West Bank victim remembered by local friends and neighbors

Girl who had lived in Md. has become 4th fatality in Feb. 16 suicide blast

March 01, 2002|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JERUSALEM - Rachel Theler could have left her Jewish settlement on the West Bank and returned home to the Baltimore area last year. But the teen-ager turned down her mother's offer.

Her mother remembers her answer: "This is where we have to live," Rachel said, fully at home in Karnei Shamron, a settlement of 6,500 people in scraggly hills in the northern West Bank.

On Feb. 16, Rachel was one of 30 people injured when a Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up outside a pizza parlor there, killing two other teens. She died yesterday, becoming the fourth fatality. The 16-year-old was buried in the settlement later in the day, and mourned by scores of friends.

Yesterday, Rachel's mother, Ginette Theler, remembered her daughter as the mediator among her friends and a caregiver to the elderly.

She made soup and delivered it to soldiers guarding the entrance gate to her settlement.

Rachel, who has two younger brothers, Lior, 14, and Zvi, 13, was born in Britain during a stopover on a flight from Israel to the United States. Mrs. Theler said she and her husband, who was born in New York, were moving back to the United States at the time.

They lived in Pikesville, but the family wanted to return to Israel. It was Rachel's prodding, when she was 11, that convinced her parents to make the move, her mother said.

A memorial service was held for her yesterday in Owings Mills at Bais Yaakov School for Girls, an Orthodox school for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. Rachel had attended the elementary school for two years.

Rabbi Yechezkel Zweig said the students gave a eulogy and said Psalms in her memory. "She took her Judaism seriously," he said.

The students remembered her as a good athlete who loved to play baseball with her brothers.

Gabrielle Shasho, 14, a ninth-grader, and her family were former neighbors in Pikesville and visited the Thelers in Israel three years ago.

"Rachel and I were just hanging out when my family visited," Gabrielle said. "But Rachel had fun, even when we were just riding up and down the elevator in a hotel. That's just the way she was."

Two weeks ago, on a warm Saturday night after the end of the Jewish Sabbath, Rachel had joined her friends at an outdoor mall, eating pizza. The plaza was packed with youngsters.

At 7:40 p.m., a young Palestinian man stood there and blew himself up with explosives strapped to his belt, injuring 30 and initially killing two 15-year-olds. Rachel was among those the most critically wounded.

Also hurt was her brother Lior, 14, who remained hospitalized yesterday and missed his sister's funeral.

The bomber apparently worked at the pizza restaurant, and walked past an unstaffed security post and triggered the explosives.

It was the first suicide bombing inside a Jewish settlement. The bomb shattered the facades of stores and gutted the restaurant.

Rachel lived another 12 days.

Special correspondent Jamil Roberts contributed to this article.

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