Monday, January 29, 2007

Eilat: No longer the end of the world

Until today, Israel's southernmost city of Eilat seemed like a world apart. To Israelis, it was mainly a holiday getaway, or the last Jewish outpost on a trip to the Sinai. It had a nightclub called "The end of the world" and a street bearing the same name. It was a place separate from the tensions and dangers that can interfere with ordinary life elsewhere in the country.

What changed today is that a suicide bomber killed three people in Eilat. It was the Red Sea resort's first suicide bombing.

More than 99 percent of Israelis don't live in Eilat. Their homes are in the center and north of Israel, beyond the rugged hills and desert that separate Eilat from the rest of the country. To them, the bombing is a message that this remote city is no longer a refuge where you can get away from it all.

The fact that the bombing took place in a neighborhood away from Eilat's hotel district is not much comfort for the local tourist industry. Tourism Minister Isaac Herzog is rushing from one media outlet to another to assure the world that Eilat is a safe place to visit.

Only last week some Israelis received an e-mail alert noting that Rabbi Josef Shalom Eliashiv, a leading anti-Zionist rabbinic authority, has ruled that under Jewish law Eilat is not part of the Land of Israel. This ruling has implications for the observance of holy days and festivals in Eilat. A blogger who noted this offers the opinion today's attack was a divinely directed event, aided by terrorists, to remind us that Eilat "is just as much Israel as Jerusalem, Sderot, Tel Aviv, Haifa and everywhere else."

"Sometimes we need our enemies to remind us of who we are," he wrote.

Whether or not anyone's god was a partner in the murders today, three anti-Israel groups are claiming joint responsibility. One of these three, the Islamic Jihad, is said to have been planning this attack for the past year.

-- Joseph M. Hochstein, Tel Aviv


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