This week’s atrocity in Mandera has rightly stunned and sickened the world. Any soldier who executes innocent nurses and teachers has no place on this earth. I truly hope like many that Deputy President Willam Ruto’s claim that 100 Al-Shabaab militants have actually been vanquished. I cannot imagine the suffering that those people endured, but a few months ago I wrote about a similar attack that happened in Israel a few years ago, maybe it will take us closer to their sad sad plight.
Rina put her pack lunch into her bag, some leftover falafel, some cottage cheese and a bottle of water. She’d left her pack of crisps with her two young children to occupy their attention whilst she slipped away to go to work. Now standing at the bus stop she re-checked that she had her ID card and closed her handbag satisfied she had it. Rina worked at a Negev Nuclear Research Centre, Israel’s most secret and most successful, if she had forgotten her ID, she wouldn’t be let in. That wouldn’t reflect well.
The single decked red and white bus arrived, it looked busy. The weather forecast had claimed it was going to be 30°C today and at 07.30am it was already getting too hot under her formal clothing. She stepped on and slowly made her way to the back. She took off her jacket and sat down and looked out at the dehydrated urine coloured rocks that covered her home, the desert.
Thirty minutes later they reached the hilltop village of Aroer, where historically the Bedouin had annually stopped. The bus stopped, when a succession of cracks sounded to the left. All Israeli citizens both male and female are bound by law to complete national service, all knew it was gunfire, all knew it was the characteristic sound of an AK47. The bus driver acted immediately, slamming the brakes on. Some windows shattered as some of the rounds hit the glass.
“Out, out now” the bus driver shouted to his passengers, the calm strong tone in his voice betrayed the fact this wasn’t the first time he’d been shot at. Everyone rushed to get to the doors, then men tried hard to be gentlemanly, to allow the women and children out first, but they all had to move quickly. People streamed out, ten, maybe twenty got through the doors. The cracks became deeper, stronger. Rina just got to the door when the barrel of a Swedish made Carl Gustave M4/5 sub machine gun appeared in the doorway. Its owner was a young Arab man, a scared young Arab man. If he didn’t have that gun he’d be a boy.
“Get back, mother of Israeli scum” the scared boy man screamed.
Two more Arabs got on the bus, both armed, including a slightly older man who seemed to be in charge.
“We are from the Palestine Liberation Organisation, we are in charge now” he said. He looked out the windows, looking around, like this wasn’t planned, like he was being chased.
In front of Rina was a man, he slowly edged into the centre of the bus, he was obviously trying to protect the rest of the occupants. Of the people who hadn’t managed to escape only one man and ten women were still onboard.
“What is your name?” the leader asked, pointing his weapon at him.
“Victor” the human shield replied.
“Well Victor, you’d better hope we get what we want”.
Rina sat, head bowed while the events developed, listening intently, sometimes hopeful, trying hard not to antagonize her captors, avoiding direct eye contact. She stared down at her plain, black, slightly uncomfortable shoes. She wouldn’t stand out and get attention unless she garnered it. Victor every now and then tried to give words and looks of encouragement to her, but he finally mimicked Rina and became mute. Surely these three men weren’t going to attack the huge facility. What was their plan?
In the last half an hour the bus had become surrounded by police, they had given the hijackers a loud hailer, who had in turn demanded the release of just over one hundred PLO prisoners who had been interned since this period of unrest had started. That if they didn’t see a representative of the Red Cross in the next 30 minutes they would start executing people.
“It’s YAMAS” Victor whispered. Yamas was the acronym of the specialist counter terrorist unit of the police, elite, well trained and very keen to get out from the shadow of the far more famous military SayaretMatkal. This surely meant good news.
Time swung, sometimes passing quickly, reflecting the importance of situation, guns, angry men, violence. Then it passed slowly, to put off the deadline. Rina’s mind starting wandering, she kept having to bring it back. She was wondering if she would get docked pay for today. Time swung back to quick mode, the angry young man with the gun pulled Victor by his collar to the doorway and shot him, a long burst. The young Arab wasn’t an experienced killer; his rounds went up and to the right. He didn’t have full control of his weapon. For Victor it didn’t matter, the rounds pierced his skin, ripping through his flesh and causing huge internal trauma. His body slumped to ground outside the bus; in this situation he wouldn’t get immediate medical attention. Being shot at such close range….he was mortally wounded.
Time played its card trick again, this time slowness first, everyone slowed with it. Waiting for the violence to spread, processing what had happened, asking stupid questions, was he ok?
Then time played its ace, going very quickly. A flash bang device does two things that sound so innocuous, it flashes then it bangs. But the flash is equal to roughly a million candelas and the bang to 175 decibels. It causes complete disorientation. The bus erupted, light and sound in many places, glass shattered everywhere, Rina looked up and it seemed like a black clad soldier had appeared from nowhere, to save them. The noise was unbearable, her nausea overwhelming her fear and balance.
Rina was on the floor but she couldn’t remember getting down, she remembered the huge kick to her chest the soldier must have given to get her out of harm’s way. She couldn’t breathe, god she felt winded. She tried to lift her chest off the floor to get some air in but as she did the bullet wound stopped being plugged and her lung collapsed. Rina sagged down, an acrid taste in her mouth, she looked up and saw the pot of cottage cheese had fallen out her handbag and was now rolling on the floor. It was the last thing she saw.
In March 1988 three PLO fighters came across the border from Egypt and were involved in various small arms incidents before hijacking a bus full of women and one man, they executed a 39 year old father of three Victor Raim. The elite police force Yamas, then stormed the bus, in doing so accidentally killing a mother of four, Miriam Ben-Yair and another mother of two Rina Shiraky. The “Mother Bus Attack” as it was subsequently called was considered the first act of terrorism in what had previously been considered civil unrest. Later that year Israeli commandos silently slipped into Jordan and executed the organizer of the attack in front of his family. The Israeli Government finally admitted its involvement in Mar 2013.
Rest In Peace the victims of the Mandera attack