The balcony of our 11th floor apartment overlooks the neighborhood of Once. The area is characterized as being predominantly Jewish and as the garment district of Buenos Aires. From our balcony, looking a couple of blocks to the east, we can see the only new building in the area: the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA).
Located on calle Pasteur AMIA was the target of a terrorist bomb on July 18, 1994 that killed 85 and wounded hundreds. The AMIA attack came two years after a terrorist bomb also destroyed the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires. An incident in which killed 29 and wounded over 200.
In this age of terrorism these attacks are little known in North America. They happened before Oklahoma City, before 9/11. They happened back when terrorism was something that happened in countries outside the US. Unfortunately, they happened before the world became outraged over terrorism. Or, as someone in Buenos Aires said yesterday, people in the US and Europe didn’t care then because “terrorism happened to someone else”.
The attacks on AMIA and the Israeli embassy have never been solved, culprits have not been clearly identified, no one has been prosecuted. Little seems to have been done. Yesterday, a sticker was placed over the calle Pasteur street sign, temporarily renaming it calle Injusticia.
Monday morning, a memorial service was being held in front of the new AMIA building. Ceci and I decided to walk over there. Streets were barricaded several blocks in each direction by armored vehicles and heavily armed, masked soldiers in camouflage with automatic rifles at the ready. In addition to the armed troops, a multitude of regular police were joined by a large number of plain-clothed Jewish security agents. It was the most intense security that I’ve seen at anytime in Buenos Aires.
When we approached the barricades it didn’t appear that they were letting everyone through. We were directed by the police over to one of the Jewish security agents who questioned us about why we were there. He asked Ceci if she was part of the Jewish community. She replied that she was but that I wasn’t Jewish. He asked about her ties to the community and she mentioned that she used to own a shop in Once. Then he asked where she went to synagogue. She replied that she didn’t anymore but she had gone to synagogues in Once when she had the store there. Then he asked specifically which synagogues. Finally, he asked her family name. After she said “Sorochin”, he let us go through the barricade and then we were examined by the police for weapons. Somehow, I sense that I would not have gotten in by myself. Yet, with the recent bombings in London, the intense security was understandable.
The crowd gathered on calle Pasteur in front of the AMIA building and spread out into the adjoining intersections. Loudspeakers broadcasted the voices of the speakers out along the street. From our position at the corner of Pasteur and Tucuman, we couldn’t really see the speaking platform. The crowd was very quiet and somber, as expected. Glancing up at the buildings, I noticed that security agents were positioned on the top floor of the buildings and were scanning the crowd with binoculars.
When I moved here one of the first things I noticed when walking down calle Pasteur was the young trees that line the street. There are 85 trees in fact on Pasteur between Cordoba and Corrientes, one representing each life that was lost the day of the bombing. A plaque at the base of each tree commemorates those who died…David Barriga…Jacoba Chemauel…Monica Feldman De Goldfeder…on its web site, AMIA names the dead. Eventually, the trees will grow large, creating a beautifully shaded street.