Wednesday, July 30, 1997

Machane Yehuda

The "Judah Camp" - English for Machane Yehuda. Situated in downtown
Jerusalem, between the Central Bus Station and the Jerusalem city center,
Machane Yehuda serves the City of Gold, as well as the surrounding
suburbs. It is commonly known as the `shuk' - the fruit and vegetable
market. But anything else, be it food, meat, dry goods, paper products -
a potpourri of whatever you might want is found here.

In truth, Machane Yehuda is much more than a shuk - much more than a
shopping market. Machane Yehuda is an experience. I know people who, when
coming to visit is Israel, make a pilgrimage to the shuk, not because they
need any food, but rather to absorb a little bit of native Israel. The
aroma of fresh fruits in abundance, the sight of hundreds of men, women and
children, some walking, others running, pulling small carts or carrying a
`sal' a small shopping bag, looking, comparing, weighing, paying. Here and
there a good word - sometimes an argument, a worker pulling a heavy wagon
packed with goods for another vender, pushing through the mob, `selicha'
`tazuzu' - excuse me, move aside. There is a fresh fish store - the
children gather around to stare back at the huge-looking fish eyes glaring
at them. Cake, cookies, sweets, even a coconut - for all who want.

On a small side street, between the two main streets of the market an old
man sells cloth to sew clothing. Another has a wide selection of
brooms and dustpans. Or perhaps some shoelaces. Can-openers, cups and
saucers, electric appliances - or some spices for Saturday night
`havdalah' the ceremony ending the Jewish Sabbath.

Perhaps the main attraction though, are the people. A profession
`people-watcher' can spend days and days watching. Religious men and women,
dressed in traditional garb, young secular couples, anyone and everyone -
searching for the best buy, lugging weighted packages, climbing on the next
bus, or carrying the load to the car, parked a few blocks away.

This is Amcha - Am Yisrael - coming from near and far - to do the weekly
shopping, especially towards the end of the week - preparing for Shabbat.

In the midst of the hustle and bustle - two suited men, wearing black
jackets, sporting neckties, with an attache case in hand - or perhaps they
had two each, get out of the parked car and walk into the shuk. One goes
one way, the other moves in a different direction. Standing about 30
meters from each other they wave and pull on a cord.

Chaos - panic - BOOM. The regular, orderly confusion of the market explodes
into flying nails and screws. Again, it has happened, again in Machane
Yehuda, a terrorist bomb has murdered and maimed.

At first some don't realize what is happening. Perhaps it was only the
sonic boom of a plane flying overhead. But then the screams, the shrill
shriek of agony, an unmistakable sign - it isn't a sonic boom - terrorists
have hit again. Some start moving in the direction of the blast - hoping to
assist the injured.

And then again - only seconds later - yet it seemed like an eternity - but
really only seconds later - again - B O O M. A second detonation - more
lives lost, more blood spilled, more cries of pain and anguish.

The police arrive, as do the ambulances, doctors and medics, volunteers, TV
cameras and news crews - the evacuation begins. The grisly task of
gathering dismembered limbs, and other body parts - searching for more
wounded, for more dead.

Machane Yehuda is transformed into a Machane Mavet - A Camp of Death.

Tomorrow the smells of the fruits and vegetables will once more permeate
the air. Shoppers will return, as they have in the past, as they do every
time. But tomorrow there will be at least 13 less people who will ever
again inhale the perfume of tomatoes and cucumbers, peppers and celery.
Tomorrow 170 others will be recovering from the wounds inflicted by the
killers. And hundreds, or perhaps thousands will ask themselves, should I
go to the market, or make do with the supermarket across the street from
the house. And others, they will wander the streets of Machane Yehuda,
looking at others like themselves, asking themselves, "who is he?" - "will
I be next?"

The fragrance of the market will be intermingled with the wretched
heartache of pain, of those missing, never to return, to Machane Yehuda.

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