The Red Carpet

These were not fictional events glorified from behind the lens of a camera. The families that lost their loved ones had not spent the day in makeup, joking and drinking cups of tea between endless shoots.

Angela Bertz

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The last phone call Izzedine Al-Masri ever made to his family was to tell them he was spending the night away from home. Izzedine was thousands of miles away from the bright lights of Hollywood and his "tragic" tale was very much the stuff of what the New York Times would describe as "a taut, ingeniously calculated thriller".

However, those two scorching days in August 2001 would be no make-believe and the bright lights of the pizza parlour where Izzedine was heading on that morning would need no studio lights. The only special effects would be the natural brightness of another beautiful sunny day in Jerusalem, enjoyed by scores of happy families. The hundreds of people who would ultimately take part in this real-life calamity would be no actors, stage hands or extras. The fifteen people, including seven children and five members of the same family, who were destined to die would never have chosen the role life dished out for them that day.

Izzedine's family was concerned. Owners of a restaurant in Jenin, they were also a little puzzled, as their son had never spent the night away from home before and he had not taken anything with him. He told them he was visiting a friend that had just been released from prison. Izzedine was in fact spending the night in the Palestinian Authority town of Ramallah, in an apartment rented out by Mahmud Wail Daglas. His role, though important, would have been a minor part in the whole scheme of events that would later unfold. His apartment was used by Izzedine as a safe haven before this 23-year-old would launch into his deadly mission.

The next morning Izzedine left the flat and joined up with a young woman. Ahlam Tmimi was no doubt as deserving as any Hollywood heroine could ever be. Attractive, with her long flowing hair and dark eyes, she would play a central role in this real-life documentary of murder most foul. On the outside, the pair had seemingly little in common. He was a waiter in his family's restaurant and she was a university student, with aspirations to eventually become a journalist.

The couple left Ramallah on the morning of August 9th 2001 by taxi and headed towards the Kalandia checkpoint, which was one of the main entry points into Israel. The pair said little to each other as the taxi sped towards its destination. Before they arrived, Izzedine handed Ahlam the guitar case he had been carrying. It was packed with explosives. They gambled that even with tight security a Palestinian woman wearing Western clothes and carrying a guitar case would not attract too much attention.

Shortly before they reached the checkpoint, Izzedine descended from the taxi and walked casually through the checkpoint. He carried nothing on his person and would have attracted no particular attention. He sailed past the security. Ahlam stayed in the taxi. With a sigh of relief that would have had any moviegoer on the edge of his seat, we would have watched as the gamble paid off and the taxi, with the guitar case and its macabre contents, was on its way.

Once through the checkpoint, Izzedine got back in the taxi and the pair drove silently towards the center of Jerusalem. The taxi took them to the Old City walls, where they then headed by foot to the Israeli side of the town. Izzedine's lovely accomplice's mission was to direct Izzedine to a "suitable spot". A few minutes before they parted, to give the idea that they were tourists, Ahlam said a few words in English to Izzedine. Other than that, they had spoken little to each other.

At 2:00pm, the couple parted at a busy junction, just outside the Sbarro's pizza parlour. Ahlam's part was over; she had had but a few lines. These would lead to a lifetime of imprisonment to contemplate the enormity of the monstrous part she played in the mass murder that was now seconds away.

Izzedine may have stood for a few seconds of thoughtful contemplation before entering the packed pizza parlour. He may have thought for a few brief moments of his sister. A few days ago, he had asked her: if he became a martyr, would she name her soon-to-be-born baby after him? Izzedine had no known record of political extremism and she dismissed the threat as nothing more than some far-flung fantasy.

Izzedine would have stepped into the brightly lit restaurant. He may have looked around him. He would have seen smiling happy faces. Children and parents enjoying a cold drink, a pizza and a half-hour's respite from the fierce summer heat. The air would have been abuzz with activity. Izzedine had his guitar flung over his shoulder. Choosing a spot in the center of the ground floor of this two-story restaurant, he may have stood for the briefest of seconds and thought of the action he was about to take. One thing is for sure: he would have felt no pity for his intended victims. He was far beyond any human emotion.

In one dreadful split-second, Izzedine detonated the contents of his guitar case. It contained between 5-10 kilograms of explosives. The effect of the blast was catastrophic and wreaked havoc among the diners. The bomb unleashed not only its explosives into a packed crowd, but intensified the damage ten-fold as it sprayed its additional contents of nails, bolts and shrapnel. A cell-phone of one of the victims was later found with a one inch nail embedded in it. The restaurant was gutted and nearby shop windows were blown out.

One of the busiest junctions in Jerusalem turned into a scene of carnage.

Ahlam was already way down the street when the ambulances started racing towards the junction. Many people had been killed instantly and many of those injured and in serious condition had been hit by the nails and shrapnel. Paramedics fought to save them. The eventual death toll was 15 and the number of injured was over 130. Hours later, ten of the bodies still lay unidentified at a forensic institute.

A representative of the Dutch Embassy was sent to help identify a family of Dutch origins. The Schijveschuurder family was in Jerusalem for the day with five of their eight children. The next day, four of their children, one of them on a hospital stretcher, attended the funeral of both their parents and three of their siblings. Their grandmother, a Dutch survivor of Auschwitz, would watch as the five bodies of her son, daughter-in-law and three grandchildren were lowered into the ground and say, "I vowed to rebuild my family after the war, and that is what I did. Now, for my family, Arafat has finished what Hitler started."

These were not fictional events glorified from behind the lens of a camera. The families that lost their loved ones had not spent the day in makeup, joking and drinking cups of tea between endless shoots.

They were real people.

Izzedine's brother would not have rehearsed his lines when he said, "This is a unique operation for its quality and success.... Palestinians everywhere can now hold up their heads."

In a world that is already weeping wasted buckets for Palestinian plighthood, the last thing it needs is a movie that attempts to show the human side of suicide bombers. Still, maybe one shouldn't be surprised. Since the Palestinians invented themselves on the world stage a few decades ago, their only cultural achievement has been the deplorable practice of human sacrifice and the creation of a society that glorifies and revels in death.

A movie called Paradise Now, directed by Hany Abu-Assad, is now being hailed around the world. It follows 48 hours in the lives of two car mechanics from Nablus as they prepare for a suicide mission in Israel. This despicable mockery of mass murder has already been awarded the European Film Academy's Best Screenplay and the Berlin Festival's Blue Angel Award.

A few days ago, far away from the horrors of Sbarro's pizza parlour in Jerusalem, a group of journalists in Hollywood sat comfortably in their armchairs watching this year's nominees for the Golden Globe awards. One of these movies was Paradise Now. The Golden Globe was founded in 1943 and, after the Oscars and BAFTAS, is one of the most important events in the movie industry, boasting a worldwide audience of 250 million people.

Maybe only in Hollywood is it possible to put a human face to mass murder and portray people that carry out these barbaric acts as having the same hopes and aspirations as their victims. Mass murder has no human side and whatever your hardships in life, or whatever you conceive them to be, there can never be any possible justification for going into a packed restaurant, or getting on a crowded bus, strapped with explosives, and murdering innocent people, many of them children. To award any film that seeks to show this in some sensitive, human light is a blatant insult to the dignity and sanctity of human life.

Arnold Roth and his family, who lost their 15-year-old daughter Malka, now have to live those 48 hours that Izzedine and Ahlam prepared to murder their much cherished daughter every minute of every day for the rest of their lives: "We're part of a circle that now consists of several thousand families that have lost a child or a parent or a spouse to an act of murder. And now I've learned that for the people who are touched by an act of terror in a personal way, it isn't an event you work your way past; it actually keeps happening every minute and every day."

Human suffering on this scale is not something that needs glorifying on the big screen. The "red carpet" that welcomed the Golden Globe nominees this year was tinged with the blood of more than 1,000+ dead Israelis, murdered in more than 150 Palestinian homicidal attacks in Israel.

It was barely 48 hours after the bombing that Izzedine's sister would give birth to a son. She named him after a man that had killed 15 innocent people. When asked what hopes she had for the child, she said she wanted him to be "like his uncle."