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Choosing sides

Israel | Mounting casualties in the Middle East prompt American evangelical leaders to weigh in on Israel's behalf

Issue: "Reaping the whirlwind," July 20, 2002

Berhanu and Kidist Bogale are Ethiopian Christians who made Jerusalem their home after fleeing the regime of Ethiopian strongman Haile Selassie nearly 20 years ago. Ethiopians, both Jews and Christians, form a large ethnic community inside Israel. The exiled Christian community, numbering in the hundreds, has several churches in Jerusalem, including two chapels in the Old City's revered Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Bogales found a haven in Jerusalem's Jewish neighborhood of Gilo after moving out of a predominantly Ethiopian section in the center of town. Israeli neighbors welcomed their two children into local schools.

Now Israel for them is a sanctuary no more. After more than 10 years working at the same hotel, Kidist was laid off earlier this year and he has not been able to find another job. Suicide bombers have chased away tourists, leaving many hotels with too many vacancies. The Bogales' 11-year-old daughter Galila complained that she was afraid to ride the bus to school alone because of terrorist attacks. The Bogales began to make plans to emigrate again-this time to America.

Three weeks ago Galila boarded the Egged 32A bus near the family's home in Gilo for what was to be one of her last days of school. Classmates planned a farewell party for her that day, and she went early, and alone. Her older brother would take a later bus. At an intersection at the bottom of the hill, a Palestinian suicide bomber strapped with explosives boarded the bus and blew himself up, killing 18 others, including Galila.

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It was the first suicide bombing in Israel's capital since April, and the most lethal since 1996. Seventeen of those killed on the bus and many of the wounded lived in the Gilo neighborhood, a section of Jerusalem persistently targeted by Palestinian gunmen posting themselves in the nearby predominantly Christian neighborhood of Beit Jala. Conflict in that section of the capital began more than a year ago (see "Unfriendly fire," Sept. 15, 2001). Apartment balconies in Gilo are stacked with sandbags and walls are pockmarked with holes from sniper fire and mortar shellings.

Since Palestinians began their latest intifada, or "uprising," against Israel in September 2000, 2,400 people-nearly all workaday civilians-have been killed. The Palestine Monitor names over 1,700 Palestinian deaths from fighting with Israeli Defense Forces. As of June 30, according to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 563 people have been killed by Palestinian "violence and terrorism."

But the demographics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are not simple. Israel's emergency medical services division reports treating over 4,000 casualties of the terrorism: 483 killed, 358 severely injured, 486 moderately injured, and 2,795 lightly injured (including 11 medics). Israeli Defense Forces report 153 of its own soldiers dead from the fighting in the first six months of conflict this year.

Nor are all victims of Palestinian suicide attacks Israeli Jews. Some have been Arab Christians who live side-by-side with Palestinian Muslims and some-like Galila-are ethnic minorities whose families left behind persecution abroad and once dreamed they had arrived in a new Jerusalem.

The list of dead includes Russian, Ukrainian, and South African immigrants, as well as Bedouins and Arab residents of East Jerusalem. Foreign workers from Romania, Switzerland, and China have been among the victims. In June 2001 Palestinian gunmen killed Greek Orthodox monk Georgios Tsibouktzakis, 34, who was driving in the Judean desert from St. George Monastery.

Last week Mr. and Mrs. Bogales met with an American delegation that included former Republican presidential candidate Gary Bauer. They discussed their ordeal and led visitors in a time of prayer. Since Galila's death, the family reported that Jewish neighbors have offered meals and condolences. Thousands turned out for Galila's funeral, including hundreds of Ethiopians in traditional dress, which was held at a Christian cemetery in an Arab neighborhood of Jerusalem. Nonetheless, the Bogales say it is time to leave Israel for good.

Mr. Bauer told WORLD he hopes to sponsor the Bogales through his church so they may complete the steps for emigration to the United States: "They have a clear need for help beyond what's been done. The people who survive these attacks physically are marred psychologically and their lives are changed dramatically."

Aid to victims of terrorism does exist. But for families caught in the trauma, and particularly for minorities like the Bogales, it is sometimes hard to search out. Israel covers most medical needs through its national health insurance program. And its social security system now provides some stipend to victims of terrorism. Private groups, like the Terror Victims Association, also step in but on a selective basis. With casualties mounting, both government and private charities want to do more.

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