Bomb shatters cafe, but not hopes of protesters

Israeli peace activists began a vigil yesterday near the cafe where 11 people were killed by a suicide bomber.

The Israeli peace group Peace Now had been planning to set up a permanent protest vigil opposite the residence of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Their message: that Mr. Sharon's approach of relying exclusively on military force is simply bringing casualties to both sides of the conflict, leaving no hope for a deescalation or peace. Their point is made by posting a running tally of the fatalities: 340 Israelis and 961 Palestinians.

Their permanent vigil, which began yesterday, was already planned before Saturday night, when a Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up next door in the Moment Café, killing 11 others.

Yesterday, as some 20 Peace Now activists began their vigil, they said their message had been reinforced by violence over the weekend. On Friday alone, 39 Palestinians were killed by Israeli troops.

"I regret the escalation of violence and the casualties on both sides," says activist Janet Aviad. "This is terrible because it's a waste."

On most Saturday nights, after protests near Sharon's residence, Ms. Aviad and friends from the dovish Peace Now movement would head over to the trendy Moment Café to sip caffe lattes. Aviad, director of a philanthropic foundation, did not go to Moment on Saturday. Other colleagues did - and narrowly missed being killed in the attack by Hamas. They had left before the explosion.

"We in Jerusalem have been hit so many times," she says. "I'm not any sadder about Moment than about other attacks. But I know Moment, so I feel it in a more intensive way."

In a city where the social influence of ultra-orthodox Jews is growing, Moment was a stronghold of secular Israeli culture, a sort of instant escape to Western Europe.

Moment was bereft of windows or chairs yesterday. People milled around and sobbed, and religious workers were still looking for remains to accord victims a ritual burial in keeping with Jewish law.

"We were sitting around the bar," says Avishag Pihkhadze, who, like most of the café's clientele, is in her 20s. "All of my friends to my left were either killed or wounded." Two friends tried to calm her as she said she hoped to be able to go to funerals later in the day.

Meanwhile, Aviad and other Peace Now activists seem to have a double burden these days. They are trying to survive daily life like all other Israelis, while at the same time they are accused of serving the enemies' interests.

As Aviad demonstrated yesterday, she was being heckled by passers-by, who yelled: "Your friends did the bombing."

"This is the worst-ever security situation for Israelis," says Aviad. "The attacks are in the cities, not in Lebanon or in the occupied territories."

"Until the Sharon government genuinely makes a political offer to the Palestinians, this situation will continue. It is our duty to say this under all circumstances," she adds.

Across the street, Noam Federman, an ultra-right-wing activist, says of Peace Now: "If we had a proper state, we would put people like that in jail.... If someone beats them up, I, for one, would not cry."

Ari Shavit, a Haaretz columnist, suggested yesterday that the attack against Moment shows that the conflict with the Palestinians is not, as many peace activists say, a war by Israel to retain the Jewish settlements.

"Perhaps it is really a war over the chances of a Western society to survive in the Middle East," he writes.

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