On October 13, 2015, two young Palestinian men affiliated with the Hamas movement, Baha Alian and Bilal Panem, boarded the 78 bus in Jerusalem’s Armon Hanatziv neighborhood. The two were residents of Jabel Mukaber, an adjoining Arab village.
Alian was armed with a concealed firearm, Ranem with a knife. The two intended to carry out a terror attack within the framework of the spate of murders of Israeli Jews by Palestinian Arab Muslims, inspired by false claims that Israel was planning to change the “status quo” on the Temple Mount area.
Shortly after boarding the bus, Alian opened fire, and Ranem set about trying to stab the passengers. Alian was overpowered by a security guard on the bus. Ranem managed to seal the door of the bus, but was then shot from outside it by members of the Israeli security forces.
The terrorists succeeded in killing three Israelis and wounding a number of others. One of those killed was a 78-year-old man named Haviv Haim.
That afternoon, at home in my apartment in a neighborhood on the other side of the valley from Armon Hanatziv, I received a message on my phone. The message was from an old army friend of mine, and asked if I had heard about what happened to Menash’s father. The message caused me to stop in my tracks. The names of some of those killed had already been released. “Haviv Haim.” And “Menash” meant Menashe Haim, the deputy company commander of the company in the IDF reserves in which I served for 17 years.
“Haviv Haim?”, I typed back. My friend replied in the affirmative, sending details of the shiva taking place at the family home.
I hadn’t seen Menash for about three years, since I stopped doing reserve duty in the tank corps. I remembered him, though. He was an exceptional commander. I remembered him standing on the hull of a tank to address us all the day after we were called up for the Second Lebanon War in August 2006. Small, stocky, unshaven, black-haired and smiling. We were confused and a bit disoriented after the long night of the emergency call-up, arriving to the north.
Menash was the very best type of officer, cool and competent in the technical aspects of our work, but also skilled in the management of soldiers. Certain people have an ability to make any situation seem safe, normal, and manageable. To reduce things to known and familiar proportions. Hard to say exactly how this is done. Menashe Haim is one of those people.
I remembered him for his reckless courage also, inside Lebanon. Riding in the tank, his head out of the turret, fearless and imperturbable. Until we were hit by a barrage of 25 Kornet missiles in a valley below al-Khiam. Mensal was struck by a fragment in his right arm, which was shattered. I remembered seeing him out of the hospital and back at the base a few days later with the arm in a sling. Still smiling. Irrepressible.
They used to call him “pita” in the unit, after the round, flat bread eaten in the Middle East. This was because of a strange habit he had of substituting the word “pita” at random for various other words. “Go join those other pitas over there,” he’d say, pointing to a crowd of soldiers.
He wasn’t laughing when I saw him in the shiva house in Armon Hanatziv the next day, with his blue t-shirt ripped as a sign of mourning. Haviv had died instantly, in the first burst of fire. His wife Shoshana, Menash’s mother, was still in a coma, still in the hospital. They weren’t sure at that stage if she would remember or know what had happened. (As it turned out, she remembered everything and knew her husband was dead straight away when she regained consciousness a few days later).
Menash stammered a little as he talked, and it was clear that at times he was keeping his composure with difficulty. Grief renders a person very alone. Incommunicable.
There is an instinct in all of us to run away from death. To be where it is not. This is something which must be overcome. The apartment was full of people and it was overcome.
The blank horror of the murder, the savagery, out of nowhere, an elderly couple, returning from a doctors’ appointment, defenseless. Yes, all very clear.
The family is from Baghdad and Erbil. They left in the wake of the Farhud pogrom of 1941 amid the growing fears of Iraq’s Jews as Arab nationalism rose and painted their doors in anticipation of slaughters to come and what might be inherited.
Jerusalem. The Seventh Armored Brigade. The wars of establishment and defense. Five children. Fourteen grandchildren. Life ending on a bright Jerusalem morning. All their fine sons not able to help them.
“We’re not here for a short time. We’re here to stay. We’re in a long struggle,” Menash told me, as we sat on the sofa in his parents’ apartment. “The one who can endure most will win. Who can endure most. But also, in the end we’ll live in peace.” “You haven’t changed,” I said to him. All words seemed tiny and feeble.
Later on that October, Netanyahu made ill-advised comments about the Holocaust and Hitler and Haj Amin al-Husseini. He seemed to blame the mufti for Hitler’s attempt to kill all the Jews in the world, a wrongheaded accusation he later walked back. But it certainly was the mufti who stirred up the people of Baghdad for the Farhud pogrom after arriving there in 1939. A matter of historical record. And it was the mufti who popularized the insane fears of a Jewish threat to al-Aqsa mosque, the same claim that underlies the current campaign of murder.
He and his like have been trying to make the life of the Hayim family of Jerusalem and Baghdad and Erbil unliveable for most of the last century, and I suppose a while before that, too. They won’t succeed.
I walked home back to Abu Tor through the valley. A brilliant blue and gold Jerusalem afternoon. The air clear and everything vivid as it only ever is in this city. Days of insanity come again. The only thing between now and the time of the Farhud is the structures we have built for our defense. Maintained with sweat and tears and blood and love. The one who can endure most will win.