In Bay Area, young Israelis give a face to terror survivors

Roy Gordon unfolds a copy of Israeli daily Yediot Achronot and reveals a monstrous sight. The interior of Jerusalem's Moment Cafe is strewn, ankle deep, with blood, body parts, mangled furniture and shattered glass. And there, in the middle of it all, is Gordon.

"It started like a regular evening. I just came to work. By half-past eight, the place was crowded, full of people," recalled Gordon, 24, a soft-spoken former Moment Cafe bartender.

At half-past 10 on the fateful night of March 9, Gordon ducked underneath the bar to retrieve a glass. When he stood up, he was in a war zone.

"I felt a huge explosion and I think it took me 10 or 20 seconds just to adjust and go on. Then I understood immediately that it was a suicide bomber," he said.

The bombing killed 11 Israelis and wounded more than 40 others. It also left Gordon disillusioned, listless and — not insignificantly — out of a job.

Gordon and fellow former Moment Cafe bartender Na'ama Harel, 22, traveled through the Bay Area last week, speaking to Jewish groups and members of the media. The trip, arranged by Israeli-Americans Alona and Eli Barkat of Palo Alto, was intended to present Americans with the point of view of average Israeli citizens living in the shadow of terrorism — a situation the Israeli visitors say Americans don't fully understand.

After the Moment Cafe bombing, "people didn't go out to coffee shops anymore, didn't go out to the mall, didn't go to the center of the city where all the shops are," said Harel, as energetic a speaker as Gordon is subdued.

"That cafe wasn't just my workplace. I'm not from Jerusalem, so, for me, it was like a second home. All the people who were killed, we knew. They were regular people who came in almost every day. The one waitress who was killed, it was her first shift, ever. So it was exactly like somebody coming into your home and blowing it up."

Even when Gordon does venture out of his home — and he mentions that his sister hasn't left hers in a month — the combination of his experience and the lingering fear it will happen again drains the flavor out of life.

"I can't leave it behind me, but I try to live with it. There is no other way. But I am sadder, and scared to go to crowded places. Studying, going out with my girlfriend, even going out with friends to have a drink, you are quiet. Sometimes you find yourself in a situation where you know you would be enjoying yourself if you hadn't experienced this thing," he said. "Everything in life, it looks a little bit tasteless. We are like hostages in our own cities."

Perhaps the No. 1 misconception Americans hold, according to both Gordon and Harel, is that Israelis hate Palestinians. That, they say, is not the case.

"Even after what happened to me, I do not hate the Palestinians. I hope there will be peace one day. I hope all this area will be quiet," said Gordon.

"But I won't ever forgive the ones that sent this suicide bomber to kill 11 innocent people in the coffee shop where I worked. This is something I just won't forgive them. I think we should do something about these people before we sit down and get into any agreements."

Harel added: "We just want to be able to go about our lives, go to work, go back home, see friends, have a coffee, have a drink. We came to this situation because people weren't safe. We had to come in with the army and step in to try to find all the terrorists."

Terrorism, Gordon said, is not merely a problem in Israel and New York City.

"Here in California, you can say, 'New York, that's really far away.' When I was in Jerusalem, I thought far away was the next street. Then they caught me in the coffee place."

The young Israelis said they weren't happy about Israel's Operation Defensive Shield, but they felt it was a logical response to escalating terror attacks. And they both also expressed extreme frustration with the world media's demonization of Israel for actions in Jenin, while giving a free pass to Palestinian terrorist groups.

"The world thinks that Israel is the Goliath because we are stronger, and they see the picture of the tank next to the 16-year-old Palestinian. But they know we are human. They use kids against us," said Gordon, a reserve lieutenant in the Israel Defense Force. Shortly after surviving the suicide bombing, Gordon was called up to active military duty, but was sent home a few days later without having seen any action.

"When I and my friends went to the army to look for these terrorists, we are [made to] feel like murderers, and I don't think we are murderers."

He removes the newspaper once again, and points to the photo of himself, frantically wading over dead friends in a scene of terror.

"This, this is murder. What I experienced is murder."

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.