Massacre survivors mark 10-years at Netanya Hotel
“Explosions aren’t that strange in Netanya,” Itzik Doublis said on Tuesday, in a crack at the city’s underworld reputation, before adding, “When the ambulances and police kept coming we knew something was wrong, that this wasn’t criminal.”
Doublis, a 51-year-old native of Tangiers, Morocco, who has lived in Netanya since the age of three, spoke to The Jerusalem Post of the night 10 years ago to the day after a Hamas suicide bomber disguised as a woman detonated himself inside the dining room of the city’s Park Hotel, killing 30 people attending the Passover Seder and wounding 140.
“There was the HaSharon Mall bombing [in Netanya on May 18, 2001], before that which caused real terror, but then it was quiet for a while – until the Park Hotel attack, which brought back the nightmares,” Doublis said.
Speaking from a shwarma restaurant he runs down the street from the hotel at the city’s Independence Square, Doublis said the sense of security in the city never fully returned but that “your brain manages to forget, there’s always other things in this country you can focus on.”
The Park Hotel bombing on March 27, 2002, was a watershed event of the second intifada.
It was the most deadly Palestinian attack. The images of matzot and Seder plates covered in blood horrified the Israeli public and led then-prime minister Ariel Sharon to launch Operation Defensive Shield to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure in the West Bank.
The hotel was built on a cliff overlooking the Netanya seashore in the 1970s, and other than the renovations made to the entrance and the events hall after the bombing, looks every bit an aged seaside hotel.
Marc Kahlberg commanded the tourism branch of the Netanya police in 2002. The carnage of a decade ago seems present when Kahlberg speaks of the bombing. He was one of the first to respond to the scene.
“I’ll never forget it was raining and drizzling outside and when I got there all the windows were blown out,” he said. “We went in and just pulled out whatever we could, put bodies and body parts on tables, it was horrible.”
He said it was by far the worst of the 16 terrorist attacks he responded to, and left scars on him and those around him that took years to repair.
Kahlberg spoke to the Post ahead of a ceremony in the event hall where the bombing took place, organized by the OneFamily organization, which provides support to victims of terrorism in Israel.
Corinne Chamami, whose husband, Amiram, died in the attack, is today part of the hotel’s management team. She said that the 100-room hotel still hosts Passover Seders, and that to this day a significant number of guests choose to spend the holiday evening at the Park Hotel, specifically as a message against terrorism.
Chamami, whose husband was the hotel’s manager 10 years ago, said that for two years after the bombing no Seders were held there, as she and the hotel owners fought a drawn-out battle with insurance providers for compensation for the damage caused by the blast.
One of the speakers at Tuesday’s memorial, Sherry Ben- Aroya, still shows signs of the critical wounds she suffered.
Ben-Aroya, whose father, Shimon, died in the attack, was one of the most seriously injured survivors. She does not remember the bombing, and her most recent memory leading up to it was from Purim a month earlier.
At the back of the events hall, Yuri Abramov, 61, sat by himself taking in the ceremony. Three years after immigrating to Israel from Russia in 1998, he was seriously wounded when a Hamas suicide bomber blew himself up at the entrance to the HaSharon Mall. Abramov has walked with a cane since the bombing, which left him disabled and living off National Insurance Institute payments.
He was invited to the event by OneFamily, and was wearing an Israeli flag pin that said “Yizkor” (remembrance).
Abramov said that on the night of the Park Hotel attack, he was playing chess with friends a few blocks away when he heard a blast that shook the neighborhood.
Corinne Hamimi’s 23-year-old son Yair burst into tears while speaking about his father from the stage.
Abramov took his cane and walked out of the hall tearyeyed, overcome by Hamimi’s memories of that bloody day 10 years ago.