The Hillel Cafe Bombing

Aftermath of the Hillel Cafe bombing, 9 September 2003. (Milner Moshe/GPO)

10 September 2003 — It is now 11:59 PM, half an hour after the suicide bombing at Hillel Cafe. Just the night before, my wife and I and two of our friends were sitting at the Cafe until around 11:40 PM. The place was packed. I can now hear the sirens of the ambulances racing through the streets of Jerusalem. I cannot get the images out of my head; images of severed arms, decapitated heads, people with nails and pieces or iron stuck in their bodies, broken tables, the cake and sandwich bar shattered into thousands of pieces.

What happened to the sweet waitress who was serving us? What happened to the young bus boy? We were sitting in the middle of the room; all those people came there for a good time and were carried out in coffins. Is the high ceiling still in place? The glass wall shattered into millions of shards, covering body parts and swimming in the blood that spilled on the floor like water.

Shema Israel, hear O Israel, we pray - but Israel is not listening. And I feel empty inside, asking myself which of my friends and neighbors were at the Cafe today? I am thinking about the people holding their coffee cups when the bomb went off, and how they were lucky if the shatters only got in their eyes and did not kill them. I think of the man biting into his sandwich not knowing that this would be his last bite ever; about the piles of human bodies flying in the air into one another; about the severed arm thrust into the young woman still seated at her table, but she feels nothing - she is either in shock or simply dead.

I see how tables are blown by the blast, hitting the guests, and how in the fireball human flesh mixes with freshly-served cheese; and the smell, the smell of explosives and burnt human flesh blending into one; and the quiet after the blast, and the cries of pain and shock, the shock that comes after the quiet. I think of the victory that the Chief of Staff has announced two months ago, saying we have beaten the Palestinians, and I my heart weep: how could my army chief of staff be such a fool?

I think of the folly of the politicians who are leading us from one catastrophe to the next, and I think about how the people keep silent. Has everyone forgotten? Adonai eloheinu - the Lord is our G-od, not Greater Israel. I know the painful truth. The body count will continue, because our political leaders are petty little people. So full of themselves, they are clueless about conflict resolution; they slay Palestinians and expect them to exercise restraint. These wise men believe that the occupation can continue; these glorious generals have for there years now been “letting the IDF win,” as the slogan goes; they may be seasoned soldiers, but they are absolutely ignorant in conflict resolution.

They believe that by using terror to counter terror they can give us security. They believe that they can devastate the infrastructure of Palestinian leadership and government and at the same time stop militias from wreaking chaos. They have for two years now been pronouncing Arafat “irrelevant”, but what does that make of former defense minister Binyamin (Fuad) Ben-Eliezer, of former prime minister Ehud Barak and of the incumbent, Ariel Sharon? Are they any more relevant than he? How long will it take us to wake up from this ongoing folly? How many more body bags will it take? Adonai ehad - G-od is the only unshakeable truth, not any political creed. The beauty of Israel is slain upon the Messianic pipedream - how long shall the petty leaders of this nation triumph?

It is now the morning after, and I have just learned that Dr. Appelboim was killed, along with his daughter who was to get married tonight. I knew this wonderful, special man. My heart bleeds for him; it was only two months ago that we had a chat and even argued over my political views. How painful and despairing it is to see more blood being shed in vain. The young bride, excited to start a family with her betrothed, is forever married in a blood wedding to her father. They will lie side by side, as the silence of all eternity quashes the joyful sounds of the wedding that will never be. Shema Israel, yitgadal, veyitkadash shema raba - hear O Israel, exalted and sanctified be the name of the great Sovereign - these are the words of the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer recited over every freshly-dug grave. Shame on you, leaders of the nations.

Arik Frankenthal

Yitzhak Frankenthal is the father of Arik Frankenthal and founder of The Parents Circle, an organization of bereaved parents who have lost their children to terrorism. On July 7, 1994, the body of 19-year-old Arik was found dumped in a village near Ramallah, riddled with bullet holes and stab wounds. Arik, an IDF soldier and an Orthodox Jew, had been hitchhiking home on leave when he was kidnapped and murdered by Hamas. The Parents Circle advocates peace and coexistence through the promotion of tolerance and compromise. Over 250 Israeli and nearly 200 Palestinian families who lost their cherished ones in combat or in an act of terror, are united in a movement that is spearheading social and political alternatives aimed at resolving this deadly conflict and to terminate the senseless loss of human life. For more information, see