All that you have is your soul (Tracy Chapman).

Monday, 7 July 2008

First Hand Account (Of Bulldozer Terrorist Attack)

by Rochelle Eissenstat

On Wed. July 2, 2008, an Arab started trying to kill people on a very packed busy street in Jerusalem with his work vehicle, a caterpillar type of huge bulldozer. He just drove it onto the adjacent packed street and started trying to crush cars. One of the first cars he attacked was ours.

In our car were my husband in the front passenger seat, me the driver, and 3 of our girls in the back; we were on our way to meet visiting friends.

As we drove toward the place, we were on the packed street called Sarei Yisrael, when suddenly, several workmen suddenly ran into the street gesturing vehemently that we should clear out. This was really impossible with the very packed traffic! And anyway, just behind them came a huge bulldozer at an impossible-seeming speed. In the first seconds as he bashed into a car to the left of us, it was not entirely clear whether the vehicle or driver was out of control. But then after flattening car #1, he crushed a second car next to us, and turned his attention to us, as I was already trying to reverse our car, as the only direction possible to attempt to distance ourselves from him, hoping that the drivers behind me would also back up.

So there we were stuck in our car, staring into the face of this man determined to kill us. He was around 30, looked somewhat overweight, with a fixed, purposeful look on his face, but unbelievably was using his bulldozer as a deadly weapon. I still feel how bizarre this was - a bulldozer! I have read since then, that later he was screaming Allah is great, but at the moment he was staring at us, determined to crash into us next, he was unsmiling and silent, with only what I thought was a look of determination and concentration on his face.

He crashed his dozer into the front of our car 2 or 3 times after having successfully crushing the 2 near us with one blow each. Those 2 other cars I saw which he attacked before us were pancaked but amazingly the drivers were able to escape since he couldn't crush the drivers' sides quickly enough and noone else was in those cars. One driver was the woman whom he had diabolically motioned to proceed and then bashed into her car and as she dashed out of her destroyed car he tried to run her down! A second vehicle, a taxicab was flattened next. The 2 drivers both escaped from their cars virtually unscathed. The woman who was dressed unreligiously and we stayed together into the hospital - she declared that God must exist here after all. At any event, within seconds we were attacked.

We were immobilized in our car by his repeated violent crashing into us. Was he frustrated that our car didn't collapse with his first blow like the first 2 and yet it was full of people to kill? Over the next period of what was probably really only a minute or so, he bashed the front of our car repeatedly and bashed our roof with the shovel at least once, all to no avail!!!. Unlike the 2 other cars he had attacked first, our car would not crush. He then drove ONTO the roof of our car trying to crush the 5 of us in the car with the full weight of the dozer. This is truly a miracle - our inexpensive Mazda 5 minivan still did NOT collapse. The sides of the frame were so distorted that we could barely open only 1 door, the front of the car was crushed, and the front window in smithereens but the roof only a little caved in! I was the driver and as the bulldozer rammed us, I put the car into reverse - no other direction to go. His ramming pushed the car back against the one behind me but at least that movement absorbed some of his impact that might otherwise have further crushed the car with us in it.

Since I was unable to do anything at the moments of his attacking us, I don't think now that my thoughts were really prayer. They consisted of just a realization that when we can do nothing, then everything is in HaShem's hands. We couldn't try to get out until he stopped ramming our car. Then as we tried to open the doors, we discovered that the front passenger door was the only one that could be opened by my husband, but 1 of my kids had her window completely open so we all got out in the 2 ways quickly. We wondered whether we should have tried to escape while he was still attacking the car but he had already tried to crush another driver as she got out of her car [his first intended victim] and later we were told that he had a pistol which he used to try to kill others. It was hard to get out as fast as maybe we needed to because we were trembling so much. It took me a few minutes to be sure my legs wouldn't buckle under me if I tried to stand up. One of my kids has a bruised arm but it is a miracle that we were otherwise unscathed. Is this a recommendation for the Mazda 5? I don't know, our air bags NEVER opened :-) But they would not have helped us and the sturdiness of the frame did! Does Mazda design the minivan 5 to withstand a dozer driving into and over it? My brilliant husband had picked that car as the safest and best model for the money for us. We walked away from the attack!

We feel so glad to be alive. After his rampage including our car, he continued on to other cars, pedestrians, and at least 1 full bus behind, having finally given up trying to destroy us in our car. After driving over us, he apparently killed a new mother and rammed at least 1 bus effectively and turned it onto its side. 3 people were killed before a policeman and I think a soldier were able to jump into the dozer's cab and grapple with him. I think that is when he started shooting. Another man grabbed the gun of the policeman fighting the Arab [because he couldn't take his hands off him to reach his own pistol] and shot him and killed him.

For what it is worth, the perp was a 30 year old Arab, a citizen of Israel, had a well paid job with good government benefits, lived in his own house, and was married with children.

So we've received lectures about how we are going to have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. One person told us that we had to recount our ordeal at least 100 times in the first day to avoid PTSD. Another told us to immediately get psych counselling from an expert. So far we are all too numb to do more than go through our days on auto-pilot. My kids were called by everyone in their school, kids and teachers, by now I think they have retold their experience 100 times. Most of our friends and neighbors have found out we were at the terror scene and called us too. I broke out some chocolate for the kids that I usually save for Shabbat and the kids put on a funny movie. One of the girls' friends had come over but didn't inform her mom who finally calmed down when she tracked her down to our home.

What has so far been the most effective means of staving off PTSD is our neighbor Miriam's chocolate chip cookies. She brought over a freshly baked batch. We have always thought they are probably the best in the world even when one isn't trying to fend off PTSD. We know that we have to start counselling ASAP but are still too numb to initiate it yet.

Thursday is the first day of the new month, and with the Jewish calendar, also the new moon, a traditional holiday especially for women, so we will all be praying especially thankfully. We went to pray at the Wall. I have already started wondering why G-d made a miracle for us so that our inexpensive car somehow withstood the terrorist's REPEATED blows while other cars were flattened at once [that would have killed all 5 of us]. We happened to have donated generously over the past year to Victims of Terror, but among the killed was a dedicated teacher of the blind and a warm wonderful early childhood teacher who had recently had a baby after years of fertility treatments. I think that our past mitzvot cannot measure up to this miracle saving our lives. HaShem clearly needs us to still do things - mitzvot here so we are needed to live.

Rochelle Eissenstat, Beit Shemesh

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