Writing about a dead friend is not easy. It is made doubly hard when that friend was murdered, in political circumstances. One wants to pay tribute to a face, a smile, remembered words. And one is conscious of the possibility of the cheapening and coarsening of such things, if enlisted to the banner of a particular cause. On the third hand, it feels wrong to be intimidated by this. Since to abandon context, to forget who the killers were and why they killed, would be a betrayal. Of the dead, and of those of us that are left and must continue.
I met Anat Rosenberg in 1997, in a bar in Jerusalem called Mikes’ Place. It was about one in the morning, in the late summer. Afterwards, we were friends for a while, before she left for England. Anat had jet-black hair and a white, fine-boned face which made her look severe when she wasn’t smiling. This was misleading, however, since anyone who met her became quickly aware that they were in the presence of one of the warmest-hearted people they would ever meet.
After Anat was murdered, I read in the British press that she had left Israel because of the suicide bombings and violence that engulfed our country in late 2000. This seemed a pleasingly symmetrical story – Israeli Jewish woman leaves her country because of bus bombings, only to die in a bus bombing herself. It is simplistic, and not entirely true, however. Anat’s reasons for leaving Israel were complex. She was very patriotic, with a deep, vivid and strong connection to Jewish history, and the Jewish story of destruction and rebirth which is Israel. At the same time, she loved courtesy, cultural pursuits, dance, theatre. It isn’t hard to understand why such a person might find life trying in harsh, rocky Jerusalem. Nor why they might be attracted to London, with its kalaedoscopic mix of cultures, and the possibility of living a life engaged in the here and now, not recruited and weighed down by history and graves and longing. These, I think, are the real reasons she came to Britain.
At Anat’s funeral, at Har Hamenuhot in Jerusalem, I saw my friend for the first time in seven years, and for the last time ever. She was covered by black velvet, with gold Hebrew inscription on it. On the stretcher with which they carry you to burial in Israel. As they laid her in the dry, red earth, in the blazing July sun, I realized that Anat’s quest had failed. She had sought to escape that harsh, unforgiving legacy. To live her life in a different place, a place that believed in tolerance, irony, and blessed privacy. It had found her, all the same.
The people who murdered Anat and the others who died on July 7th were adherents to the same creed and belief system as the people and organisations who have spread mayhem and murder in the cities of Israel over the last six years. This creed has a name. Its name is militant Islam, or Islamism. It is not the majority creed in the Muslim world, but it is adhered to by a very significant minority. This creed, and its battle with the free democracies of the west will define the time in which we are living. This creed, and its adherents are engaged in the business of robbing other peoples’ lives.
They are robbers of memories, too. In the service of their cause. Mikes’ Place is no longer the name of a bar in Israel. Now it is a name on a list of sites of terror attacks. Omar Khan Sharif and Asif Mohammed Hanif, British Muslims, came to visit wearing explosive belts in 2004. Anat Rosenberg, my friend, is no longer someone who I met and shared some sweet moments with and is out there somewhere in England living her life. Hasib Hussein has turned her into a face on the monument for July 7, 2005.
So be it. They forced her back into their play. Without consent asked. All the same, the adherents to the creed of Hussein, Sharif and Hanif were right to see Anat as their enemy. So her death, though a horrific crime, was no targeting error on their part.
They hate free women above all things, it seems, so they were right to hate her. And they hate Jews and wish to destroy the Jewish sovereignty into which Anat was born and in which she believed, so no mistaken identity there either. They are also the enemies of the questioning mind, and of the society that allows a person to explore their own path, to take their private journey in search of beauty and meaning. Hasib Hussein and the others want to end all that – so free, searching, Israeli Jewish women are certainly their enemy and would certainly be among those they would wish to destroy.
The creed of militant Islam, with its parties, its armed organisations, its apologists, and its fellow travellers, is with us still, is young and virile, and will strike again. The war against it is only just beginning, and has not yet reached its height. May the remembrance of the lives consumed by this idea be a sustaining presence in the days to come. Anat Rosenberg, my friend, was cruelly murdered on July 7th, 2005, at Tavistock Square, in London. May her memory be a blessing.