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THE MIDDLE EAST

Attack Hits Place Where Jews and Arabs Mixed

April 01, 2002|MICHAEL SLACKMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

HAIFA, Israel — There wasn't any guard outside Matza's restaurant Sunday when dozens of diners piled in for an afternoon meal. Matza's is run by an Israeli Arab, so no one ever thought it would be targeted for a terrorist attack.

"I am an Arab, and I should get a guard?" Ali Adawi, 57, said to his Jewish friend Yakov Nachmani, dismissing the suggestion as absurd.

But the ordinary and the unthinkable have switched places in Israel these days. Adawi was cooking meat and potatoes on a grill in the kitchen, listening to the laughter filling the dining room, when a man walked into Matza's and blew himself up. The explosion tore through the roof, shattered windows and chairs, blasted patrons with shrapnel and killed at least 15 people besides the bomber while wounding as many as 41.

Witnesses said the restaurant appeared to fly into the air.

Adawi crashed to the floor, the meat and potatoes toppling over him. The explosion destroyed the restaurant and obliterated one tiny corner of this troubled land where Arabs and Israelis had found some common ground, by themselves, without the help of government mediators. They did it by getting to know one another, sitting together, drinking coffee, sharing meals.

Now their small sanctuary was gone, and many were dead--Jews and Arabs, men, women and children.

"I am looking forward to the day when Jews and Arabs will live next to each other in peace and love," Adawi said later from a hospital bed as two of his Jewish friends stood by his side. "That is what I want."

That dream was as far away Sunday as it has ever been. This country of 6 million people lived through another day of terror attacks--one in this picturesque port city on the Mediterranean, another in the Efrat settlement in the West Bank, which killed the bomber and left four medics wounded. With each blast, each civilian casualty, Israelis came closer to full acceptance that, once again, their nation was at war. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon didn't need to say the words.

People here feel it.

"The political arguments don't any longer exist," said Effi Batzia, 38, a financial manager and self-described liberal who was called up for military service Sunday. "We don't see any ot1751478816happy to go to war, to settle things with force. We are not. I now believe it is the only thing left to do."

All over Israel on Sunday, men and women stepped out of their private lives, left families and jobs, and answered the call to report for active military duty. The call-up of 20,000 reservists is the largest in the Jewish state since 1982, when the IDF--the Israel Defense Forces--invaded Lebanon. But that invasion ultimately proved unpopular. It was viewed as a war of choice, not necessity.

The circumstances this time are different. One social scientist said recent events had quieted the peace community and silenced a growing chorus of conscientious objectors, hundreds of soldiers who had refused to serve in the Palestinian territories. Israelis, it seems, are now caught in the same psychological force field that Palestinians have pointed to as the motivation for their attacks: They feel desperate, with no choice but to lash out.

"It is a real war now, and in a time of war, we have never experienced people saying they did not want to take part," said Tamar Hermann, managing director of the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research in Tel Aviv. "It is as if all the rules of the game have been broken. It is a real war, though not a conventional war."

Israel's large-scale military call-up is an indication that it is planning an intense and sustained operation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Infantry brigades, tank units and support forces are all headed for the Palestinian territories.

Many of the reservists, from all walks of life, parked their cars in a dirt field at the edge of Pisgat Zeev, a Jewish neighborhood adjacent to Jerusalem on land occupied by Israel in 1967. They put on their uniforms, slung automatic weapons over their shoulders and climbed into buses for the ride to their camps.

"First of all, we are going to defend our homeland," said Mordechai Pereta, 47, who as a father of seven is exempt from service but nevertheless volunteered. "I completely support this. Anyone who thinks it will get better by itself is dreaming."

Elazar Zur, 30, left his job as a truck driver to take up arms against the Palestinians.

"If we don't do this now, it will only get worse. At least we can dismantle the terror infrastructure and it will get better," Zur said.

For months, Israel has waged military operations against the Palestinians. The army tightened its grip Sunday on the West Bank city of Ramallah, declaring the area a closed military zone and sealing off Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat and whoever else was in the city.

And the bombings continued.

Jerusalem was hit by a suicide bomber Friday. Tel Aviv was hit Saturday. Haifa was targeted Sunday. Those are Israel's three largest cities.

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