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A day in the life of Hebrew University

Angela Bertz- Wednesday 6th Jun 2007

Maria Bennet was only 24 in July 2002. In May of that same year she wrote a column for a newspaper in her hometown of San Diego, in which she spoke of her friends and families concerns for her safety while she was in Israel; "I appreciate their concern. But there is nowhere else in the world I would rather be right now. "I have a front-row seat for the history of the Jewish people. I am a part of the struggle for Israel's survival."

I wonder if anyone at the University and College Union UCU has ever taken a moment to look up some rather interesting statistics. For instance did they know that all seven universities in Israel feature in the top 500 of best universities around the world? The Hebrew University of Jerusalem is actually in the top 100. Maria Bennet was doing a masters program in Judaic Studies there, and was in her second year.

Benjamin Blustein was 25 and in Israel on a two year study program. He was doing a two year course in Jewish studies, which he later planned on teaching. He was also doing a Hebrew language course at the Hebrew University. By some cruel twist of fate, on that sunny day in July he was to have flown home later that day to visit his family in Pennsylvania. He never made it.

I wonder if the members of the UCU remember where they were eating their lunch on the 31st July 2002. Maybe it was in the cafeteria of one of there campuses. On the night before, Mohammed Oudeh, a Palestinian Arab and a resident of East Jerusalem, which enabled him to move freely around Jerusalem, scaled the wall of the Hebrew University and hid some very macabre contents under a bush. At that point nine innocent people, including Maria and Benjamin, had less than 24 hours to live.

The next morning, Mohammed used his position as a contract painter to enter the Hebrew U campus. He attracted no undue attention as he showed his card to the security at the University gate. Proceeding to where he had planted a yet to be detonated bomb the previous evening, he took the contents, which included shrapnel, to maximize the devastating effects of the ensuing explosion, to the cafeteria.

Janis Coulter, 36 had been raised as an Episcopalian, but had a Jewish grandmother. She sought spiritual fulfillment by converting to Judaism. Her Rabbi would say of her "She saw it as going back to her roots. Intellectually, Judaism appealed to her - it made sense to her and that she found it beautiful". Janis worked at the Hebrew University foreign student department in New York and on the day she was destined to die she had been accompanying a group of students, who had arrived to study at the University.

Shortly after 13.30, as the Frank Sinatra cafeteria was packed with students, many of them foreigners, the bomb was detonated by the use of a cell phone, set off by a remote control. The cafeteria was gutted, killing nine innocent people and wounding 85 more.

Dina Carter, 37, described as a special person by one of her work colleagues, had also converted to Judaism. In 1990 she moved to Israel where she worked as a librarian and archivist at the Hebrew University Campus. As part of her ongoing studies for starting a library science course she was at the University that day to take a Hebrew Language exam. She stopped at the cafeteria before the exam.

Later that day Hamas held a rally in the streets of Gaza, drawing a crowd of some 10,000 supporters, many of them children, who jubilantly waved Hamas flags to celebrate the attack on the University.

David Gritz 24 was his parent's only child, and a dual citizen of the USA and France. He had arrived in Jerusalem only two weeks prior to the bombing, with the help of a $12,000 scholarship, to start a course in Jewish studies. His parents always feared for his safety, and their worst fears were realized as they stood over his grave, as he was buried in Paris.

The rally drew some sobering comment from masked Hamas speakers "This operation today is a part of a series of operations we will launch from everywhere in Palestine", and just in case this left any doubt, many people at the rally knelt to the announcement that they "would succeed against the enemy of G-d."

David (Diego) Ladowski 29 was originally from Argentina and had joined the Foreign Ministry in 2001. On the day of the bombing he was less than two weeks away from taking up a position at the Israeli Embassy in Peru. He went to the University that day to submit his final paper for an M.A he was pursuing in public administration.

A few days later Mohammed Oudeh was arrested, along with four other people from East Jerusalem. Ten more were picked up in the Palestinian city of Ramallah. The group all admitted their affiliation, to the now "democratically elected" Hamas government, who were not only responsible for the attack at the university, but for eight more attacks, which claimed the lives of 35 innocent Israelis, including 11 at a caf? in Jerusalem in March of that year.

Levnina Spruch 61 was head of the university's student body and had worked there since she left the army 33 years before. That day she came to the cafeteria with her co-worker Daphna Spruch 61, who had once been a student at the university and now worked as the systems coordinator. Levina was killed instantly and Daphna suffered serious head wounds, which despite an initial improvement in her condition she later died of her injuries.

Prof. Menahem Magidor, president of the Hebrew University had the following to say in an issued editorial "the sons of evil perhaps killed men and women who were dear to us, but they will not kill our dream and our determination to continue to build a civilized society here, one based on reason".

Revital Barashi 30 came from a family of 13 children. For the past seven years she had worked in the Law Faculty as a student adviser. In 2000 she had been named as the University's most outstanding worker. Described by her colleagues as "talented, cheerful, and always willing to help others", she survived for two weeks, remaining in a coma until succumbing to serious head injuries.

The UCU recently fell short of calling for an all-out boycott of Israel, resorting instead to passing a motion and circualating a call from Palestinians for an academic boycott, to all its branches. The ridiculous and completely one sided motion presented by this supposedly "academic organization" was nothing short of banal trite, better suited to a third grade Palestinian history book. Its reasons ranged from the absurd, to something resembling twilight zone rationality. It deplored Israeli checkpoints, curfews, invasions and closures, yet completely ignored Palestinian policies, which have for years preached intolerance and hatred, demonized their youth and more lately, thrust an already almost lawless society into the brink of civil war through internal fighting, as if they were void of any culpability.

Part of the motion called for a UK wide campus tour for Palestinian academics. Maybe on the basis of fair-mindedness the members of the UCU should spend a day at the cafeteria of the Hebrew University and try to come to grips with what it must be like to live under the constant threat of Palestinian terrorism, which not only ended nine lives that day, but has killed over 1000 Israelis in more than 25,000 attacks. It seems almost unbelievable that people who claim to be "academics" can totally ignore these indesputable facts and at the same time belittle themselves, by revering people who have made terrorism a way of life.

Still it's not all bad news. On another survey of world university ratings The Al Quds, a Palestinian University in East Jerusalem was voted in at number 6,459. Maybe if the Palestinians put as much effort into achieving academic excellence as they do in Israel, instead of using their university campuses as breeding and recruiting grounds for terrorism, they could leap up in the ratings and even create a better future for their children.
Angela Bertz - Israel



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