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Israelis resigned to fresh wave of terror

On Wednesday night, as news of the terrorist attack against Israelis in Bulgaria was emerging, a group of foreign journalists in Jerusalem gathered in the home of a leading lawyer for an evening with Israelis keen to talk about how the worldviewed their country.

It was a high-powered group of Israelis: former prime minister Ehud Olmert walked in, fresh from being found not guilty of key charges in a corruption trial.

But the mood of the evening was dominated by the news that five Israelis had been killed as they arrived for a holiday in Bulgaria. And while Olmert, a big political figure in Israel, normally commands the attention of a group such as this, it was another guest who was in the spotlight. This guest had an extremely difficult job: to make sure that when Israelis were killed overseas by terrorism they were brought home quickly and that the needs of the families were met.

The Foreign Ministry liaised with him through the evening following the murder of the Israelis and their Bulgarian bus driver by a suicide bomber.

'There are days that are painful and yesterday was one such day'


The man also had to undertake his grim role justmonths ago; he was in charge of making sure three children killed as theyarrived at school in Toulouse, France, in March were brought back to Israel. The Israelis at the dinner feared that this could signal the beginning of a new wave of attacks on Jewish targets. "Israel needs to assume that weare now at the beginning of a wave of terror attacks of this kind," Alex Fishman wrote in Yedioth Ahronoth. Young Israelis are prolific travellers. It is almost a rite of passage that after their time in the army, which is compulsory for most, they travel to decompress.

The Israelis killed in Bulgaria never had a chance. Unbeknown to them, as they walked from the airport they were being followed. The video footage of the bomber is chilling. Wearing shorts and baseball cap, he appears to be a typical backpacker. But he is pacing back and forth, waiting for his prey, and it is now clear his bulging backpackwas heavy with explosives. Survivors returning to Israel yesterday gave insights into the bombing. One man told how when he jumped from the bus he could see three bodies below. Another said all he could see were "disconnected hands and legs".

When you live in Israel you see the human effect of terrorism up close. One of the most difficult stories I've had to cover was the funeral of the four Toulouse victims. As we stood at the cemetery outside Jerusalem, first came the body of Rabbi Jonathan Sandler.

But when the next body was carried in, that of three-year-old Gabriel, it wastoo much for most people. Even the translator of French foreign minister Alain Juppe, who was attending, could not bear it.

She broke down. It was the smallest body: it barely covered one-third of the stretcher. It is difficult for those who do not live in Israel to understand the impact that terrorism, particularly the second intifada has had on this society.

I once asked my dentist, who had moved from Melbourne, whether he had been in Jerusalem during the second intifada, when Palestinian terrorists targeted Israeli civilians. He explained that he had been in the Moment cafe in Jerusalem one Saturday evening when a man exploded himself, killing 11. A year later a bus was blown up outside his practice and he had the horrible task of trying to work out which bodies still had life in them and assisting.

One person every foreign journalist coming to Israel should meet is Arnold Roth, originally from Melbourne. On August 9, 2001, Roth's daughter Malki, 15, walkedinto the Sbarro pizza restaurant in Jerusalem. A man with a guitar case also walked in and exploded himself, killing Malki and 14 others. "For all practical purposes my daughter's murder took place this morning," Roth told me.

It is excruciating but important to hear Roth recall the night his daughter was killed. He turned up to one hospital looking for his daughter and a frantic doctor told him:"There's a dead girl over there,go and have a look, and there's another girl over there who's about to be operated on."

He and his wife Frimet now run a foundation in Malki's name that raises money for disabled children so they can be cared for at home. It gives help to both Jewish and Arab children. Since the second intifada ended in 2004, Israel has enjoyed relative calm. There are many reasons for this, including better security by Israel and an acknowledgment by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank that violence is no answer. New threats to Israelis abroad, as suggested by Toulouse and Bulgaria, appear driven by Islamic extremists taking cues from Iran and its proxy, Hezbollah.

No matter how good Israel's intelligence is, it is impossible to detect every threat. Israel's Defence Minister Ehud Barak told a shocked Israeli public yesterday that Bulgaria was not an intelligence failure. "The success of our intelligence and of others has been great, but there are days that are painful, and yesterday was one such day," he said.

Israelis now are bracing themselves for a possible return to the horrors of the past.

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Hear, hear: Geoff Seidner

Posted on 2012-07-26 11:04:04 GMT

Excuses for Lyons I am saddened by some comments on this blog variously espousing excuses, justifications for John Lyons' record. Here - under is a grab - bag of unfortunate attempts at ameliorating the unconscionable, justifying the untennable and unrealistically espousing optimism that Lyons has changed his 'spots.' Uncharitable, mend his ways, then the strained, oblique defacto contradiction about how ''hasbara has improved!'' Even Z's use of ''Hasbara'' is a clear attack on Israel - if you read it carefully. Zelda C manages to blame the Israeli government via some asinine strained idea that biased attacks on Eretz Israel was penned because of lack of co - operation by said government!! How ''UNCHARITABLY'' absurd her essential excuse for Lyons is - via the idea that L had to in the past rely on ''local stringers.'' INDEED - he surely did - as he painted regular visages of their 'victimhood! INDEED - HE INTERVIEWED THE PEOPLE THAT HE PAINTED AS VICTIMS OF ISRAELI VIOLENCE OR DISPARATE CONTRIVED, IMAGINED TRAVESTIES! Then one needs to look at merely the use of the 'but' word: ''but'' it is a step in the right direction.'' {I once wrote an essay: An 'Ode to the words But, Butts and Balderdash.' I think the last word was Bullocks!!] Does the writer realize that this cliched 'step' is not motivated from The Australian's Ramallah correspondent's cold heart? He has written some of the worst attacks on Israel ever seen on the pages of The Oz. Dozens of times. Period. He has been eviscerated - writes 'nice' articles - and returns to form soon: it is merely time - based. Then the cycle starts again ad infinitum. Surely one can see that his latent warm - inner - glow towards Israel was as a result of enormous pressure put on the man by the likes of myself complaining to the editor. I also wrote I to Rupert Murdoch's office in New York - and received immediately a personal apology - from the editor of The Australian. And to the writer who espouses some sort of ''epihany'' - get real! ''Junk'' articles? Does this writer seriously think Lyons did not know what he was doing? That he had a pool of monkeys bashing on his keyboard and came up with his many internicine, pre - ''epiphanous, junk'' of articles. I am going to send this stream - and other matters material hereto - to Mr Murdoch's office as well as to the editors of The Australian. And if perchance more pressure can be put on Lyons to write with human decency - it will not be as a result of some of the 'junk' I have seen above my entries on this esteemed blog. This writer realizes that a measure of success on one tangent of these scribbles will indubitably prove the flaw with the obverse. To wit - I allude as to wheteher Lyons will indeed write appropriate articles in future. It is a matter of historical fact that very few writers change their style unless it is forced on them. Eventually - when this pressure becomes so great as to be 'intolerable' - they resign - like The Australian's previous scribbler Martin Chulov. He now works for The Guardian! He too had 'history'! Geoff Seidner East St Kilda

Posted by Geoff Seidner on 2012-07-26 02:42:09 GMT

One article doesn't make him a friend. Let's see what the future brings.

Posted on 2012-07-24 09:14:10 GMT

People's attitude towards acts of terrorism can be likened to that of car accidents! Unless they, a loved one, or someone they know is involved in one, they never really think about it! Maybe this experience has been an 'epihpany' for Mr Lyons?

Posted by freddo on 2012-07-24 09:12:53 GMT

I would love to believe that Lyons has changed. But when journalists change opinions they usually tell the reader honestly about the turning point for them eg Nick Cohen. I see nothing of that from Lyons' current piece. What I see is a journalist who has been forced from above to write a piece sympathetic to one side. I'll go out on a limb here and say that the next few articles he writes will be sympathetic to the other side, justifying his journalistic 'balance'. I'd love to be wrong.

Posted on 2012-07-24 08:44:51 GMT

What a bunch of uncharitable comments. Sure, John Lyons has written a lot of tripe in the past, but even journalists can mend their ways. So can governments. Until recently, foreign correspondents in Israel were treated with disdain by officialdom and often had to rely on local stringers for information. Clearly, hasbara has improved.

Posted by Zelda Cawthorne on 2012-07-24 06:51:48 GMT

John Lyons has 'history.' Any favourable article from him has to be taken with a poisonous grain of humbug! The link below will inform. Geoff Seidner East St Kida

Posted by Geoff Seidner on 2012-07-24 05:04:06 GMT

Or to Lyons really!

Posted by Ronit on 2012-07-24 03:03:54 GMT

I read this article over the weekend and I was surprised by the unusually sympathetic tone. Until the bit where Lyons surmises that there had been less terror because the Pals have seen that violence is not the answer. This is of course wishful thinking and complete nonsense. The reason that there are fewer successful attacks in Israel is purely a result of Israel's improved security ie The Fence. Every day would-be terrorists are thwarted by Israeli security and border guards. And in Ramallah and elsewhere children continue to be indoctrinated with lessons of hatred and martyrdom. So no points to the Pals.

Posted by Shyrla Werdiger on 2012-07-24 03:03:12 GMT

People's attitude towards acts of terrorism can be likened to that of car accidents! Unless they, a loved one, or someone they know is involved in one, they never really think about it! Maybe this experience has been an 'epihpany' for Mr Lyons?

Posted by Freddo on 2012-07-24 02:53:39 GMT

For once some unadulterated facts....John Lyons is usually very unsymaptrhetic to Israel.

Posted on 2012-07-22 04:18:05 GMT