Uri | 07.03.2003 21:57
American Teen Tried to Unite Jews, Arabs
Thu Mar 6, 2:11 PM ET
By JASON KEYSER, Associated Press Writer
HAIFA, Israel - As an American teenager living in Israel, Abigail Litle wanted to help bring Jews and Arabs together, joining a school group that aimed to bridge a divide worsened by more than two years of Palestinian-Israeli violence.
Her dream was shattered Wednesday when a Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up aboard a crowded city bus, killing Abigail — a daughter of a Christian church worker — and 14 Israelis.
"For Abigail, it was always that someone be valued as a person, not as an object defined by nationality," said her father, Philip Litle, originally from Harrisonville, Mo., sharing his agony over having to identify his daughter's battered body. "She's gone to a better place now."
Abigail, 14, was one of three students from the Reali school in the northern city of Haifa who were killed in the blast. The others were Daniel Harush, 16, and Yuval Mendelevitch, 13.
Born in Lebanon, N.H., Abigail was an infant when her parents brought her to Israel in 1989. The family settled in Haifa, where her father was studying at the Technion, Israel's premier technological institute. Later, her father took a job with a Baptist church.
In a land ripped apart by ethnic and religious conflict, Abigail and Yuval took part in a school program that worked to promote understanding between Arab and Jewish students. The program, "Children Teaching Children," had its first meeting Feb. 26.
Abigail's teacher Nurit Harel described her as a strong-willed teenager who once refused to let a raging fever prevent her from going to school for a sports competition.
"Pupils phoned her and she told them that although she was ill she would be there," Harel said. "She did the best she could, and the points she earned won the class first place."
On Thursday, some of Abigail's friends and her sister Hannah, 13, gathered in the bedroom the two girls shared. On Abigail's side of the room was a poster of English soccer star Michael Owen. "She thought he was cute," Hannah said.
Abigail is to be buried in Haifa on Sunday.
Moments before the blast, Yuval Mendelevitch had called his father on his cell phone, as he did every day, to tell him what he'd done in class that day and when he'd be home.
"He said, 'I love you, Dad.' Then the line went dead," Yuval's father, Yossi, said. "It turns out that those were his last words."
Daniel Harush, 16, finished class early on Wednesday because most of his fellow students were on a field trip to Poland, his sister Ronit said.
He was planning a career as an air force pilot and had signed up to take a parachuting course this summer, she said. He was buried Thursday.
Nine of the bombing victims were under 18 and at least two passengers killed were Arabs. Haifa, a city known for Jewish-Arab coexistence, was hit by several suicide bombings before, including a bus bombing that killed 15 in December 2001.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (news - web sites) pointed to the deaths of the youngsters and linked it to terror attacks in the United States.
"The terror that attacked the twin towers (Sept. 11) is the same terror that murders school children," he said at a Jerusalem ceremony recognizing police and volunteers who have foiled terror attacks.
In the hallway of the Reali school, a large and colorful paper lion hangs on the wall, made by Yuval for the upcoming Jewish holiday of Purim. Also at the school was an impromptu memorial that students set up with flickering candles and photos and articles cut from morning newspapers.
Principal Ron Kitrey said his 3,200 students were close, despite the school's size. "There is a feeling of one big family, and of great pain," he said.
Wednesday's bus bombing brought to six the number of Reali students killed in Palestinian attacks since the September 2000 outbreak of Palestinian-Israeli violence.
Police said the bomber had a letter declaring his intention to carry out a suicide bombing and praising the Sept. 11 terror attacks. His family said he was a 20-year-old member of the Hamas militant group.
No organization has taken responsibility for the Haifa bombing yet.
Yossi Mendelevitch described the news of his son's death as "an ink blot, spreading across the consciousness."
Called to the national forensic institute in Tel Aviv, he was warned to bring Yuval's dental X-rays so that he would not have to view what the bomb had left of his boy.
"I want to remember Yuval whole," he said. "In one piece."