My meeting with the families of Edward Joffe and Leon Kanner – murdered in 1969 Jerusalem supermarket bombing
On a windswept hillside terrace in the massive Har HaMenuchot Cemetery on the western edge of Jerusalem, 1969 terror victims Edward Joffe and Leon (“Arie”) Kanner are buried together, next to Edward’s parents Roslyn and Hyman Joffe.
The cemetery itself reflects the history of the conflict.
Har HaMenuchot was opened in 1951, after Jordanian troops seized “East” Jerusalem after Israel declared Independence in 1948. Jordan’s conquest included not only the Jewish Quarter of the Old City but also the Mount of Olives Cemetery, the traditional Jewish burial ground. The Jewish Quarter was ethnically cleansed of Jews and its Jewish landmarks, while Mount of Olives Cemetery was ransacked, its tombstones used for building projects and many of its graves paved over for roads. Har HaMenuchot was built in response.
My wife and I visited the Joffe and Kanner graves at Har HaMenuchot on June 1, 2015. [Featured Image]
The cemetery is so huge, so seemingly discombobulated, so logistically impenetrable even when armed with plot and section numbers, that it took us almost an hour to find the graves. We were accompanied by a local Rabbi who helped us say prayers. We placed small stones on the graves, in the Jewish tradition. And we were overcome with emotion.
The inscriptions on the graves are simple, and nearly identical. Edward’s brother Harold provided the translation:
“Here is buried
Our dear son and brother
Efraim (Hebrew of Edward) David Joffe (Eddie) (z”l- means of blessed memory)
21 years old
We will remember you forever”
Then the same for “Arie (Leon Kaner) 20 years old”
The stone marker joining the graves reads:
“… these beloved and dearest in life are also together in death…”
Their light [spark] of life was extinguished by a cruel hand in Jerusalem
on the third day of Adar, 5729
May their Souls be bound together in the eternal chain of Life
According to Harold, the first sentence was taken from David’s lament over the death of Saul and Jonathan, in the book of Samuel, and the last 5 letters at the bottom of the inscription are common on graves in Israel .ת.נ.צ.ב.ה. , an acronym for the Hebrew words תהא נפשו/ה צרורה בצרור החיים (t’hay nafsho/ah tzrurah b’tzror hachaim), “May his/her soul be bound up in the bond of life.” This paraphrases the words that Abigail told King David (I Samuel 25:29): “But my lord’s soul shall be bound in the bond of life with the L-rd your G d.”
Others had been there recently, it seems, as flowers were placed between the two markers, now dried and faded:
What brought us to that spot, those graves, these lives?
It’s a story of then and now. As one Israeli school bus attack survivor along the Lebanese border put it to us, Israel’s revenge against decades of terror attacks is that “we are still here.”
So this really isn’t just a story about the deaths of Edward Joffe and Leon Kanner, it’s about the blessed revenge of their families and their country in surviving, then and now.
And it’s to set the record straight about Rasmea Odeh.
1. Rasmea Odeh, Then and Now
On that fateful day, February 21, 1969, the SuperSol supermarket was filled with death and destruction:Time has not lessened the impact. The SuperSol bombing was the first substantial post-1967 Palestinian terror attack aimed at Israeli civilians, and it shook the nation.
Rasmea Odeh, a military member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, was convicted of being the mastermind of the bombing. The evidence of Rasmea’s guilt was and is overwhelming, and has grown more so over the years.
An International Red Cross observer termed the trial to be fair.
Contrary to claims that Rasmea confessed to the bombing only after 25 days of sexual torture, in fact Rasmea confessed in a highly detailed handwritten document the day after her arrest, and there was substantial evidence independent of the confession. Years later, after they all were out of Israeli prison, Rasmea’s co-conspirators would credit Rasmea with being the mastermind of the bombing:
Rasmea was sentenced in 1970 to life in prison, but released in a 1979 mass prisoner exchange for an Israeli soldier captured in Lebanon. Her status in the PFLP was such that Leila Khalid, the first female airplane hijacker, participated in “Task Force Rasmieh Odeh“.
After the 1979 prisoner release, Rasmea eventually made her way to the U.S. in the mid-1990s.
In November 2014, Rasmea was convicted in federal court in Detroit of lying on her immigration and naturalization forms, by falsely denying she ever had been arrested, convicted or imprisoned. Rasmea claimed that she did not understand that the word “EVER” (caps in original) on the forms meant ever. She also claimed that post-traumatic stress disorder from the alleged torture prevented her from recalling the conviction and imprisonment when she answered the immigration forms; the Judge would not allow such “expert” testimony as legally irrelevant to the immigration crime charged.
Rasmea was sentenced to 18 months in prison and ordered deported.
Rasmea danced in the bus back to Chicago after the sentencing.
The case is on appeal, and Rasmea currently is free on bond pending appeal. Briefing will be completed by the end of July 2015.
In her appeal papers, Rasmea’s attorneys likened the Israeli military court that convicted her to Nazis.
Completely contrary to the evidence, Rasmea has been turned into the poster-child for alleged oppression of Palestinians and “pro-Palestinian” activists. Rasmea is feted and honored by the anti-Israel community in Chicago, by pro-boycott faculty, and by Students for Justice in Palestine campus groups around the country.
That’s why the stories of Edward Joffe and Leon Kanner, and their families, need to be documented.
They are the only victims in this tragedy. Then, and now.
2. The Funeral, Then
The SuperSol supermarket bombing shocked Israel. Thousands attended the memorial service at Hebrew University, which Edward and Leon attended, and the subsequent funeral:
The deaths were widely reported in the newspapers (translation to follow):
Neighbors and friends took out memorials in the newspaper, alongside the obituary (translations to follow).
As we traveled in Israel, we mentioned the SuperSol supermarket bombing to just about everyone we met. Everyone of an age old enough in 1969 to be aware, remembered it.
That we were meeting with the families of the victims was appreciated by friend and stranger alike.
3. Meeting the Families in Israel, Now
All the parents of Edward and Leon are deceased.
Edward has a brother (Basil) in Texas. Basil and his daughter Terry attended the Detroit trial.
Edward also has a brother (Harold) and sister (Nadine, who was just 12 at the time of the bombing) in Israel. Leon’s three sisters (Irit, Miriam and Rachel) all live in Israel, and were several years older than Leon.
In the course of investigating and covering the case, I came into contact with the Joffe and Kanner families, who providing me with material to write about their respective backgrounds and lives.
While in Israel, my wife and I met separately with Harold and Nadine, and some of their family members. And again with the Kanner sisters and some of their family together.
How to convey the content of these meetings, without betraying the implicitly personal nature of the meetings? These were shared emotional experiences, not just interviews.
In both families, after the initial years of mourning, the deaths were ever-present, but not always discussed. Israel’s Memorial Day, in which the deaths of soldiers and civilians killed in war and terror were remembered, was a particularly difficult day. There were visits to the cemetery, or memorials, but not a lot of discussion.
The deaths were just always there.
The fathers of Edward and Leon seemed to internalize the pain, and it ate away at them silently.
The Rasmea trial, and my reporting on it, caused the families to revisit the deaths, and to teach their children and grandchildren. While emotionally taxing, the families — particularly the younger generations — were thankful for the opportunity to learn more about their family histories.
4. The Joffe Family, Then and Now
Here are the four Joffe children, Edward, Basil, Harold and Nadine, as youngsters:
This was Edward, with Jerusalem behind him, then:
Each of the siblings remembered the deaths and funerals, but many of the details were blurred out by grief, then and now.
Nadine answered the police knock at the door, and remembers screaming “Edward is dead,” as her mother collapsed in agony. To this day Nadine feels panic if a police vehicle approaches the house.
This was Nadine and her mother, at the funeral, then:
Nadine’s schoolmates attended the funeral.
In a newspaper article at the time of the bombing, Roslyn was quoted as follows:
Edward’s parents, in a Tel Aviv suburb flat, in deep grief, could only say, “Let other mothers be spared.”
Edward’s mother, Roslyn, objected to the release of Rasmea in 1979, reflecting the family’s grief, then.
The response was that it was the only way to obtain the release of the Israeli soldier (translation to follow):
The farewell video by Roslyn Joffe on the eve of her death in 2009 reflected the parents’ loss, then and now:
On a Memorial Day, Nadine and two of her daughters met then Prime Minister Ehud Barak:
This is Nadine now. Mother of four daughters, grandmother to two:
Here are Harold and Edward together, then:
Harold, who was at home in Israel when the police knocked at the door, had to identify his brother’s body. Here is Harold now, father of four, grandfather of six:
Basil was in London at the time of the bombing and received a telegram alerting him to the death of his brother.
Basil is father of two daughters, grandfather to four.Here are Basil and Harold now, remembering then.
Basil’s daughter Terry wrote a guest post for Legal Insurrection about the propaganda campaign to portray Rasmea as the victim, and the pain that persists even now:
It is with much sadness, disappointment, and frustration that I write to you today.
I spent last week attending the Immigration Fraud Trial in Detroit of Rasmieh Odeh. I sat in that courtroom with my father (alone in our row) surrounded by supporters of Odeh. We endured days of hateful looks and the rehashing of a traumatic event that changed my family forever.
While I find a great sense of relief in knowing that a unanimous jury found her guilty in less than two hours, I still remain troubled by her numerous supporters….
I want to ask you this: Can you not pick a hero who has not killed two people by placing a bomb in a supermarket (with the intent to kill many more)? One who did not then place another bomb at the British consulate on the same day (said bomb was found and defused). And one who didn’t go back (alone) to the British Consulate again 4 days later placing another bomb which caused structural damage? …
If I’m being totally honest with you, I don’t really know that I care if she stays here or goes back to Jordan. The damage she did has already been done. The lives already taken.
But one thing I can still do is stand up and speak out. Please reconsider your public support for a woman who is not deserving of it.
5. The Kanner Family, Then and Now
A full background on the Kanner family is in my post, Sisters of Leon Kanner seek “maximal sentence” for Rasmea Odeh.
These are the Kanner children in Uruguay:
Here is Leon with his parents:This photo of Leon with Jerusalem in the background was found in his camera after his death. Leon never saw the photo. The Kanner sisters had similarly traumatic experiences.
That day, Irit was at her parents house in Netanya. Early in the morning, before they knew of the bombing, her mother told her about a special dream she had, “at night, she saw my grandmother in the dream with open arms calling Leon to her.”
At ten o clock in the morning, her mother went to the hairdresser. Irit heard on the radio, the news about the bomb, but without names.
After 20 minutes, two policemen arrived at the house and told Irit and her father the news of Leon’s death. Her father said, “How can we tell this… to Mom.” A few minutes later, her mother entered, they hugged her and mentioned Leon’s name, and from their facial expressions her mother knew. Her mother began to cry and pull at her own hair. Her mother was almost silent for hours, then recalled her dream.
The secretary at the kibbutzim where her sisters lived were notified and told her sisters. The sisters then took the sad journey to Netanya.
In this photo the sisters comfort their mother, who hugged the casket. There are other photos of the grieving the family asked me not to use, it’s just too painful.Prior to Rasmea’s sentencing, the Kanner sisters wrote to the Judge about the pain, then and now:
Two families’ worlds fell apart that day. Our parents, Clara and Marcos Kanner, struggled to their last day with their loss. They kept their mourning to themselves allowing our family to grow and hold on to life. Our mother lived to the age of 92, our father to the age of 93. After their death we found in the house a box with excerpts from the press they have kept away through the years. The pain has accompanied them on a daily basis and will be carried on in our family to present and onwards.
Here are the Kanner sisters now, mothers of three children, grandmothers of four.
6. And, In the End
Today, the SuperSol supermarket, located diagonally across from the U.S. Consulate in “West” Jerusalem, is modern and vibrant, like Israel and the Joffe and Kanner families:You may have heard the Hebrew phrase, Am yisrael chai (עם ישראל חי), usually translated as “The People of Israel Live,” and put to song in a variety of ways.
That is what this story really is all about.
Israel Trip 2015 posts in chronological order:
- My Apology Tour to Israel
- Let My Apology Tour To Israel begin
- Remembering Haifa Bus 37 Suicide Bombing
- Meet an Israeli Doctor Saving Syrian Lives and Limbs
- Israeli school bus bombing survivor reunites with nurse who saved him – 45 years later
- Khawaled Village – Bedouin Pride in Israel
- Look who I found
- Yet another reason to move U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem
- The “Good” Samaritans of Mount Gerizim
- Israelis shelter in place near Gaza
- VIDEO: Israel National Defense Drill
- Negev Bedouin problems – real and imagined
- Last Days in The Jerusalem Suburbs
- Rasmea Odeh’s victims – then and now