It was a dark, cold, winter night when I alighted the bus for my trip home. After paying the driver, I started my way to the back to find an empty bench, some quiet and perhaps a chance to get some sleep on the hour drive back to Shiloh. While heading towards the back I saw Shmuel and nodded. Shmuel, his father, and his brothers sat in the row behind me in the synagogue in our neighborhood.
Just as I was settling in, Shmuel made his way to my seat. “Do you mind if I sit down? I would like to ask you a question.” Shmuel was then probably about 14 and I was more than curious why he would want to talk to me. Still, he was a neighbor so I nodded and he sat down. “You are an engineer, right?”, “No”, I replied, “I am a transportation planner”. I smiled feebly, most people have no idea that someone can understand transportation and not be an engineer, but for most, it isn’t also that important. “But you understand roads, right?” , “Yes”, I nodded. “Do you know why they put those small holes in the road?”
I sat back and thought. I too had noticed several holes in the asphalt, about two and a half inches in diameter. Surveyors had come to Shiloh and had measured the intersection near Shmuel’s home. They had put surveyor pins in the asphalt and when they had finished they had drilled around the pins and extracted them, leaving a small neat hole. I explained the process to Shmuel and he nodded. He had not noticed the pins but had seen the holes. He saw that something was missing, but not what.
A couple of years went by and Shmuel went off to high school, to the Hetzim yeshiva in Itamar. Sometimes after prayers, I would see him and say hello, ask him about his studies, or how he was doing. One Saturday night, a terrorist from the neighboring Arab village to his high school came to the basketball court and started shooting at the students. The terrorist murdered Avi Siton, a good friend and neighbor of ours from Shiloh, and two other students, Netanel Riachi from Kochav Yaakov and Gilad Stiglitz from Barkan.
Shmuel was also at Hetzim and was able to hide and then alert the security forces to the whereabouts of the terrorist. Luckily a teacher at the school was armed. The teacher confronted the terrorist and shot him dead before any more kids could be killed. After the funeral for Avi, I saw Shmuel and tearfully embraced him. “Be careful”, I pleaded, remain safe”.
But 2002 was a frightful year and less than a month later Shmuel was murdered at the French Hill bus stop along with another six people: Noa Alon and her granddaughter, Gal Eisenman, Michal Franklin (a daughter of a neighbor from when I lived in the Old City in Jerusalem), Gila Sara Kessler ( a granddaughter of a neighbor in Shiloh) , Tatiana Igelski, and Hadassah Jungeries. A terrorist, from Fatah, jumped from a red car at the intersection, ran across the street and exploded an explosive belt. Over 50 people were wounded by shrapnel along with the seven civilians, mostly children, who were murdered. Shmuel had just celebrated his birthday the day before he was murdered. He was 17 when he died.
Eighteen years have gone by and from time to time I think of Shmuel. I see his father often and I try each year to go to his grave with his family and to say psalms at his memorial service. I look at his brothers and sisters and wonder what sort of man Shmuel would have grown into. Most likely a family, children, perhaps he could be a teacher or work in high tech. I try to remember the boy I knew, yet I am drawn to the hole he has left in our lives. The lives of his family, of his friends, and his neighbors.
I suppose I could focus on the maudlin or the cliches of hope of a better future, and for certain they do have their place here, but that would not do justice to Shmuel’s memory. Shmuel was murdered. His murder was not some random event but was planned and organized by nefarious hands. Someone funded the organization that built the explosive belt that inducted to its ranks a “volunteer” to explode himself, and someone had searched for the exact spot and time to maximize the death toll, preferably of children and women. Perhaps till today the family of the bomber and those caught and imprisoned are receiving a stipend, paid in part by money from the EU or one of the Arab Gulf States. Perhaps the terrorist is memorialized officially by the Palestinian Authority or his local community.
Justice, the justice of this world, can never be harsh enough on those that were responsible for any of the around 1,800 terror attacks that occurred in 2002 that left over 450 Israelis dead and thousands wounded. Deliberate attempts to kill and maim as many as possible through bombings, shootings and other ways can never be excused. Perhaps the terror has subsided a bit, but the desire to kill Jews on the Arab side has remained and if not held in check could threaten our lives again.
So if one wants to know why so many Israelis do not want a Palestinian state, there is no need to look further than our memories of the wave of terror and the cost it inflicted on our communities, our families, even on ourselves. We see the Palestinian Authority and know of the stipends to terrorists and their families, the schools, and summer camps dedicated to the memories to those who murdered our children and the refusal of the PA to repudiate once and for all those who committed terror against our citizens. Peace, to be achieved, can only happen after the PA and her citizens reject terror in its entirety. Not out of a cold calculation of cost and benefit, but from a genuine recoiling from the indiscriminate pain inflicted on Israeli citizens by Palestinian terrorists in their name.
The recognition that to achieve peace, it is necessary for the PA to reform, renounce terror, embrace cooperation and forge mutual trust is one of the reasons I believe in President Donald Trump’s plan: Peace to Prosperity. Only recognition of Israel as a state for the Jewish People, renouncing violence, and abandoning claims that would perpetuate conflict can bring the sides to a better future. In return, Israel will recognize a Palestinian State.
Tomorrow I hope to be at the memorial for Shmuel. Eighteen years since the murder, the pain is still there and the gap is still felt. The holes Shmuel saw are disappearing, eventually, they will only be a distant memory. Will I always remember Shmuel or will my memory fade too? I try to remember the boy but only the hole he left is what I see.