"The Israeli diplomat's face wore a look of sheer exasperation. He hadn't slept in four days.…one of the victims' families belonged to an extreme ultra-Orthodox sect that objected to his coffin being draped in the Israeli flag and being part of the official ceremony.…"
Anshel Pfeffer writes in Ha'aretz:
Behind the carnage
By Anshel Pfeffer
MUMBAI - The Israeli diplomat's face wore a look of sheer exasperation. He hadn't slept in four days. Over the last hundred hours, he had scrambled between the scene of a terrorist attack, hospital wards, city morgues, government offices and the Israeli consulate, where anxious family members had besieged him for answers about their loved ones.
His mobile phone, meanwhile, had not stopped ringing as Jerusalem headquarters continuously sent in instructions. Everything was handled with equanimity and efficiency: The bodies of the six victims of the Chabad House attack were finally identified, Israelis were no longer missing in Mumbai and the Israel Air Force jet had landed and refuelled, prepared to take the victims home for burial. But just at this moment, the diplomat got word that one of the victims' families belonged to an extreme ultra-Orthodox sect that objected to his coffin being draped in the Israeli flag and being part of the official ceremony.
For a moment, he struggled with himself but quickly regained composure. "Okay," he said with a bitter smile, "so they don't want him draped with the flag of Israel, but it's fine if an Israeli air force plane flies him back."
"I'm proud to belong to a nation that makes such an effort to bring its sons and daughters home, doing everything to preserve their dignity," said Colonel Yossi Turgeman, Israel's military attache to India, once the bodies were en route. This was no exaggeration. Minutes after the attack at Nariman House ended last Friday night, Turgeman's team was already inside the destroyed building, despite the presence of unexploded grenades and devices. By identifying and flying out the victims' bodies in less than three days, the Israeli team broke records in cutting through Indian red tape. All this ended with the poignant picture of six coffins on the Ben-Gurion International Airport tarmac, four of them in draped in Israeli flags and two in tallises.
Reading the images
There has been an attempt to create Jewish symbols, some of them false, out of the carnage last week. This includes the unfounded myth that the bodies were found wrapped in tallises, which made its way into Ehud Olmert's cabinet address on Sunday. But there were also distressingly authentic ones, like the pictures of two-year old Moshe Holtzberg, crying "Ima, Ima" ("Mommy, Mommy") during the memorial ceremony on Monday. Images like these are part and parcel of a traumatic event of this scale, but it's important we don't allow ourselves to be carried away by them.
Chabad emissary Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife Rivka were by all accounts wonderful people. Like many other Chabad representatives, they landed in a place they had never been to before and with meagre resources built a home that has hosted thousands of hungry and weary travellers, free of charge. But neither this nor the terrible tragedy of their death should make us forget the fact that Chabad is a controversial and highly-politicized movement with an aggressive agenda that is anathema to many Jews and Israelis. If we might have forgotten that for a moment, the request made by Gavriel Holzberg's father of Ehud Olmert that the evacuation of the illegal outpost in Hebron be put off for the duration of his son's shiva should serve as a reminder of Chabad's true nature.
Chabad will naturally try to make full use of these images to project itself as representative of the people of Israel. That doesn't mean that we have to go along with it. The demands that the government take responsibility for the security of Chabad missions around the world are unfeasible and, quite frankly, preposterous. Chabad is a New York-based organization with its own hierarchy and objectives, it certainly doesn't represent Israel. The unofficial line being taken by the Foreign Ministry, that it will coordinate security measures and offer guidance, but that Chabad ultimately will have to be responsible for its own security and bear the costs, is appropriate. Let's hope that in an election season, none of the candidates will rush to make any rash promises.
The Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists, who wreaked havoc in South Mumbai, had two objectives. The first took aim at the classic mass-terror target, the crowded Victoria train station and the nearby hospital and underground station, where firing in to the crowds would wreak havoc and cause many deaths. The second looked to the high-profile and lucrative targets - luxury hotels Oberoi, Trident and especially the iconic Taj Mahal, where both foreigners and India's elite were to be found.
Chabad House was neither of these. The terrorists are aware of the low-profile strategic tie between Israel and India. That was why they tried to find Israelis, to strike a blow at that relationship. Chabad House was the most convenient and vulnerable target.
Despite the awful history of internecine massacres in India, the ancient Jewish community of India has never suffered much from anti-Semitic violence. The killing notwithstanding, India still has the second largest Muslim population in the world, coexisting to a large degree peacefully with their neighbours. If there is one image we should take from last week's carnage, it should be the picture of Moshe's Indian nanny, Sandra Samuel, who together with another Indian, Zaki Hussein, risked their lives to carry him out to safety.