Survivors try to make sense of attack

Bombing of Jerusalem bus stuns witnesses, wounded

`You just don't do things like this'

February 23, 2004|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JERUSALEM - Five months ago, Alice Eizenkot had just dropped off her two teen-age daughters at dance class on Emek Rafaim Street when a Palestinian suicide bomber blew up a cafe about 100 yards from where she was standing. Eight people died.

Yesterday, Eizenkot had left her daughters at their school and was in her car, at the other end of the same street, when a bus behind her blew up at a stoplight. She stopped her car in the middle of the road but didn't look back.

"I knew it was an explosion, and I knew it was the bus," she said, trembling in a bed at Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus an hour after the attack. "I didn't want to see anything. My children called, and they didn't believe that I had survived."

All she could recall was her legs shaking and being unable to drive. "There was a frightening silence," she said, "and then the ambulances came."

All morning, doctors and nurses at the hospital scrambled to treat the wounded.

There were people like Eizenkot, frightened but otherwise physically unhurt. There were others whose faces, necks and hands had been showered with bits of metal packed into the bomb. The bombing injured Arabs and Jews, and they found themselves lying side by side on emergency room beds, treated by the same doctors and nurses and having similar horror stories of close encounters with death while performing the most ordinary tasks.

Abed Issa, a 42-year-old laborer from East Jerusalem, was on his way to a bank to cash a check so he could buy food for his wife and five children. He was pushing his way toward the center of the bus when the bomb exploded.

"There was so much blood we had to wipe it from our eyes," Issa said at the hospital as he dabbed a gash above his left eye with a piece of gauze.

Issa, who works as a gardener and cleans floors at a medical clinic on Emek Rafaim, shrugged off the politics behind the blast. "What does it matter, Arab or Jew?" he said. "You just don't do things like this. We are all from the same place, from the same God. My only war is providing bread for my children."

Across the hall, Oren Cohen, 28, was consoling his relatives. He works as a freelance photographer for the Reuters news agency and for the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth. He heard about the bombing on his pager and rushed to the scene on his motorcycle.

When he arrived, he remembered that his younger brother, 17-year-old Nir Cohen, had taken the bus to school that morning. Cohen scanned the debris with his telephoto lens.

His parents called with bad news. Nir Cohen had been on the bus, sitting in the back chatting with a friend who was in the army. He was hurt, but alive, and at the hospital.

The elder Cohen rushed to the emergency room and found his brother lying on a bed with a bloody nose and hundreds of cuts on his face and arms. Shards of metal had flown into his lips, which had puffed up like balloons. Most of his teeth were missing or broken.

Three Cohen brothers crowded around his bed and held Nir's hands - a police officer in uniform; a soldier in green fatigues carrying his M-16; and the photographer, Oren Cohen, his camera slung over his right shoulder.

Nir managed to describe the blast flinging him out of his seat and throwing him face-first onto the floor. A dead man lay on top of him, and Nir waited for help. He stayed conscious. "I realized that for the most part, I was OK."

It wasn't until he was outside, he said, "that I started to cry."

His best friend at the Gymnasia Rehavia High School, where he had been headed, lay in a bed across the hospital hall with a piece of metal lodged in his thigh. Another classmate was dead.

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