Terrorists strike in Jerusalem's 'living room' Ben Yehuda Street was location of earlier violence

September 05, 1997|By Ann LoLordo | Ann LoLordo,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JERUSALEM -- The punk rockers and the prophets meet on Ben Yehuda Street.

Panhandlers and street musicians ply their trade on the stone pavement. The religious solicit money for charities and invite the nonreligious to pray.

The city sizzles on the street that's closed to traffic. It's the place to display a bare midriff, eat a shwarma -- the grilled meat and pita sandwiches -- and buy a bouquet of sunflowers before the Sabbath starts. A man says that he's Elijah the Prophet and that he can prove it.

People watchers sip filtered coffee under patio umbrellas. Soldiers with Uzi machine guns slung over their shoulders mill around on the street named for the founder of the modern Hebrew language.

Tourists shop for everything from Oriental rugs to menorahs to T-shirts that say: "My grandmother went to Jerusalem and all I got was this lousy "

But as yesterday's events proved once again, Ben Yehuda street also attracts people with murder in mind. The three suicide bombers who killed themselves and four Israelis and injured scores of other people here yesterday weren't the first to bring death to the street.

Nearly 50 years ago, before the formation of the state, three trucks loaded with dynamite blew up on a Saturday night as the Sabbath ended.

"Hundreds of Jerusalemites wandered up and down Ben Yehuda Street, drifting from cafe to cafe in a happy, talkative, bustling crowd," according to an account of the moments before the Feb. 21, 1948, attack, in the book, "O Jerusalem."

"The explosion was by far the heaviest blow the Arabs had succeeded in directing against the Jews of Jerusalem. 54 people were killed. Instead of driving [the Jews] to sue for peace, the tragedy united Jerusalem's Jews in a new determination to resist," the account note.

Abraham Rabinovich, a reporter for the Jerusalem Post for three decades, calls Ben Yehuda "the living room of Jerusalem.

"If [the terrorists] wanted to hit a place to draw an emotional reaction, they picked the place "

L More than two decades ago, Yasser Arafat realized that, too.

On July 4, 1975, the PLO planted a bomb that killed 14 people in Zion Square at the end of Ben Yehuda Street.

Arafat didn't deny it. Speaking from his headquarters in Beirut, Lebanon, he said, "We will continue to escalate more and more because we have homes and our rights there."

Yitzhak Rabin, then-Israeli prime minister, had this to say: "The only language they understand is that of the sword, and that is the language we shall speak to them."

Four years ago, Rabin, again prime minister of Israel, shook hands with Arafat over a peace agreement.

People danced on Ben Yehuda Street that day.

Pub Date: 9/05/97

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