George Washington U. students react to suicide bombings in Israel

Posted 5:50 p.m. Dec. 12

By Jamie Meltzer
U-WIRE Washington Bureau

Israel recently bombed Palestinian complexes in an effort to eradicate terrorism. Though this fighting is taking place halfway around the world, many American residents feel the effects of the violence.

On Dec. 2, a suicide bomber boarded a bus and killed fifteen passengers in Haifa.

“My father’s entire family is over in Israel,” said John Nachum, a sophomore at George Washington University. “Right now, three of my cousins are in the army. My closest cousin, Tali, is working in Haifa, training her men to operate the United States’ Humvees equipped with machine guns,” said

Haifa was the site of two suicide bombings during the first week of December. On the first of the month, an explosion in a Jerusalem nightclub killed 10 people. Twelve hours later, a man armed with explosives boarded a bus in Haifa and detonated a bomb. A third suicide bombing occurred on Dec. 9 when an individual waited at a bus stop and set off explosives strapped to his body. No one was hurt in that incident.

The United States and other nations have put pressure on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to prevent future bombings.

“I do not think that anybody thinks that Arafat is behind the bombings or even profits from them,” said Nathan J. Brown, a professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University. “But there seems to be a feeling that the Palestinians could take more in the way of preventive measures.”

Some students found the frequency of the bombings shocking.

“It happens so often that you get desensitized,” said Shira Dinar, a sophomore at GW.

Much of Dinar’s extended family resides in Israel.

Dinar travels to visit her family in Rechovot, a town in the northern part of the country as often as she can. The recent suicide bombings will not affect her travel plans, she said.

“But its not like we are tourists and we are going to dangerous places. We just hang out in the neighborhood which makes it much different,” Dinar said.

Jennifer Klein, a sophomore at Muhlenberg College traveled to Israel last January with the Kesher Israel Connection. Armed guards traveled with the American group during its 10-day stay.

“We went to the wall and they got us out very quick. All they said was ‘the Muslim’s are coming,'” said Klein.

The Kesher group is a division of Birthright Israel, a private organization funded by Jewish philanthropists. It was founded under the belief that Jewish communities around the world were growing separately from Israel. The organizers believed if Jewish students were able to go to Israel and be educated on its culture, a sense of solidarity would be strengthened among the Jewish people.

Birthright’s goal is to send 100,000 students between the ages of 18 and 26 to Israel with no cost to the participants. The program is in its third year and has had over 22,000 participants, according to Joseph Wagner, the Birthright press agent.

Each day the trip itinerary is viewed by the Birthright counselors and sent to an Israeli government agency for approval, according to Wagner. This agency decides where it is safe to travel and decides the best route. All Birthright participants use private transportation to each destination. Wagner expects nearly 10,000 participants this year, despite the violence in the region. Changes are being made to the program to increase security.

Wagner seemed hopeful for the program’s future in light of the violence.

“You can’t stop living. You can’t stop boarding planes. You can’t stop seeing your family,” said Tal Vifkin, a sophomore at GW who has cousins living in Haifa.

Nachum said he would remain optimistic that the conflict will be resolved.

“I believe that the majority of both Palestinians and Israelis want peace, and it is just those few fundamentalist groups that are ruining it for everyone,” he said.

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