Thursday, July 07, 2005

Humanity at its worst

What can you say about a person who is strapped to the gills with explosives and boards a bus or subway car bent on killing and maiming as many as he can? He may be legitimately aggrieved, he may have seen countless acts of brutality perpetrated on his neighbors, friends and relatives. But the moment he pulls the cord, any rational dialogue or debate ends. He would prefer to make his point through fear than persuasion.

The shocking bit is seeing the images and hearing the stories of the victims, who by the fickle winds of fate, are caught up in the devastation. My heart goes out to those Londoners. Londoners are a tough breed. I have made so many dear friends in that city. I pray for them all.

For over a year, I used to walk past Tavistock Square on the way to work at Reuters. To see it again this morning on the TV was jarring. The scene of those Georgian style buildings splattered with blood and the roof of the bus ripped off, sardine can style, was jarring to the bone. A year ago I covered a bus bombing in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba. It was a shocking sight to behold. Jews and Arabs alike were among the dead and injured. It was one of those moments in which I saw humanity at its most senseless. It will live with me forever. I wrote this in an email to a friend several days after the event:

I sneaked out to Tel Aviv last week to do some simple tech reporting over Bank Holiday weekend and wound up in Beersheba covering a bus bombing. I was the closest reporter to the blast so I commandeered a cab and sped across the desert. I went into Home News mode when I arrived, interviewing hysterical Israelis (well, the ones who spoke English). I interviewed two teenage survivors. 18-years-old.They were spending their last day together before he shoves off for the army and she goes back to school. In a puppy love fog they grab seats in the back of the bus -- the last two seats on the right. Oblivious to everybody but themselves, a bomber pulls a cord. They hear something explode and look forward. "I saw pieces of people coming at me," he told me. At that point I realised his appearance. He was caked in...well, you get the picture. She was a zombie through the whole interview, just listening with a vacant stare as if she didn't recognise anything he was saying. Her jeans were streaked with dried blood. After relaying this story, they just collapsed into each other. They were sobbing uncontrollably. Not wailing. It was almost subdued, like they couldn’t muster the lung power to free the dark emotions trapped in their chests. I just left them there in a sobbing heap. They're just kids, but they had that look -- that look as if nothing will ever be the same again: their budding relationship, the outside world, a simple bus journey.

The Jerusalem buro was thankful for the anecdote -- liberally using my quotes and color and even deputising me as an honorary member of the team. But it was a deeply affecting thing to behold. I couldn't sleep that last night so I cabbed it into the old town Jerusalem and watched the spectical that is the Temple Wall. I was hoping I could find even a partial explanation for the world's madness amid the bobbing heads and chants. The tension and the mistrustfulness of the place is profound. The day I left they began construction on a wall -- a giant concrete barrier to seal off the Palestinians. That's the most profound solution they could come up with -- put a wall between you and the people who've wronged you.

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