As Israel buries its Mumbai victims, accusations simmer

Thousads of Ultra-Orthodox Jews attend the funeral of Arie Leibush Taitelbaum in Jerusalem, Israel, who was killed in the Terror attack in Mumbai last week.
Thousads of Ultra-Orthodox Jews attend the funeral of Arie Leibush Taitelbaum in Jerusalem, Israel, who was killed in the Terror attack in Mumbai last week. Yossi Zamir/Flash 90/MCT

JERUSALEM — Scores of mourners in black hats and coats converged on the Mount of Olives graveyard as Israelis here and across the country buried six Jews killed in last week's Mumbai siege that claimed at least 173 lives.

Israel has been jarred by the attack and buffeted by the fallout. Its leaders have come to the defense of India, one of Israel's biggest military customers, amid criticism of India's confused response to the attack.

On Tuesday, Israelis buried Norma Shvarzblat Rabinovich, a Jewish woman from Mexico who planned to immigrate this week so she could be closer to her children and Leibish Teitelbaum, an ultra-Orthodox Jew who belonged to a marginalized group that's philosophically opposed to the state of Israel.

And they buried Gavriel and Rivkah Holtzberg, the rabbi and his wife who ran an outreach center in Mumbai for their ultra-Orthodox branch of Judaism. Deepening the anguish for the families, Rivkah's father told mourners that his daughter had been five months pregnant when she was killed.

"We will fight them, not with AK-47's, not with grenades, not with tanks," Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky told thousands of mourners gathered for the Holtzberg services at the group's headquarters outside Tel Aviv. "This kind of evil can only be fought with torches — torches of goodness and light."

The funerals followed days of second-guessing among current and former Israeli leaders, who were among the most vocal critics of India's response to the Mumbai attack.

One former Israeli counter-terrorism leader called the surprise attack "a colossal (intelligence) failure" and the Indian rescue operation "unreasonable."

A security officer in Israel's consulate in Mumbai described the Indian response as "crazed."

An Israeli rescue worker at the scene suggested that some of the Jewish victims may have been killed by the Indian commandos who stormed the Chabad House in a high-profile operation.

The waves of criticism prompted Israel's left-leaning Haaretz newspaper to note in an editorial that Israeli commandos had their own string of failures, including a 1974 raid that left 22 children dead, and a 2006 Hamas-led attack on an Israeli base along the Gaza Strip border that ended with the capture of Gilad Shalit, a young Israeli soldier still being held by Palestinian militants.

"Terrorist attacks are a cause for sorrow and rage, not for arrogant statements and impossible ideas," the Haaretz editorial concluded.

Officially, Israel has tried to quash the criticism as Monday-morning quarterbacking.

"It's irresponsible to sit next to a television and then pass judgment," said Andy David, a spokesman for Israel's Foreign Ministry. "It's not serious — and they do not represent the state of Israel."

David and other Israeli officials downplayed reports of friction between Israel and India over the response and praised India for its cooperation.

Israel and India have strong and growing military and economic ties.

India is a top destination for young Israelis seeking an escape after they finish their mandatory service in the military. The two nations have growing trade relations. And Israel is boosting its military aid to India.

Some Israeli analysts suggested that Israel's military backing for India in its fight to retain control of Kashmir might have served as one excuse for the attackers, whom Indian officials claimed to be part of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a militant Islamic group fighting to drive India from Kashmir.

In September, militants in Kashmir angrily denounced reports that Israel's top ground forces commander had made a secret, surprise trip to Kashmir to help lay the groundwork for Israeli commando units to train Indian counterparts operating in the disputed region.

If the ties played any role in motivating the attackers, it hasn't become clear.

Journalists in India have reported that the one attacker captured during the raids told interrogators that his group targeted the Jewish Chabad House because of Israel's treatment of Palestinians.

At the Holtzberg memorial, members of the Chabad community pledged to look after the couple's 2-year-old son, Moshe, who was spirited from the Chabad House during the attack by Sandra Samuel, an Indian worker who looked after the boy.

Both survivors were flown to Israel on Monday as media here reported that Samuel could be officially hailed as a "Righteous Gentile," an honor usually bestowed upon non-Jews who helped save Jews during World War II.

Following the service, the remains of the couple, wrapped in individual prayer shawls, were carried in a rare funeral procession from Kfar Chabad to the Mount of Olives, the most hallowed Jewish graveyard in Jerusalem.

The funeral cortege wound through Israel's pine forests, crawled past Jerusalem's Old City walls and came to a halt on Tuesday evening in the hallowed hillside cemetery where religious Jews believe the dead will first rise when their Messiah returns.

Scores of mourners wept and prayed as the bodies were placed in the cement-lined graves in the cemetery overlooking the Old City.

Two other Jewish victims were buried Tuesday in Israel: Yocheved Orpaz, who'd been traveling in India, and Bentzion Chroman, who oversaw Kosher cooking in Mumbai.

(Special correspondent Cliff Churgin in Jerusalem contributed to this article.)


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