Beyond Images Challenging myths and presenting facts about Israel 
THE WESTERN WALL BUS BOMB: Shattering life, shattering hope
London - published on 10 September 2003
Beyond Images Ref: 68

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Hamas: rejecting Israel’s right to exist

Hamas rejects Israel’s right to exist within any borders.

Since its founding in the 1980s, Hamas has been committed to the elimination of Israel and its replacement by an Islamic state. This is stated repeatedly by its leaders, by its website, and by its ideologists and “religious” mentors. Since 1989 Hamas has launched hundreds of attacks against Israeli civilians in pursuit of its goals.

On 19 August 2003 a Hamas suicide bomber killed 22 Jews on a bus travelling away from the Western Wall in Jerusalem in an act that shocked even emergency workers and conflict-hardened commentators.

This Briefing describes the attack and its consequences.

Bus Number 2: a popular route for prayer at the Western Wall

Bus Number 2 travels through the heart of Jerusalem, to and from the Western Wall, every day. The bus passes through many strictly orthodox Jewish neighbourhoods. It is perhaps the most convenient way for devout Jews to reach the Western Wall, the most holy site in Judaism, to pray there. The bus is often extremely overcrowded.

Hamas bombs families of worshippers

On the evening of Tuesday 19 August 2003 a Hamas suicide bomber, from the West Bank town of Hebron, boarded a Number 2 bus as it was departing from the precinct near the Western Wall. The bus was filled with worshippers, including many women, children and families. The bomber was dressed as a religious Jew.

He made his way to the central part of the bus (an area including several baby-buggies). As the bus was driving through the neighbourhood of Beit Yisrael, he detonated his bomb.

22 passengers on the bus were killed, most instantly. Body-parts were blown dozens of metres away from the scene, and many victims’ bodies were unrecognisable. 134 people – passengers, pedestrians, and drivers of nearby vehicles - were injured, many seriously. The bomb had been packed with ball-bearings to maximise the suffering of the victims.

Rescue workers described the attack as the most gruesome in three years of the Palestinian intifada: “There were small babies bleeding on the ground. One of the [rescue] workers was leaning over an infant, no more than 15 months old, giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation…. it was hopeless” (Israeli rescue worker, quoted in Ha’aretz 20 August 2003).

The victims

Virtually all the victims were from ultra-orthodox Jewish communities in Jerusalem, Bnei Brak (outside Tel-Aviv) and Netanya (to the North) and included:-

  • Children aged 16, 12, 9, and 3, and two babies under 1 year old

  • Mrs Goldie Taubenfeld from New York, the mother of 13 children, who had been on a wedding visit to Israel

  • Rabbi Shalom Reinitz, the father of 9 children, one of whom was also killed and a second injured

  • A father of seven children, two fathers of five children, and a father of four children

  • An engaged 19 year old girl (Nechama Rechnitzer), and a 22 year old woman (Lilach Kardi) who lost both her parents as a teenager and who was bringing up her 14 year old brother by herself.

An atmosphere of mourning descended over the affected Jewish neighbourhoods, as families and communities spent the day after the attack at a succession of funerals, burying their dead, and engaging, emotionally shattered, in tearful soul-searching.

Israeli commentators of all political and religious affiliations were struck by the dignity of the affected communities, and by the absence of hysteria or calls for retribution.

The consequences

The attack had several consequences for the Palestinian civilian population, all of them extremely negative:-

  • Israel broke off all contact with the Palestinian Authority, blaming it for repeatedly failing to dismantle the infrastructure of Hamas;

  • Israel immediately suspended its plan, due to have taken effect the next day, to withdraw from the Palestinian towns of Tulkarem and Ramallah, and hand them over to the control of the Palestinian Authority;

  • Israel reintroduced military checkpoints on various roads across the West Bank, which had been removed some weeks earlier as a “confidence-building measure” with the Palestinians;

  • Israel halted the release of all Palestinian prisoners still to be released under an agreement with the Palestinians; and

  • domestic opposition in Israel to its construction of its security fence (to prevent suicide and other terror attacks) was virtually silenced.

None of this prevented the murderer’s wife from praising his action. She was quoted as saying she was not sad about her husband’s deed and was delighted that his lifelong wish could be fulfilled: “All of his life he dreamed of being a martyr” (Israel Insider, 20 August 2003)

Shattering life, shattering hope

The bombing of the Number 2 bus shattered life in Israel. And it shattered hope for Israelis and for Palestinians desperate to move beyond the violence. Few events have so graphically illustrated:-

  • the rejectionist violence of Hamas;

  • the indiscriminate viciousness of its atrocities; and

  • the self-destructive impact of its mass-murders on the Palestinian people.

Comments and Conclusion

As a result of the attack (and many others which preceded it, and have followed it) Israel has declared “all out war” on Hamas.

Critics have condemned Israel for this. But no country could stand by in the face of an attack like the Number 2 bus attack against the heart of its civilian and religious life. Israel cannot be expected to watch as Hamas recruits, trains, arms and parades its future suicide bombers in the heart of Gaza, only a few kilometres from the homes of the men, women and children who are their intended targets.

The attack on the Number 2 bus may have marked a turning point, when Israel decided that it had no choice but to attempt to root out the murderous violence of Hamas once and for all.