“My brother paid for this country with his life. I will never leave”
Operation Rampart launched by the Israeli army in 2002 and whose 20th anniversary marks this year, did not mark the immediate end of the suicide attacks characteristic of the second Intifada. The terrorists had continued in the following years to blow themselves up on the terraces of cafes and restaurants, but also on buses, their favorite modus operandi of the time. The smallness of the place in fact guaranteed a greater number of deaths.
Albert Abraham Belahcen, a 28-year-old Franco-Israeli, is among the 739 civilian victims of the second Intifada. He was murdered on Thursday, January 29, 2004 at 8:45 am in the explosion of a bus traveling in the Rehavia neighborhood of Jerusalem. The attack, claimed by the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, left ten more victims and injured 40.
The smallest details of this tragic day remain engraved in the memory of his mother, Sylvia. “I had just done aliyah and was with Albert and his wife Esther. I saw my son leave that morning for the kollel (Talmudic study center for married men) where he was going by bus,” she told i24NEWS. “A few minutes after he left, we heard ambulance sirens all over the neighborhood. My heart froze. I immediately felt that something had happened to him.”
He remembers the hours of anguish that followed when Albert had no phone and his friends in the kollel had no news of him. Then the rush to Shaare Tzedek Hospital, where she and Esther had searched in vain for him before she was told he was in the Abu Kabir morgue. “We didn’t let Albert’s brother go and identify him. A cousin who was a police officer took care of him. He only recognized him thanks to a scar on his neck.” It will take DNA samples to confirm that this is indeed Albert, an essential procedure when the body is too mutilated …
A broken destiny
The young man was a new immigrant who had made aliyah from France seven years earlier. Originally from Boulogne in the Hauts-de-Seine, he had studied at the Maimonides high school in the city until he graduated from high school. It was during an organized trip to Israel that he fell in love with the country and decided to live there as soon as possible. A few days later his brother Meyer, a year younger, joined him, followed by Ari, the third of the brothers: while the parents had divorced when they were still small, the trio had always been very close. Their cheerfulness, their kindness and their dynamism had made them pillars in the community of young people who frequented the synagogue of Boulogne.
Settling in Israel, Albert graduated from Mahon Lev with a degree in computer engineering and married. He had also become much more religious and worked part-time to be able to study the Torah as well. All those who have known him from near or far testify to his exceptional kindness and righteousness.
“As a child he distributed his snack to school children who did not have it, and this character trait never abandoned him. He refused to let a single word of slander against others be uttered within the walls of his home, and asked people not to call him during his working hours, so as not to steal a second of his boss’s time, “says the mother.
How do relatives of the victims overcome this pain? “Even if life and everyday life take back their rights, you never really get up,” said Meyer, Albert’s brother. “What helped me a lot was having a family to manage and feed. I couldn’t afford to let myself go, I was forced to work,” he told i24NEWS.
Sylvia and her children also drew superhuman strength from their unwavering faith. “God knows what he is doing. He had decided that Albert’s mission in this world was over,” said the young man’s mother. A faith that has also preserved them from the feeling of injustice and from the legitimate anger in the face of such a tragedy.
The Israeli association “One Family”, on the front line in support of the victims of terrorism and their relatives, also played a fundamental support role for Albert’s mother. For several years she participated in discussion groups, met other grieving families and participated in various trips and excursions. The association also met her basic needs in the aftermath of the tragedy. Many aids that allowed him to lighten his burden a little.
The state also supports bereaved families. In addition to taking care of their psychological support and financial assistance through a monthly allowance, it also facilitates the purchase of accommodation. Finally, the subsidized centers offer various activities for therapeutic purposes.
While 33% of Israelis believe government aid to relatives of victims is insufficient, according to a poll published on Sunday, Albert’s brother Meyer believes his mother has been supported. “It is obvious that in proportion to such a drama, aid will always be insufficient, but my mother still found her hands outstretched,” he says.
On the other hand, he regrets that no support is provided to the brothers and sisters of the victims, particularly on a psychological level. “Only the parents or children of a victim benefit from the help, both private and public through associations. I think I have lost therapy,” she notes.
“I have moved on with my life and I can’t say that I think about my brother every day. But some of my attitudes, like when I get carried away easily, make me think that there are feelings that I have buried and that it would have been better if I could express myself “, he continues.
Unwavering attachment to Israel
After such a tragedy, it is impossible for these families not to react in a particular way in a period of attacks like the one Israel is experiencing. “Every terrorist attack brings me back to what I’ve been through. The trauma awakens. I constantly think about the parents, brothers, sisters of the victims,” Sylvia told i24NEWS.
Israel’s exchange of more than 1,000 Palestinian detainees for the release of Gilad Shalit, who may have included accomplices in Albert’s murder, was another difficult time for the Belahcen family. The feelings were more than mixed. “There is of course the value of a single life, which the Torah tells us to be equivalent to the whole of humanity. But we knew that the freed terrorists would carry out new attacks, and this has not failed,” say Sylvia and Meyer.
What is the relationship of Albert’s mother and brother with Israel today? Do those who made aliyah through Zionism still see the country as the essential destination for every Jew and as the place most capable of protecting him? “Our love for this land has remained intact. It is also our belief that we are in the right place, that we are at home, which has allowed us to resist,” they say. “My brother paid for this country with his life. I will never leave,” Meyer said.
Yom Hazikaron (Remembrance Day), celebrated this year on May 4 in Israel, is a moment of recollection to remember every soldier who died for the State of Israel and every civilian victim of terrorism. If she knows these commemorations are necessary, Sylvia still dreads this day, which makes her relive the drama and gives her a little sense of burying her son once more. She measures how much, since that January morning and despite the passing of the years, a part of her heart has remained permanently fixed.