Mon, Apr 12, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Weary Israelis heading for greener pastures

TIRED OF THE PRESSURE One young woman who has survived four bomb attacks before her 22nd birthday is one of the thousands of Israelis leaving the country

THE OBSERVER , JERUSALEM

Soldiers make their way through Israeli citizens in the divided West Bank city on Thursday. Virtually everyone in Israel knows someone who has been injured or killed in the violence, and many people have two passports, ``just in case.''

PHOTO: AFP

Every time there's a suicide bombing in Jerusalem, Abby Spero hears the same wisecrack: "What, they didn't send you an invite?" She usually smiles, having been hit by four blasts before she reached her 22nd birthday.

The only visible evidence is scarring down the side of her face, though she has shrapnel remains in her eye and mouth. She is not afraid to go out, she insists, but admits that she has had enough of the pressure and is planning to return to the US this summer.

Once she has gone, she will be one of 760,000 Israelis living outside Israel, a figure that has risen from 550,000 in 2000, according to the country's Absorption Ministry. "I am not afraid of bombings, but I am tired of them. Tired of the pressure and the mentality of hatred and fear that people have developed," she said.

"I need a break. I have no illusions about the US. I have heard people whingeing about their mortgage, whining because they didn't get the car they wanted. But at least that will be all I have to worry about," she said.

According to the EU, 330,000 Israelis have additional European passports and, once the EU is enlarged on May 1, more will take the opportunity to acquire a second passport.

Israel hopes to attract another million immigrants by 2010, but only 23,000 are expected this year. A country beset by violence -- where a large minority of the population have two passports "just in case" -- is unlikely to be popular with migrants. Virtually everyone in Israel knows someone who has been injured or killed in the violence. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 945 Israelis have been killed since September 2000 and 6,145 civilians injured.

Spero arrived in Israel from Cleveland, Ohio, in 1989 aged eight.

"My father thought Jews should be in their homeland," she explained.

Eight years later, she experienced her first suicide bombing, when three bom-bers killed five and injured 181 as she was walking with a school friend in Jerusalem's Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall.

"When the first bomb went off, I thought it was a sonic boom because they were pretty common," she said. "Then there were two booms in quick succession. I don't know whether it was the second or the third which hit me. I went flying and hit a wall."

When she collected herself her friend had wandered off uninjured in the confusion and she saw bodies everywhere, including the bomber's.

"He had a big cavity in his chest and whatever was inside was gushing out. One of his arms was torn off and his head was lying nearby. His body was a mess but he did not have a hair out of place," she recalled.

"His hair gel had kept everything looking perfect," she said.

Spero got up and walked to her father's doctor's surgery a few minutes away. It was only later that night that she began to suffer from concussion and nausea. She was amazed that she was not psychologically damaged.

"I did not have one nightmare or one flashback. I thought I was in denial and I was just waiting for something to happen," she said.

Spero says she has never been interested in the politics of the region and has always had a good relationship with Palestinians, who often work in the restaurant business in Israel.

"I never thought bad things about Palestinians. I would never discriminate because of a few extremists," she said.

People joke that she is either very lucky or very unlucky, but Spero looks on her experience positively.

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