Americans dared risks to study in Jerusalem

Despite precautions, 5 fell victim to bomber

August 02, 2002|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JERUSALEM - They came to Israel from the United States to study, to teach or to explore their faith, on a university campus that seemed immune from the violence taking place outside its gates.

Hebrew University's campus on Mount Scopus, the Americans could assure nervous parents and friends, was a haven of diversity, a place for debate, not bombs.

That changed Wednesday, when a nail-studded explosive hidden in a bag blew up in the campus cafeteria, killing seven people, including five Americans. The victims hailed from big cities - New York, San Diego and Boston - and small towns such as Peru, Mass.

They knew the risk of violence here. Most took precautions. One avoided downtown restaurants. Another took cabs instead of buses. A third rejected his mother's pleas to come home. A fourth was a teacher sure enough to escort students.

Classes resumed yesterday, and workers began repairing the wrecked cafeteria. But the blow this campus had suffered was just beginning to sink in.

Lissa Young, 25, came to the university 13 months ago for an advanced Jewish studies program, and knew two of the people who died, Benjamin Blutstein, 25, of Susquehanna Township, Pa., and Marla Bennett, 24, of San Diego.

Young stood near the blast scene yesterday as she spoke to friends by cell phone.

"My mom just called me," Young told one. "She is hysterical. I don't know what to do. My two friends are dead and my other friend is in the hospital. I broke down earlier. It felt good. I wasn't able to cry before.

"My anger is so deep that I haven't been able to deal with it," she said. "I love it here. It's such an amazing place. But the parents of my best friends are on a plane right now to come and pick up the bodies of their children."

Police and family members identified the other dead Americans as Janis Ruth Coulter, 36, deputy director of Hebrew University's foreign students department in New York; David Gritz, 24, a dual French-U.S. citizen originally from Massachusetts; and Dina Carter, 37, who moved to Israel 12 years ago from North Carolina and had dual citizenship.

Lavina Shapira, 53, and David Ludovisky, 29, Israelis from Jerusalem, were killed by the blast. At least 80 people were wounded, including several Americans and other foreigners.

U.S. Ambassador Daniel C. Kurtzer, who studied at Hebrew University in 1969 and 1979, toured the wrecked cafeteria yesterday and laid a wreath in front of the Frank Sinatra International Students Center.

"The terrorist murderers, those who sent them and those whose actions and inaction contributed to this despicable act, have descended to a new depth of depravity," Kurtzer said. "They have violated the sanctuary of a university, in which Israelis, Arabs, Jews, Muslims and Christians studied together."

Bush is `furious'

President Bush, who met yesterday with Jordan's King Abdullah II in Washington, said he was furious over the deaths of the Americans. He said he plans to seek the cooperation of Arab governments to track down those responsible.

"I'm just as angry as Israel is right now," Bush said. "I'm furious about innocent life lost. However, through my fury, even though I am mad, I still believe peace is possible."

Hebrew University, which has 23,000 full-time students, had been an oasis of coexistence in a city torn by ethnic and religious strife. University President Menachem Magidor said that is why his campus was targeted.

"This represents everything the bombers hate - an open, pluralistic and modern society," Magidor said. He acknowledged that attaining that goal in the wake of the bombing would be more difficult.

Police detained several Arab workers they thought might have helped skirt security to plant the bomb, and some students said they saw Arab students celebrating after the blast.

Parents have flooded office phones with calls asking about their children's safety, Magidor said, adding that the yearlong foreign studies program registered only 100 students instead of the expected 800. As of yesterday, none of the students had withdrawn.

"I tell parents that the world is not safe," Magidor said as he strolled the plaza in front of the cafeteria. "New York is not safe. I tell them that coming here is not without risk, but many people choose to come anyway."

Young said she had left the cafeteria 30 minutes before the bomb exploded. She was in her campus apartment when a friend called and told her what had happened. She turned on the news and hoped for the best.

She wasn't alarmed until her rabbi called from Boston asking for help: The U.S. Embassy, the rabbi said, needed to know what her friend, Marla Bennett, had been wearing that day. "He asked me, `Did she have any distinguishing clothing? Did she wear the Star of David,'" Young said. "Then I knew."

She said Bennett and her boyfriend from the university had been scheduled to fly to the United States today so he could meet her parents. "Now, the love of his life is just gone," she said.

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