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At the bungee jump near the Park Hotel.
Rhonda Spivak

Flu?tist in the central square in Netanya

On Netanya's main beach. photo taken in 2008
Rhonda Spivak

Reflections on the Tenth Anniversary of the Passover Massacre at the Park Hotel in Netanya

Rhonda Spivak, April 3, 2012

This Passover marks ten years since 25 year old Abdel Basset Odeh entered the Park Hotel just off the town square near the central beach in Netanya, a city on Israel’s Mediterranean coast. On the first night of Passover, when guests packed the hotel’s dining hall for a Seder meal, Odeh set off a forceful bomb killing 30 guests and wounding 140 others. Netanya is located on Israel's narrow waist, and Odeh, dispatched by Hamas terrorists, had merely to drive a short distance.
The Park Hotel bombing was the deadliest of hundreds of attacks against Israelis in the Second Intifada. The Park Hotel is a place I know well. I have spent summers with my family in Netanya since 2006. On summer evenings I have waited in line with my small children to ride the carousel just down the street from the Park Hotel. As they grew, their favourite source of entertainment became the bungee jump ride next to the carousel. My daughter, who was fearless, would leap to the sky, doing somersaults in the air on the bungee jump, never tiring of the routine. There were evenings when I would spend hours in line to watch the excitement in her eyes and smile on her face as she took her turn. As she soared in the air I would try to capture on camera that split second when she flipped her body forward into a somersault. If anyone were to ask me the image I have of my daughter's childhood in the summertime, I would see her on the bungee jump flying high seconds away from the Park Hotel. My son also liked the bungee jump ride but doing this once an evening was enough for him, whereas my daughter would easily be bungee jumping all the night long. I have never spoken to either of them about the incident at the Park Hotel, so they have never associated their care free childhood summers being so close to the place where this attack occurred. But the memory of it has given me pause.
 On some summer evenings when the line for the rides was too long, with at least forty children ahead of us, I would entice my children away from the bungee jump with the promise of ice-cream or a fruit shake from the Yotvata restaurant across the street. Other times, my mathematical son would skip the bungee jump ride and calculate how much money I spent on my daughter's four bungee rides before announcing that I ought to give him the same amount of money directly. He would use the money to buy a toy from the outdoor vendors who set up tables in Netanya's town square.  Afterwards, there would be the inevitable squabble as my daughter claimed he should have to share his toy.
 What is noteworthy about the terror attack at the Park Hotel is that the hotel did not close after the attack, and did not cancel the Seder meal the following year or on any occasion since. On Passover five years after the attack, I walked into the shiny hotel lobby to ask if there was a memorial service and was told there was one nearby but not in the hotel itself.
The Park Hotel attack was as a turning point in the Second Intifada. Until then, Israel’s military had tried to fight terror groups in the West Bank with small-scale operations but had stopped short of invading major Palestinian cities controlled by the Palestinian Authority, pursuant to the Oslo peace process of the 1990's. But the bombing at the Park Hotel so shocked Israelis to the extent that the next day Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s government mobilized 20,000 reservists and launched an invasion of West Bank cities known as Defensive Shield. Yasser Arafat was placed under siege in his in Ramallah compound where he was to remain until shortly before his death. The Park Hotel bombing backfired on the Palestinians as it brought the war into their own streets and gave rise to the building of the West Bank security barrier, which has greatly reduced the number of terror attacks against Israelis.
Ten years later, Netanya has grown and continues to be a destination for tourists, new olim, and French Jews buying second homes. With the recent murders in Toulouse at an orthodox Jewish school, I expect that there will be more French Jews buying second homes in Netanya this season. Large scale and high-end condominiums have been built down the street from the Park Hotel, and the horse and buggy man takes customers up and down the street on which the Park Hotel is located. 
This past week, jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, who is popular with Palestinians, issued a statement from prison calling for an end to negotiations and security coordination, and suggested Palestinians start a popular uprising against Israel, in other words, a third intifada. Is it a co-incidence that he has made this statement so close to the anniversary of the Passover massacre? Is it an association he hopes Israelis would make? Barghouti, who is serving five life sentences, was among those who started the second intifada.
Barghouti seems to be preparing the ground for another round of violence and terror. On the whole, the second intifada did not benefit Palestinians. Let us hope, for both peoples’ sake, that Barghouti's incitement to violence is ignored this time.
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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