(continued): Israel, West Bank, Ramallah: June 6-14, 2002: Peace seemed unattainable and the world opinion seemed to shift to accept the growing fear that Arafat didn’t really want peace at all, that he had more to gain by seeing how close he could come to a final accord then slipping away from the table. It was feared that the other Arab states would continue to financially support the arrangement in place when the Arab refugees were contained in camps rather than being integrated into a new state or into the borders of the other areas of Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, etc.
The fear that seemed to startle the outside world was that the Arab and Palestinian forces would never be satisfied with any concession other than the dissolution and disappearance of an Israeli state in the Middle East and a return to a status prior to 1917.
Accompanying the growing fear emerged a new frustration. Arafat didn’t seem capable of controlling the violent acts of terror carried out by his groups of Hamas and other Islamic jihad organizations. World opinion raised the question as to whether Arafat was the one to be at the negotiating table at all.
Prior to our traveling to West Bank the terrorist situation had escalated to an almost unbelievable level. Nearly two years had seen the second round of intifada produce numbers of suicide bombers, where Palestinian individuals with belts or backpacks stuffed with explosives would walk into a crowded establishment where Jews had gathered and trigger a detonator to blow up themselves and everyone else in the crowded area. Young teens and even schoolgirls were being recruited as lethal human bombs. Other Arab countries would even pay the children’s families large sums of money for their “brave acts of martyrdom.”
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon declared that if Arafat could not call in the terrorists, then the Israeli military would go back into the West Bank cities and root out the pockets of terrorists. His tanks and helicopter gunships went into Ramallah and completely destroyed Arafat’s newly built and equipped preventative security palace of his elite guard. Following another suicide bombing where many Israelis were killed, Sharon sent his tanks and helicopters right into Arafat’s headquarters compound and destroyed a large percentage of the facility while Arafat was in residence. Then Sharon left his troops there and confined Arafat to the shelled out headquarters for nearly four months. Arafat finally agreed to verbally condemn the suicide bombings and Israel let him go free.
Thursday, June 6
Thursday morning Anna Marie took me to the airport to board Air Canada #582 to Toronto, Canada. My flight would take me to Toronto, and then I had a non-stop flight Air Canada #886 right into Tel Aviv. Mohamed had already flown into Tel Aviv and it was agreed that he would meet me at the airport when I arrived.
Friday, June 7
Per our agreement, Mohamed met me at the Ben Gurion airport. He had hired a van with the correct color of license plate on it to transport us into the West Bank. Our trip from Tel Aviv to Ramallah was not as complicated as it could have been. At the military checkpoints I simply showed my American passport, told them I was a visitor and humanitarian and the Israeli guards waived me through.
The night that I was traveling, Sharon gave orders to the Israeli military to retaliate for the latest suicide bombing. The incident by the Hamas had taken Arab terrorism to a strange new level.
In the early days of intifada the Islamic jihad groups like the Popular Front for Liberation of Palestine used cars packed full of explosives. They would park the cars near the targets to be blown up or along the street where the intended victim would be traveling and detonate the car bomb by timer devices or remote control detonators. Those bombs were effective in blowing up the intended targets but also struck fear in the hearts of the Israelis.
But the car bombs advanced to more lethal and more frightening methods of terror. People who were radically active in the Palestinian cause were recruited to be trained on how to use their bodies to deliver the deadly explosives. The terrorist group of Hamas became very brazen and prolific at selling, especially young people in their teens and early twenties, on the glories of suicide martyrdom. The young suicide bombers were very difficult to detect and quick and eager to take risks. They took on the mission knowing, but probably not fully understanding, that they wouldn’t be coming back to receive accolades after their daring mission.
About 8 a.m. Thursday, as I was in Denver preparing to leave for Israel, the Islamic jihad ratcheted their insidious terrorist methods up one more notch. Never before had they employed the use of a young teenager to drive a small van totally packed with explosives into another moving object. A suicide bomber driving his bomb into a moving bus was unthinkable.
The Israeli bus had left Tel Aviv at 5:50 a.m. full of sleepy passengers headed for Tiberius on the Sea of Galilee. Many of the fares were military passengers headed for their assignments. As the bus passed through the town of Megiddo (Hebrew for Armageddon) a sixteen-year-old boy pulled alongside the back portion of the bus and detonated enough explosives to lift the bus and flip it over twice before coming to rest totally engulfed in deadly flames.
At least 17 people died immediately. Thirteen of those incinerated were Israeli soldiers. Many more were taken to the hospital in critical condition. “It was timed to mark the 35th anniversary of the 1967 Six Day War when Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza Strip,” said the spokesman of Islamic jihad, which quietly claimed credit for the bombing.
Next Week: Community health needs . . . plus war-related injuries
© Dr. James W. Jackson
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