After Suicide Attack, Dimona Residents Realize They Are Now on the Front Line

Toward evening, when the police roadblocks were removed, people trickled in to the shopping center and stood around in small groups, staring at the broken neon sign overhead. The floors had been hosed down, but between the lightbulbs above the shop's name, Pitzuhei Hashabat, were fresh red blood stains, evidence of the murder that took place that morning. "It looks like they slaughtered a sheep here," someone said with horror. Names were whispered from ear to ear: Did you hear who was killed? Who was wounded?

The echoing bomb blasts and what follows in their wake - the smells, sirens, police tape, rescue crews, a Yahrzeit candle placed at a street corner - all these had been foreign to Dimona residents. Gradually, the people of this town of 40,000 are realizing that they too are vulnerable; that they too, if a few television commentators are to be believed, are fated to protect Israel's southern border with their bodies. "We are like the residents of Sderot and Ashkelon," as someone said beneath the neon sign.

Guy Barkai, a coffee-shop owner, says the town's illusion of safety has been shattered: "I'm aware that Dimona is a sought-after target, but until today there was euphoria here. Tomorrow, that euphoria will be gone. They'll realize that Dimona is a target."

"Are you a Jerusalemite?" asked Roni Aflalo, a building contractor. "Then perhaps you don't remember the first terrorist attack on the city, but your father and grandfather remember. Dimona lost its virginity today, and we will remember this day. You can see the reaction: people are frightened, the schools were closed straight away, businesses were shuttered. This is a blow."

The bombing left this shopping center empty, with locks on the Lotto stand and kiosks, pet store, clothes boutique and fruits and vegetables store. The outmoded appearance of this shopping center, located across from rows of pale three-story public housing projects, can be misleading, as though Dimona were still the same peripheral town whose residents tend to be described as "hardworking."

"Dimona isn't what it used to be," said Ilan Moyal, owner of another coffee shop at the shopping center. "But when reporters come here from outside, they immediately turn their cameras on the projects, the old folks, the immigrants, the vegetable store."

Poverty still exists here in the subsidized housing projects, but the daily struggle for Moyal and the other business owners at the old commercial center is not waged in the face of privation. It's against the abundance that is washing over Dimona: A year ago a new mall opened on the outskirts of town, with branches of all the major chains. Yesterday, business at the mall went on almost as usual, and the customers, laden with bags overflowing with brand-name products, watched the plasma screens showing the scene of the bombing just a five-minute drive away.

"Dimona is a blue-collar town, but which blue-collar workers?" Roni Aflalo asked. "It's the top decile of manufacturing plants in Israel. Hired hands make here between NIS 25,000 and 30,000 a month. The whole neighborhood of privately-built homes, most of the fancy houses here belong to these workers. Naturally, like every town, there are also slums here."

The change is underscored by Hadas Edrey, a factory worker at Rotem Fertilizer. "Dimona underwent a revolution over the past decad," he said. "The previous generation would have responded to this bombing by griping that we get screwed. We, the generation leading the city today, are mostly comfortable financially, and we have set aside the sense of discrimination. Only the stigma remains."

Yet despite the recent prosperity, yesterday's attack showed that Dimona is still a small town where everyone knows each other. "The bombing is going to disrupt life here," Aflalo said. "People will be scared to go out. It's a small place, and today people are occupied not with how many were killed and wounded, but with who got hurt. Dimona is not Tel Aviv. You can know exactly who is at the coffee shop at exactly what time, drinking his espresso."