Journalist Mike Kelly’s newest book, The Bus on Jaffa Road: A Story of Middle East Terrorism and the Search for Justice, chronicles the aftermath of the Hamas suicide bombing of a commuter bus in downtown Jerusalem on Feb. 25, 1996. The book traces the capture of the key bomb-maker and the efforts by the families of two Americans to hold Iran accountable for financing the bombing and training the bomb-maker – only to discover that the American government was trying to block them. He will be blogging here all week for the Jewish Book Council’s Visiting Scribe series.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, not long after the twin towers of the World Trade Center had collapsed in a pile of twisted rubble that was seven stories high, I leaped from a Hudson River pier in Jersey City, New Jersey, to the deck of a tug boat. An hour later, after crossing the choppy Hudson on the tug, I walked into the smoky landscape that came to be known as “Ground Zero.” Little did I know that my Hudson River trek would eventually lead me to a street in Jerusalem and more rubble.
Terrorism is personal. Yes, we speak of terrorism in sweeping, impersonal terms – of body counts of the dead and wounded, of the names of groups that claim responsibility for an attack somewhere, of the geo-political issues that may change in the aftermath. But ultimately, terrorism is about losing someone – of a sudden, murderous death taking someone’s life and leaving a family with an eternal hole in its collective soul.
I knew this, of course. Certainly, I instinctively sensed it. (We all do, don’t we?) But it took time for me to embrace the full dimension of how personal terrorism could be.
As a journalist, I have covered my share of terrorist incidents. But in the years after the 9/11 attacks, and as I traced the story of terrorism from Ground Zero, to Southeast Asia, to the West Bank and Gaza and Israel, to Iraq and to Washington, D.C., I felt I was missing something. Yes, I had written about the larger issues of terrorism – of the numbers of dead and injured, of the rising number of terrorist groups, of the difficulties facing political leaders in America and elsewhere in dealing with this phenomenon. But I felt I needed to go deeper.
And so, I went back to a corner on Jerusalem’s Jaffa Road, where a suicide bomber from the Palestinian terrorist group, Hamas, detonated a bomb aboard a commuter bus on the morning of Feb. 25, 1996, killing 26 people and wounding more than 40.
Two young Americans died in that bombing, Matthew Eisenfeld of West Hartford, C.T., and Sara Duker, of Teaneck, N.J. They were in love and talking of getting married. They are together now, eternally buried, side-by-side, in a Connecticut cemetery. Years later, I decided to return to their story. In the unfinished lives of Matt and Sara, I found a deeper story of unremitting pain and the still unfinished search for justice by their families.
It was a story that took me to the streets of Jerusalem, to the Gaza Strip and to a dusty West Bank refugee camp where a 19-year-old Palestinian man (a boy actually) was recruited as a suicide bomber. From there, I followed the story to the White House, to the U.S. Department of Justice, to Congress, to the FBI, to the State Department and to a federal courthouse. But ultimately, it was in the living rooms and kitchens of the families where I found the heart of this story – and the fact that each life taken by terrorism becomes a deep wound in the life of a family.
This is the real story of terrorism – a story all too often overlooked.
For more information about The Bus on Jaffa Road as well as a video and an excerpt, please check out www.mikekellywriter.com.
- Terror: How Israel Has Coped and What America Can Learn by Leonard A. Cole
- A High Price: The Triumphs and Failures of Israeli Counterterrorism by Daniel Byman
- Living Beyond Terrorism: Israeli Stories of Hope and Healing by Zieva Dauber Konvisser
A journalist for more than three decades, Mike Kelly is the author of two books and many prize-winning newspaper projects and columns for the Bergen Record in northern New Jersey. His assignments have taken him to Africa, Northern Ireland, Israel, Palestine, and Iraq. He covered the 9/11 attacks, the cleanup of Ground Zero, and the 9/11 Commission hearings in Washington, DC, and has devoted much of his time to covering terrorism.