Terror Ravages Jerusalem Student Cafeteria

by DEBKAfile

31 July 2002

The difficulty of identifying the seven victims killed and more than 90 injured was complicated by the severe nature of their wounds and the fact that many were foreign nationals who were rushed to hospital unconscious. Some of the critically wounded underwent emergency surgery before regaining consciousness.

Most suffered from severe burns and internal injuries caused by blast as well as flying shrapnel, glass and debris. The first overseas students identified among the injured were from the United States, Turkey, Japan, South Korea and Italy, on summer courses at the Hebrew University Overseas Students Institute on Mount Scopus, Jerusalem, or new immigrants taking pre-graduate courses. The Israeli students, some Arab, were there for exams. Other visitors lunching at the large cafeteria named after Frank Sinatra came for the end-of-year students exhibition at the Bezalel Art Academy.

The Mount Scopus campus, with its idyllic, leafy nooks and stunning panoramic view of historic Jerusalem, is ringed round with a perimeter fence, its gates manned by armed guards. But, as students have often complained, any determined trespasser can find his way in. The Palestinian bomber who blasted the Frank Sinatra Cafeteria could have climbed the low fence dividing the campus from the Jerusalem Arab village of Issawiyeh, slipped through the National Botanical Garden, or thrown his bomb-laden bag over a fence and strolled empty-handed past the security guards at one of the gates. It is easy to reach the first elevator from the parking lot or the bus stop.

The Hamas in Gaza proudly claimed responsibility for this massacre. In English, Sheikh Rantissi declared the strikes would continue until Israeli occupation ends. In Arabic, he put it differently: “…until the Jews are thrown out of this land.” The Palestinian cabinet headed by Yasser Arafat, with Rev. Jesse Jackson at his side, condemned the Mount Scopus attack on the grounds that it is “harmful to the Palestinian cause”.

Earlier in the day, Jackson was on his way to call on the Hamas leader Sheikh Yasin in Gaza City. When he heard of the terrorist strike, he turned round and returned to Ramallah, where he rejoined Arafat.

Answering charges of lax security, Hebrew University heads say they want the campus to be a serene, untroubled center of learning where students of many cultures and nations can commingle freely. This worked moderately well until the Palestinians launched their confrontation in September 2000, since when tensions between Jewish and Arab students have shot up with periodic sharp eruptions. Since then too, Mount Scopus and the neighboring French Hill are regularly invaded by young Palestinian gangs from Issawiyeh and Shoafat-East near Ramallah. They haunt the streets and the parks, jumping out at passers-by from behind trees or rocks, pestering, insulting and sometimes robbing them. An upsurge of burglaries is also reported. Yet the Jerusalem police has not so far dealt with this situation, which becomes more dangerous at night, when the young hoodlums toss petrol bombs at cars driving along the roads linking French Hill to Mount Scopus or heading further north or east to Maale Adummim; sometimes bottle bombs are tossed into the back yard of Hadassah Medical Center which shares Mount Scopus with the Hebrew University.

In recent weeks, the nuisance has escalated into shooting attacks, especially on the French Hill-Maale Adummim highway. So far there has been no loss of life, which enables the police to play the outbreak down, although they are most certainly aware that the gangs of marauding Palestinian youths, with their knowledge of every byway in these mixed districts and the routines of its inhabitants, act as ideal reconnaissance teams for terrorists. Therefore, blaming the university for lax security does not begin to address the menace pervading a large section of north Jerusalem, or the precision with which the ground was prepared for the fatal attack on the students crowding the Frank Sinatra cafeteria for lunch on Wednesday, July 31.

The form of this atrocity also makes a mockery, whether by accident or design, of the deterrent measures against suicide bombers approved at Israel’s security cabinet on the same morning. Their relatives, whose complicity can be proved, will be deported to the Gaza Strip, their homes blown up and, in the case of Israeli Arabs, their property impounded.

However, the cafeteria bombing was not carried out by a suicide bomber. It was the work of a terrorist who slipped away after depositing his deadly device, free to spread more murder and bloodshed without his relatives incurring punishment. In this case, the new deterrent package is left without an object.

The steady rise of Israel’s death toll and the insidious integration of terror into the fabric of Israeli life demonstrate starkly that there is no watertight defense against terrorists and that no deterrents can avail. The Sharon government will eventually have to come to grips with the long-deferred assault on the Hamas strongholds in the Gaza Strip, and then deal with the men at the top of the pyramid of Palestinian terror, by meeting the rising demand to put Arafat and company on a plane to anywhere else.