|THE MOMENT OF THE EXPLOSION|
At night, it is as light as day on the Tel Aviv sea promenade. Thousands of multicolored lights. Caffees, restaurants, bars, clubs, and discos are all wide open. Music is playing, and the waves lap on the sand. Any time of the year, there are crowds of both locals and visitors. June first was no different. And then came the blast, at 23:44 p.m.
Joe Strizh, ”France Press”, interviewed by “Vesti” newspaper:
I heard about the tragedy on TV and ran out of the house. The police had already blocked traffic on Yerushalaim Boulevard in Jaffa. I ran up to the Dolphinarium. Perhaps in the confusion, I was taken for a security agent, and I was allowed inside. A young policewoman was collecting the dead children’s personal items: combs, jewelry, powder compacts, handbags shaped like stuffed animals. She wept as she put them into a plastic bag. Outside, a worker from Hevrat Kadisha [state burial service — Translator’s Note] was collecting body parts. The terrorist had been blasted to pieces.
In the middle of the room were plastic bags with bodies, fifteen in all. The policemen were tying numbered tags to their hands. I couldn’t take my eyes off the dead children’s bodies. One girl had pieces of the bomb hit her in the head, her reddish hair was sprinkled with brain matter and blood. Another girl had a horrible wound in the middle of her chest. Next to her, they laid down a husky kid in bright shorts — he must have tried to bolster his confidence by wearing them.
Back home, I discovered traces of dry blood on my shoes. I had been a reporter for ten years, I have been to many terror scenes, but I have never felt as bitter as that.
Marina Berezovskaya, Liana Saakyan’s mother:
The cab driver could not take us all the way, because the police had already blocked the road. So we had to walk quite a chunk of the road on foot.
Outside, there were roadblocks all over, and I kept looking for a way in, and I finally found one. I got through to where the monument is now. It was really close, and there were women there who yelled for me to stay away because there might be another explosion . . . But I didn’t listen, I just went on. I was hoping that maybe the disco had started and Liana was inside, because some children were walking out, holding on to their heads and screaming and sobbing . . .
Then I got stopped by the police, and I realized I couldn’t go any farther. I asked a rescue worker: What do I do now? He told me to go to the Ikhilov Hospital. We couldn’t get a cab and had to walk to Allenby Road, and after we walked for a while, I felt —
— I kept thinking about Liana’s fingers, she had really beautiful fingers . . .
I felt something warm behind me, as if someone embraced me. And then I felt nothing at all.
Then I got Petya [younger son] on the phone, and he said he was going to Ikhilov. He had made it to the disco before the police cordoned it off, and, while we were at the hospital, he tried to tell his father what he saw: arms, legs, flesh . . . Then we were told that Liana was alive and being operated on.
I don’t remember everything that was there: blood, flesh, everything. When I opened my eyes, I saw smoke. According to others, the smoke was blown away within seconds. Those who blacked out for a moment or two did not see it. I tried to get up and I couldn’t. I crawled out. There’s a food store nearby, so halfway to that store, guards from another disco picked me up and dragged me aside. They laid me on the grass and gave me some water. I looked around and saw this girl, Anya. I had met her at the disco. What’s wrong with me, I asked her. You’re okay, she said. I told her I had my brother in there — I thought of Aleksei as my brother. She started calming me down: Your brother will be fine, and you’ll be fine, too. I lifted my arm and asked her, What’s wrong with it? She said, It’s just a scratch. But her face went pale. I didn’t pay attention then; I was still in a shock.
The ambulance came, they put me on a stretcher and carried off the lawn on to the street. I saw Alina, the girl I had arrived with. But I didn’t see Sergei or Aleksei. I kept looking for them — just to see either of them.
In the ambulance, the doctor was a Russian guy, he tried to talk to me all the way. I answered reluctantly and then told him I was about to black out. He set up an IV right away. I kept asking him how soon we would be there. For some reason, the ride seemed like an eternity. Of course: they were taking me to Petah Tikva, to the Beilenson Hospital.
My first thought was that a petard had gone off. Then I saw blood and heard people screaming and running away. In front of me, a girl was crawling, her back covered with blood. I was facing the parking lot. I saw a car with bloody handprints on it. Then I saw a leg . . . I wondered where the rest of the body was. I kept looking and I couldn’t understand: it was one body on top of another, and people were running every which way.
Then I saw Ilya on the ground. I was so shocked I ran away. En route, I kept shaking pieces of flesh off my jeans.
There was a food stand nearby, with tables. I sat at one of the tables and I watched the rescuers turn over a body and I realized it was Ilya. I ran back. I had to find him!
The police stopped me. I pushed them away, but they put me back on the bench. They put one of the guards next to me and told him to keep an eye on me so I wouldn’t run away. I kept crying out: “Find Ilya! Find Nadezhda! Find Roman!” I gave them the last names, but they said they couldn’t find anyone right now. “We don’t know any of them.” “But I need to see my friends!” I cried out.
Then they brought a kid and seated him next to me; later I learned it was Maksim. The guard said, “Talk to him so he doesn’t pass out.”
He said he had a kid there. A younger friend, that was, but he treated him like a brother.
I told him his kid was going to be fine.
“They won’t treat me,” he said. “I’m a tourist here.”
“Of course they will,” I said.
“I should call Mom,” he said.
I gave him my cell phone, but he wouldn’t take it. He sounded confused: now he wanted to call, now he didn’t.
He showed me his arm, with pieces of flesh hanging from the bone, and said, “What’s wrong with it?”
And I thought, I shouldn’t make him panic. “A scratch,” I said.
“And what’s with my legs?” he asked.
He had two fractures, and he still has plates to help him walk. I said, “Your legs are fine.” Although there was a lot of blood on the ground under him. He was already pale, his eyes were rolling up. I don’t remember what else we talked about, I just remember he wanted to call his mother.
Then the ambulance came, and they wanted to take me, but I told them I was okay, they should take him first. They did. Then a guy picked me up and carried me into the ambulance. I kept looking for Ilya, Roman, Nadezhda — any of my friends, but I couldn’t find anybody. And I still have this picture in my mind: Ilya on the ground, his arms and his legs covered with blood . . . It was not just a burning smell; it was a smell of blood and death. Right then I knew what death smelled like.
Then I saw my leg bleeding. My jeans were already half-drenched in blood. But in the dark, I could not see where it was coming from. Someone gave me some water, and I drank it. I had a small but deep wound in my head, and a lot of blood came out of it, too.
I remember I was seated next to a guy and a girl in the ambulance. Everyone was quiet. My leg was hurting badly, and I felt feverish one moment and chilly the next one. And I was scared about my friends. We rode on, and I kept praying to God that we arrive as soon as possible.
Everyone screamed, I turned abruptly, and I saw people flying every which way, and a huge shockwave with fire advancing at me. The shockwave tossed me back, but I was leaning against the railing outside the door, so I didn’t fall down. Everything grew white, and something hit me in the nose, and I think my hair got singed. And I felt a terrible pain in my leg. I looked around me and all I saw was blood. It was as if I had warm blood being sprinkled at me from everywhere.
Suddenly one of the guards shouted something about the back door. All who stood next to me ran inside. I don’t remember what I was thinking; I just remember running across the empty dance floor, with the music still playing — the same place where we were supposed to be dancing and having fun.
When we ran out through the back door, it took me a moment to regain my senses. Then I remembered my friends, and I ran back, and I saw a guy carrying my friend Natasha in his arms. She was screaming horribly, and her left leg was just dangling, all covered in blood. I spent the rest of the time with her.
They carried bloody, naked bodies, most of them dead, past us. One girl had someone else’s hair glued to her shoe. Another girl passed by, with half her face and her whole body covered in blood. There were people groaning and screaming all over the place. Blood was flowing on the ground, and pieces of flesh and skin were scattered everywhere.
Some small black rings were flying from the ground — I don’t remember. Everyone hit the ground, and I followed suit. I heard cries and groans . . .
When I regained my senses, I had a burning sensation on my stomach. I saw tiny scratches there, and my clothing was covered with splinters, flesh, and blood. I didn’t even pay attention to what I had on my face. When I got up, I was still holding my helmet, I had just turned off the ignition. Everyone was running around me. But I couldn’t see Diaz. He wouldn’t run away and leave me there, I thought.
I looked down and I saw blood — a lot of it. Some people were groaning, and some were already dead. Only then did I realize it was a terrorist attack.
Finally, I found Diaz. He was lying the closest to the street, flat on his stomach, and his left arm was shattered from his shoulder blade to the wrist. Oddly enough, he was naked. When we arrived, he was wearing brown sneakers, blue jeans, and a blue top. Now, his pants were below his knees, and the top rode up all the way to his neck. But I recognized the pants — he took them out of the wardrobe in front of me. And the hairstyle. When I looked closer, I saw his leg was shattered, too, and blood was flowing out of him . . . a tiny river of blood.
I pulled him and called him, Diaz, Diaz! Nothing . . . I felt his carotid artery: something was throbbing. I checked his pulse: there was something there, too. I wanted to turn him over, but then a man came up and checked something and said, He is dead.
I couldn’t believe it. I got down on my knees, I laid down my helmet, and screamed, Diaz, Diaz! Maybe it was a nervous breakdown, but I couldn’t stop screaming, Diaz, Diaz!
Then I ran out to the street and went screaming and cursing at Arabs, and some guy, a reporter or maybe just an amateur, filmed it.
Then I sat down next to Diaz and screamed more and talked to him some more. I just couldn’t conceive that he was dead.
Then some guy, twenty-five or so, in a blue shirt and grey jeans, an Israeli, went around, picking the bags and the cell phones right off the bodies, and then ran off. I was so upset when I saw that! I saw someone’s camera on the ground next to Diaz — I don’t know whose, and didn’t care — I threw it at the guy. Too bad I missed. If I could catch him, I would just kill him. It was just inhuman. There were bodies of children lying around, and all he knew was robbing and running away.
Then the police came, and they chased everybody away. I wouldn’t leave without my phone. Either it got thrown away or blew up, but I never found it — that’s the same phone I gave Diaz. I found a Russian guy who was also calling this Russian disco — he survived, thank God — and asked him for his phone. I called up my cousin Tanya and told her that Diaz had been killed.
“What are you saying?” she said. “You can’t talk like that.”
“I’m not lying,” I said. “Diaz’s dead. There was a terrorist attack outside Dolphinarium. Diaz is no more.”
“Can’t be,” she said, and broke into tears. “We’ll come right away.”
“Yeah, come over,” I said.
I was sitting on the rocks and crying. Couldn’t stop crying. Then I went back to Diaz’s body, but the police wouldn’t let me. Here’s my bike, I said, here’s my brother . . .
Larisa and I just barely had a moment to look to the right . . . I felt an acute burn in my leg; as if a heatwave hit me from below. And I saw my body getting away from Larisa’s. And that’s all I remember. Until I came to on the ground. We waited for the ambulance for a long time, but I didn’t think about it: I cried for Larisa and ran around looking for her. I must have been slipping in and out of consciousness, because I don’t remember it too well — memory gaps.
The three of us went to the disco, anticipating a celebration. All were festively dressed. We couldn’t stand still, we couldn’t wait to go in.
And then there was a horrible sound. I didn’t even understand it was an explosion. All I saw was that everyone fell around me. My girlfriends were lying on the ground with their faces frozen, with puddles of blood around them.
I didn’t know what to do. No friends around me. I ran, I don’t know where. Later, I was told that I cried out for help in Hebrew, but I don’t remember any of it.
I went to this disco every week, and told my friend about it. Although she wasn’t into dancing much, I talked her into coming with me at least this once, to see how much fun one can have in a disco. A minute before the blowup I hugged her — she was shy in a crowd, and I wanted to encourage her. And now she’s gone . . .
I was conscious all along. I was thrown to the ground and deafened, so I heard all that crying as if from the distance, while I had fog in my eyes, and I tried to make out things in front of me, and I couldn’t.
The next thing I remember, I opened my eyes, I was on the ground. Then I realized I was alive, and I examined myself to understand what had happened to me.
All the bones were sticking out of my arm. It was all torn. My fingers grew numb, and I wasn’t feeling them anymore. One leg seemed to be torn off, too. I tried to get up, but I couldn’t; I waved for someone to get me out.
Someone pulled me out and set aside. I felt no pain. Only when some man came up and started pulling my both legs — that’s when I felt pain. Before that, nothing.
Then I looked around to see Simona — what happened to her?
I didn’t see her. But I saw a lot of legs and arms. A girl was lying next to me, her face was covered in blood, and her head was dangling on her neck, as if her neck was blown off. She was all covered in blood, I remember it well . . .
Then a guy came up — now I know who he was, he works nearby, at a pub called Daniels. He stepped out when he heard the explosion, he saw me on the ground, and he stayed with me till they took me to the hospital. He kept talking to me, because I was on the verge of losing consciousness. My eyes kept closing, because I felt sleepy. He poured water over me, he gave me water to drink, he talked — he kept me conscious. A few days later, he found me at the hospital and now we’re good friends. I remember that on the way to the hospital I kept asking the medics to call my parents, but they wouldn’t, for some reason. I called them only from the hospital.
And then there was a blast. I saw a pink flash on my right side and I heard the girls screaming, and then bodies collapsed on top of me — and that’s the last thing I remember. I must have blacked out for some time.
I came to on the ground. My friend Vika was screaming next to me — I’ll never forget her scream — “Where’s the ambulance? I’m hurting — hurting — why aren’t they coming?”
I could see she had an open arm fracture. And she kept asking, What’s with my arm? A fracture, I said. Then I felt such a sharp pain in my leg, and it was stinking, too. I saw two holes in my leg, and a piece of flesh was hanging loose.
I cursed silently, I must have used every swear word I knew. The hell with it, I thought, they’ll patch it up, it’s just a plastic surgery. I was thinking about Mom: How is she? Where is she? We just had a fight! How will I face her? What about Grandma? Grandpa?
Then I saw some guys being pulled away. But they didn’t notice me because I was lying quietly and not screaming.
I realized I had to do something to be pulled out of this pile of bodies. I turned to look: Anya was nowhere, and Vika was the only one I knew.
Then a pair of feet stopped near me. I grabbed them and said in Hebrew, “Take me away!”
The guy scooped me up and put me down where we were before the explosion, near the white door. I said, “We must find Anya.” And I remember I saw blood there. Then I was so thirsty! I was alone. And scared.
Suddenly I heard, “Are you okay, darling?”
I looked up and automatically grabbed the foot of the guy who asked me. “Yes,” I said; “don’t leave me!”
He sat there and talked to me until the ambulance came. Now I know his name was Amitai; I’m so grateful to him, I’ll never forget him. I covered my legs so he couldn’t see the wound. He saw I was all covered with blood, but he couldn’t see me covering the wound. I tried to explain to him in Hebrew that I was afraid the doctors would amputate my leg.
But as we sat there, I wasn’t crying or screaming — instead, we were laughing. He saw I needed to be distracted. “Show me your leg,” he said.
I did, and I saw his eyes — frightened. I don’t know why — maybe because I wasn’t screaming? I was just gripping his hand. Then someone brought water, I was drinking and pouring it over me, because I was so hot and hurting and scared . . .
Then I remember falling down and Amitai picking me up and carrying me to the ambulance. I opened my eyes, and the photographer took pictures of us. But I didn’t want my mother to know I was in the middle of a terrorist attack, so I tried to cover my face.
By then, I must have lost so much blood I was about to pass out. I tried to put on a bandage myself, but I couldn’t. My shoulder blade was pierced, and I couldn’t move my arm, Every move I made was painful.
They put me in the ambulance and bandaged my leg, and I felt better: Thank God, at least they won’t let me die. But I was scared of being left alone. And then they brought in another girl and put her next to me and she went screaming. I was lying quietly and feeling better from keeping quiet, and she kept screaming. I didn’t know her at all! I said, “Stop screaming! Hysterics is the worst thing there is! Just hold on!” I held her shoulder with my good hand and repeated: “You’ve got to hold on!” She looked at me, her eyes scared, and fell silent; then she started again. I told her again, “Please stop screaming!” Then I felt the pain in my leg — something terrible! And I couldn’t move my right arm either . . .
I knew there should be some kind of bandage inside the ambulance, so I started looking. I found a piece of paper and stuffed it in my mouth to keep myself from screaming. And then a medic got inside and took our hands, and I gripped his hand, and we took off.
I thought it was taking us forever. And he kept saying, “We’re on the way, just a little bit longer, we’re almost there, a couple more minutes . . . We’re going to Wolfson,” he said, “it’s the best hospital in the world.”
At first, I stood to the side. Then I ran. I only looked back when I was far away. Then I fell down, and my brother picked me up. We kept running and falling and getting up and running again. I saw dead bodies. Right next to me.
First, I pushed my girlfriend out, and then I went to get my sister. I found her, and we left together. I was the last one to leave. If I had left by myself, they would have stayed there.
I didn’t see anything; I heard the explosion — and I didn’t hear anything anymore. I collapsed, and it felt like I was falling for a long time. As I was falling, I saw a friend of mine who was falling, too. Ilya Gutman — he died the same day. When I collapsed, I heard shouting, but it seemed to be coming from far away. Then a friend picked me up and carried me away. He said I was lying on top of other bodies, and there were bodies on top of me, too, and he dragged me out. Then people came to ask me where I was hurting. I felt pain, but not severe, just — I was in shock, that’s what I was.
I was in shock from seeing so much blood and so many people die. After the blast, I passed out for a few moments, and then someone pulled me by my hair, and I ran off. And that’s all I remember.
I remember that after I got away I prayed to God to let me pass out. Because I couldn’t stand the pain. Everything was hurting — burning. At the same time, I was thinking that my girlfriend Tamara and I would find our friend Emma and go home.
I don’t know how long I was waiting for an ambulance. Israelis came up and started calming me down. They told me I was fine, everything was fine, and then a guy picked me up and carried me to the ambulance.
Ilya (last name unknown)
I was on a leave from the Army with a friend of mine. We went to Dolphi — his girlfriend was waiting for him there. The building was cordoned off, but I showed my Army ID, and they let me through. It was a nightmare: blood flowing, arms and legs torn off, wounded everywhere, screaming . . . I forced myself to ignore it and went on to help those who could still be helped. I took a course in the Army, I know how to treat wounds. I didn’t see the faces — many were disfigured.
Anna (last name unknown)
We wanted to go to a rock concert of Hands Up, but it was cancelled, so we went to Dolphi. We met girls we knew there, Natasha and Polina. We went for a walk on the boardwalk. At 11:20, we came to the disco, and ten minutes later they opened the doors. The blast thundered at 11:35. After the shockwave, everyone hit the ground. When I opened my eyes, I saw half people still on the ground, someone running, someone else screaming. I jumped up to my feet, too, and took off running. As I ran, I saw a piece of flesh on the ground, blood, torn-off limbs . . . I still didn’t realize it was an explosion. Later, I felt pain in my legs. I saw my leg covered with dots that were bleeding. Afterwards, an ambulance came and took me to the hospital.