Day celebrations in Kfar Saba's main square. That was the city's "answer to the terror," Wald said.

For all outward appearances, life in Kfar Saba continues as usual.

Two days after Goldin was killed, teenagers could be seen strolling around the local mall, talking on their cell phones and trying on T-shirts and baggy cargo pants at Castro, the local version of the Gap.

At Erez Bread, a gourmet shop, customers tasted a new type of olive sourdough and purchased fresh rolls for Independence Day parties and picnics.

Next door, at Ilan's Coffee, patrons bought freshly ground coffee and drank "hafuch," the Israeli version of cappuccino.

"I haven't seen much of a difference in the number of customers," said Ilanit, a waitress who was clearing empty mugs from tables outside the shop. "People seem to be doing their regular thing."

Nearby, children played on scooters, skateboards and Rollerblades.

"Kids bounce back from these kinds of incidents," said Rakovitch, who works at a local school. "You don't get used to this kind of situation because you can't get used to it, but we're waiting for a solution, for a change.

"We voted for change, but we're certainly not feeling it yet," he added, referring to February's landslide election victory for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who promised to restore Israelis' security.

Because of Kfar Saba's proximity to Kalkilya, a West Bank city under Palestinian control, hundreds of Palestinians used to cross into Kfar Saba every day, according to Wald.

In the past, that was fine, Wald said; now it's a cause for concern.

"We were always close to Kalkilya, but that was OK," Rakovitch said. "Now we've crossed this red line, and there's this sense that terror can take place anywhere."

In the past, Kfar Saba residents sought closer ties with nearby Israeli Arab and Palestinian towns. That was before the intifada began, after the Oslo accords had created a sense that peace was within reach.

During that period, some Kfar Saba schools hired Israeli Arabs to teach Arabic. Now, however, the teachers aren't coming — and the joint efforts have disappeared.

Wald said he received notes from the mayors of Tira and Taiba, the two nearby Israeli Arab towns, suggesting that they hold a joint rally against terror. Wald declined, but said he hopes to restore relations in the near future.

Locals largely refrain from driving into Taiba and Tira, once popular spots for shopping and lunch on Saturdays, when Jewish businesses close for the Sabbath.

"This kind of tension hurts them more than us, because now Israelis don't spend money in those towns," Wald said.

After Goldin was killed, Wald demanded that a barrier be built to separate his city from the West Bank. Perhaps a cement blockade would make it more difficult for suicide bombers to slip through, he said.

For now, Kfar Saba police stand in the middle of the two-lane road leading from Kfar Saba to the nearby Arab and Jewish towns, stopping cars that look suspicious.

The inspections make driving more difficult on an already traffic-laden route, but Wald is sticking to the plan for now.

"In the long term, I don't want a border between us," he said. "I want to see a peaceful relationship like Holland and Denmark. But that is not the reality right now. We're in an abnormal situation. We're at war."