bombing shakes haifa's spirit of coexistence

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    Bombing Shakes Haifa's Spirit of Coexistence

    By Matt Spetalnick
    October 4, 2003

    HAIFA, Israel (Reuters) - Jews and Arabs had worked together and eaten together for decades at the popular Maxim restaurant on the beachfront in the Israeli port city of Haifa. On Saturday, they also died together.

    As families sat down for lunch on the Jewish Sabbath, a Palestinian suicide bomber blew herself up inside the crowded restaurant, spewing body parts, blasting out glass windows on all sides and ripping down sections of ceiling.

    The explosion killed 19 people, injured dozens more and shattered a longtime symbol of coexistence in a mixed city that has struggled to keep a lid on tensions during a three-year-old Palestinian uprising for independence in the West Bank and Gaza.

    The attack, just before the Yom Kippur fast day, targeted a prosperous business co-owned by Christian Arab and Jewish families and frequented by Arabs and Jews for its Middle Eastern cuisine.

    Even the emergency workers and ambulance crews who rushed to the scene were a mix of Jews and Arabs.

    "This was a microcosm of Haifa, how we live and work in harmony despite our differences," Mayor Yona Yahav said as bodies were pulled from the shattered dining room. "Terrorists want to provoke us to hate each other but that won't happen."

    The young Palestinian woman who carried out the bombing timed it for the height of lunch hour when the restaurant, which overlooks Haifa's scenic shoreline, was packed with beachgoers.

    "Suddenly we heard a tremendous explosion. We saw smoke pour out of the restaurant," said a witness, Navon Hai. "Families were dead around the tables, there were children without limbs."

    The stench of burned flesh mingled with the salty breeze off the Mediterranean. Wires and pipes were left dangling. Discarded shoes and bloody clothing littered the nearby parking lot.


    The bomber's severed head with a long mane of dark hair lay on the floor in the center of the restaurant. A black-and-white checkered baby carriage stood amid the wreckage.

    Dazed people wandered around in swimming trunks after coming back from the beach, where others remained enjoying the sunny weather as rescue workers carried away the dead. Top officials of Haifa's professional soccer team were among the injured.

    Mooli Nir, 28, one of the Jewish owners whose grandfather opened Maxim in 1965, naming it after the famous restaurant in Paris, said his family was numb with shock.

    "Most of the people who work here are Arabs. I don't understand why they would do this," he said.

    Police said at least four Arabs were among the dead.

    Arabs, who make up 12 percent of Haifa's population, became citizens of Israel when the Jewish state was created in 1948 in parts of what had been British-mandate Palestine.

    Many complain of institutionalized discrimination by the Jewish majority, and three years of fighting between their Palestinian brethren and Israel has driven a wedge of suspicion between the country's Arabs and Jews.

    Though several suicide bombings in buses and cafes have shaken the Haifa's confidence in itself as a rare example of coexistence, residents still believe harmony can be preserved.

    "I can't hear the words Arab and Jew," Tony Matar, one of the Arab owners, said at Haifa's Rambam hospital where injured relatives and employees were taken. "We are all citizens of Israel. The pain is the same pain and it does not pass over any of us."

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