Uneasy Israelis wonder if holidays can ever be safe

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The Independent Online

"I had a bad feeling from the beginning," said Ayelet Rubabshi, 14. She was still cradling a couple of Kenyan carvings between her bandaged fingers as she told how she was knocked down by the force of the car bomb at the Hotel Paradise in Mombasa on Thursday.

"I had a bad feeling from the beginning," said Ayelet Rubabshi, 14. She was still cradling a couple of Kenyan carvings between her bandaged fingers as she told how she was knocked down by the force of the car bomb at the Hotel Paradise in Mombasa on Thursday.

"I had a bad feeling when I saw a lot of Israeli people together in one place," she said. "When a lot of people are together I always think it's a good opportunity to make a suicide bombing. That feeling follows me even when I leave Israel."

Her uneasiness, hundreds of miles from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, illustrates just how inured Israelis have become to suicide bombings. And the irony is, she was right to feel that way.

Ms Rubabshi, speaking from a hospital in Jerusalem, told the story of what happened in extraordinary detail, recounting every movement of the people on the scene. It was seared on her memory. After the bomb went off and burning fragments rained down, she escaped with her parents. They thought her two younger sisters had died inside. "When we found them we just cried and hugged each other," she said.

The Israeli air force rescued the tourists from Kenya, bringing them home on a specially chartered flight.

They had thought of Kenya as safe. Ms Rubabshi's father, Shimon, said he had forgotten about the 1998 bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi until after the attack. Another tourist, Shlomo Mizra, said as he stepped off the plane that was narrowly missed in a missile attack: "To think this would happen in Kenya, of all places."

Israeli newspapers reported yesterday that the government had been considering issuing a travel warning about Kenya before the bombing.

In a country used to much higher death tolls, three dead Israelis would not usually have such a big impact. But this attack has hit Israelis hard.

Writing in Maariv newspaper, Ben Caspit summed up the reaction of many: "Now, it is even impossible to travel abroad peacefully. We are being targeted here, there, everywhere, at all times, in all climates. Once, you could at least wait for the flight, the so-familiar scent of the plane, the magical, intoxicating feeling of going abroad. Today, all that remains is the scent of fear."

It could have been so much worse. But for a few feet, 271 more Israelis would have been killed if one of the missiles fired at the Arkia passenger aircraft on Thursday had hit its target.

As several commentators pointed out in the Israeli press, this was the "mega-attack" that Israelis have been fearing for some time. But they thought it would come in Israel, and they thought it would come from the Palestinians.

Israeli officials say they believe the attacks in Kenya were the work of al-Qa'ida.

The Israeli government has been saying for so long that the conflict with the Palestinians and George Bush's war on terror are the same thing that many people here believe it. But the Israeli press is now having to confront the reality that if the attacks were the work of al-Qa'ida, then Israel is up against something new.

And, despite Ariel Sharon's promise that "our long arm will get those who carried out the terror attacks", retaliation will not be as easy as sending the tanks into Nablus.

"The cells arrived at their destinations with perfect timing, prepared to carry out a massacre. It was meant to be a mega-terror attack, and although it wasn't, it carries a hint: this is how our lives could look from now on," wrote Amit Cohen in Maariv. "Bin Laden's men do not operate according to the basic principle of 'action-reaction', they operate all the time, and everywhere."

The feeling of insecurity was bolstered by an Israeli security source, who was quoted as saying: "This is a general declaration of war on Israel, and we intend to bring the war to their doorstep."

Meanwhile a poll revealed yesterday that, for the first time, a majority of Palestinians ­ 56 per cent ­ want Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority to crack down on militants behind attacks on civilians inside Israel. But a majority still approves of attacks on soldiers and settlers in the occupied territories.

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