Last week I felt the whisper of a “close call” on my skin.
Four Jews – two men and two women, one of whom was nine months pregnant – were shot to death in a terrorist attack on Highway 60, just as darkness fell upon the junction near the village of Bani Nayim.
For those who don’t know it, the road there is at its widest; it is beautifully paved, wonderfully illuminated, one of the finest pieces of roadway along the entire route.
A somewhat isolated stretch, the Bani Nayim junction is located between Kiryat Arba/Hebron, and the small Jewish community of Penei Hever. The village of Bani Nayim is home to the tomb of Lot, ancestor of both Jews and Muslims.
The road to the village also connects through to the back roads that lead down to the Dead Sea, and then far beyond eventually to Jericho, today controlled by the Palestinian Authority.
With the advent of “goodwill gestures” and “security concessions” in order to bolster the regime of Fatah leader and PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, roadblocks that otherwise might have stymied the terrorists last week have long since been removed, vastly increasing the road’s accessibility to all, including murderers of Jews.
Highway 60 is a main artery to the heartbeat of Israel, Jerusalem – winding through Judea connecting Israel’s south with the central region and the north. It is a connecting highway between Route 31, which leads to Arad and Be’er Sheva, and the capital region, passing through more than a dozen Jewish communities along the way, among them the holy city of Hebron.
For residents of Arad, tucked into the northeasternmost corner of the Negev, especially, it is an essential route to Jerusalem, cutting travel time to the capital nearly in half, a mere 90 minutes on most days.
Arad residents who choose to drive the “safe” route via Latrun often face a mammoth traffic snarl on Route 1, and a drive of two and a half to three hours. The approach to Jerusalem is from the opposite end of the city, further complicating matters.
For those who decide to take the “scenic” route, and drive along the Dead Sea, it is just as long, albeit not as frustrating, and far more beautiful. But that route, too, is not without its dangers: the road is equally isolated in parts, and passes at least one junction leading to Jericho. As with the Latrun route, the approach to Jerusalem is from a completely different direction than that taken with Highway 60.
For me, a person who drives regularly on Highway 60, last week’s attack refreshes a dilemma: should I, a wife and mother of children, now take the “safe” route when I get into the car to drive to Jerusalem?
This is not a new question.
I faced the same struggle in June, when an Israeli police officer was murdered on Highway 60, along the same stretch of road I had hurriedly zoomed along, unawares, a scant few hours later. When I reached my destination and heard the news that day my blood ran cold, realizing how narrowly I had missed the encounter.
Several months prior, I had not been as lucky, although my prayer book protected me on that day: a rock the size of a grapefruit was hurled at the car as I drove past Beit Omar, an Arab village near Hebron.
The sharp-edged missile bounced off the windshield as if it had been repelled by an unseen force: it had struck the glass directly opposite the spot where my chitas (Chumash, Tanya, Tehillim, Siddur) stood sentinel. A faint scratch was the only evidence that remained.
Still, the experience shook me, and it took several days to recover. Reciting the gomel blessing at synagogue helped restore my equilibrium, and my resolve to continue to drive on the road.
And now this.
“Change your route,” my husband urged. “You’re not driving that road anymore.” I know plenty of Jews – and Bedouin friends, for that matter – who have already come to that conclusion.
But it’s not that simple for me, and we talked late into the night about whether in fact that should be the response, because I believe giving up one road does not ensure the security of another.