- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 11, 2002

JERUSALEM In an Israeli hospital, Chana Nachenberg, 32, an American victim of a Palestinian suicide bombing a year ago, still lies in a coma. Under the patient's nose are tiny mint leaves her mother holds in hopes that the smell might wake her.

In the Palestinian city of Ramallah, another American, Farhan Saleh, mourns a daughter shot dead by Israeli soldiers on a rainy night in March, during a major military offensive. She had to be buried in a mass grave dug out of a hospital parking lot because the streets were too dangerous to conduct a burial at a cemetery.

Many Americans have been caught in the middle of Israeli-Palestinian battles that began in late September 2000, shortly after U.S.-brokered peace talks failed.

Thirty-two have died and 50 have been injured, including many who had dual Israeli-American citizenship. One of the dead was a Palestinian American.

There was Koby Mandell, a 13-year-old boy from College Park, Md., who was bludgeoned to death by Palestinians while on a desert hike. Judith Greenbaum, a schoolteacher from Passaic, N.J., died in a suicide bombing last year.

Avi Boaz, a 71-year-old architect born in the New York City borough of Brooklyn and who had befriended a Palestinian family in the town of Beit Jalla, was shot dead by Palestinian militiamen in January. Sgt. Matanya Robinson, a 21-year-old soldier and the eldest son of American immigrants from New York City, was ambushed and killed in April at a Palestinian refugee camp, along with three other U.S. citizens in Israeli uniform.

Marla Bennett, 24, from San Diego, came to Israel on a study-abroad program and was killed by a bomb at Jerusalem's Hebrew University in July. Shortly before she died, she wrote an e-mail to a friend: "I admit it. Israel is really scary right now. But I still feel so strongly about being here."

The American victims are a small fraction of the about 2,500 people killed since the uprising began more than 1,800 on the Palestinian side and more than 600 on the Israeli side.

Still, their deaths are a reminder that the United States' connection to the region is deeply personal.

About 210,000 of the nearly 10 million people in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip have American citizenship, according to U.S. officials. Of those, 120,000 live in Israel, and 90,000 reside in Palestinian areas.

American leaders have long sought to broker peace here.

Israel and the United States maintain close ties. America gives Israel $2.8 billion in annual military and economic aid.

The Palestinian Authority also has received hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. aid, and thousands of Palestinians study at U.S. universities. In several West Bank villages, a majority of residents carry U.S. passports the result of a Palestinian exodus after Israel captured the area in the 1967 Mideast war.

Thousands of Palestinian-Americans returned to the West Bank to open businesses during the 1990s encouraged by the peace efforts and hoping to help build a Palestinian state. Now, with the economy in a shambles and prospects for a state distant, many are returning to the United States.

Jamil Ekhalil, 54, a father of seven who lived for years in California, says his clothing store in Bethlehem can no longer help him make ends meet. "There is no work now. There is no money," he said.

Palestinian militant groups have not appeared to deliberately set out to kill Americans, and the United States has not sought to extradite or prosecute militants involved in attacks against its citizens.

In the July 31 bombing at Hebrew University, five Americans were among the nine dead the largest number of U.S. citizens killed in any single attack in the uprising.

Though dual citizens, some of the Americans killed in the past two years had deeper roots here than in the United States.

Chana Nachenberg was 10 when she and her parents moved to Israel from Providence, R.I. She married, took a job as a supermarket cashier and cared for her 3-year-old daughter, Sara. On Aug. 9, 2001, Mrs. Nachenberg was shopping in Jerusalem with relatives visiting from New York. They sat down at a Sbarro pizzeria. A suicide bomber followed, setting off his load, killing 15 persons.

A shard of metal broke one of Mrs. Nachenberg's ribs and ripped her lungs and heart, cutting off oxygen to her brain. She was clinically dead on arrival at a nearby hospital. Doctors revived her.

A year later, she still lies unconscious, unaware of the window light on her face or the nurses who attend to her. Her parents sit at her side for 10 hours every day. Doctors say she is in a "persistent vegetative state." Mrs. Nachenberg's chances of regaining consciousness are considered very slim.

Her mother, Paula Finer, slips headphones around Mrs. Nachenberg's ears, playing Mozart, sometimes Garth Brooks. She holds mint leaves under her daughter's nose. She often wears a bright red hat, hoping to spark something. She wipes bubbles that form on Mrs. Nachenberg's lips.

Once, Mrs. Nachenberg suddenly lifted her head and shoulders off the bed. But most days, there is no movement. "It's been a long year," Mrs. Finer said.

In Ramallah, home to about 16,000 American citizens, Farhan Saleh, 58, also is trying to carry on after the death of his 21-year-old daughter, Suraida.

The family moved back to the West Bank from the Washington, D.C., area in 1986 so that the children seven girls and two boys would be closer to their Palestinian culture and language, and their faith Islam.

"When you lose a kid, you lose your life," said Mr. Saleh, who spent 18 years in the United States.

On March 29, the first day of a major Israeli military offensive against Palestinian militants, the crackle of gunfire sent Suraida, her husband and their baby out into the night to seek shelter with her father on the next street. They encountered about 20 Israeli soldiers on foot.

The soldiers fired on Suraida's car, hitting her in the back of the head, according to Mr. Saleh.

Heavy fighting went on for days. Bodies filled the morgue at Ramallah's main hospital, where the power went out and unrefrigerated corpses began to decompose. On April 2, Suraida and 25 other Palestinians were laid to rest in two makeshift graves in the hospital parking lot.

Mr. Saleh points to the irony that his American-born daughter was killed by Israeli soldiers carrying U.S.-made M-16 rifles. "We just ask God to help us. There is no other, not America, not Europe. Just God."

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