Grief, Anger Over Bombing Sweep Tel Aviv

TIMES STAFF WRITER

With brutal suddenness, the suicide bomber who brought carnage to a popular dance club here Friday night stripped this seaside city of the notion that it occupies a different world from the blood-soaked realm of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Jerusalem.

Tel Aviv's broad beaches and outdoor cafes, which would ordinarily have been thronged, stood nearly empty Saturday as people flocked to hospitals and the bombing site, seething with anger and grief.

At Waterworld, where the bomber killed 19 people and himself, they built impromptu shrines--piling floral wreaths and bouquets that quickly wilted in the scorching sun, lighting squat memorial candles and draping Israeli flags where, hours earlier, emergency workers had cleaned blood and bits of flesh from the sidewalks.

Across the street, hundreds gathered outside the Hassan Bek mosque, hurling curses and stones and besieging Muslim worshipers inside as police watched. The crowd eventually turned into a mob, chanting "Death to the Arabs!" and "War! War! War!" as rioters broke through police barricades.

But while many shouted for revenge there and in a rowdy demonstration outside the Defense Ministry, where Prime Minister Ariel Sharon met throughout the day with his Cabinet and security officials, others groped for ways to cope with their grief. Teenagers who normally spend Saturday surfing in the Mediterranean or sipping espressos in outdoor cafes instead shuttled from one hospital to another, frantically searching for friends and classmates on the lists of those injured.

At Tel Aviv's Ichilov Hospital, hundreds of anxious relatives packed the halls outside intensive care. Harassed hospital staff pleaded--to no avail--for people to clear out, as social workers and, later, Cabinet members worked the crowd. At Shevah Mofett High School, where five of the dead and six of the wounded had studied, Principal Avi Benvenisti decided early in the morning that he would open the campus, normally closed on the Jewish Sabbath, and staff it with counselors and social workers.

By noon, hundreds of teachers, parents and students had streamed in looking for comfort. They clustered in the main hall, weeping, holding one another, sharing horrific stories of what they had seen the night before or in hospitals that morning.

"You don't know where the next strike will come from. You feel like you are in a fight for survival," said Gurgen Zarifian, 17. Several of his friends were among the casualties, Gurgen said. "We studied together. We sat together in class and laughed together. I saw them every day at school and now, suddenly, they are gone. How can anyone explain this to me?"

Waterworld, a nightclub owned by Russian immigrants that mixed Russian tunes with trance music, became a popular Friday night haunt for Gurgen and his friends almost as soon as it opened six months ago. Two students from the high school even landed jobs there.

The tall, green-eyed teenager planned to join friends from the high school at Waterworld on Friday. Most of the school's 1,400 students, like Gurgen, are recent immigrants from the former Soviet Union. But his mother, frightened by a wave of suicide bombings inside Israel, forced him to stay home, he said.

"It is not just that they ruin our daily lives, that every time we get on a bus now, we check for bombs or suspicious people," a visibly shaken Gurgen said as he stood with friends at the school. "Now they ruin our escape. This was a place lots of students came to every Friday night to just forget about all the things they see on TV."

Students stapled black mourning crepe across a bulletin board in the main hall at Shevah Mofett on Saturday afternoon, turning it into an instant memorial for those slain. Others passed around lists of the wounded and dead. The office staff shouted at bureaucrats on the phone, trying to arrange for families abroad to be flown in for the funerals. Some teenagers slumped on stairs, while others clustered around a television to watch events unfold.

Everyone speculated about how Sharon might retaliate. Most said they hoped he would hit the Palestinians soon, and hard.

"You just don't feel it when it doesn't hurt you or your friends," said Ilya Zilberstein, 17, who was in a nearby jazz club on the Tel Aviv promenade when the bomb went off. Ilya had been combing hospitals for friends since before dawn.

"The only answer now is war," the slight computer studies student said. "Sharon has to react severely to this. If the Palestinians know that every time they kill one of us, we will kill 10 of them, they will be afraid and they will not do these things."

Fear, he and others said, is becoming the ruling principle of their lives. Formerly casual decisions about where to go and how to get there are now fraught with the weight of life and death.

"I want to leave this country," said Uri Abramov, 19, who came to Israel with his family from the Caspian region as a small child. "Israel has hit a new low. How do we know who will be hurt tomorrow?"

Closer to the beach, on tree-lined Rothschild Street, only a few brave souls nibbled at croissants at the stylish Espresso Bar. The cafe's sidewalk tables normally are filled on a Saturday, said waitress Rotem Goldberg, 25. She came to work, Goldberg said, because she figured that hardly any customers would come, so the cafe would be a poor target for a suicide bomber looking to maximize the toll of victims.

"People are depressed, afraid. This is starting to control our lives," she said. "Once, bombs were something that happened far away--in places like Jerusalem. But this, this was under our noses. This was an area where I go, where my friends go. The first thing I did was call all my friends. My birthday is tomorrow, and we were going to go to a restaurant to celebrate. Now I'm thinking we shouldn't go."

A few blocks away, behind the police barricades keeping the crowds away from Waterworld, Adri Sofika clutched her young daughter's hand and told anyone who would listen that the time had come for the government to act.

"An eye for an eye, that is the language that the Arabs understand, and if it is what they understand, then we should speak it," Sofika said, her voice rising in anger. "How does Israel let this happen? I should be frightened for my daughter to go to school? For my daughter to go out dancing? I should be frightened standing in line to get into a mall?"

Pay no attention to the angry young men outside the mosque, Sofika begged a reporter. Pay attention instead to the men and women weeping while lighting memorial candles outside the nightclub.

"This is what is really in our hearts," she said.

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