The walk on a recent warm Friday morning, billed as a journey “from trauma to fantasy,” attracted about 25 people, including a few parents pushing children in strollers. It was part of a citywide festival of “new public art” that tried to break the boundaries of galleries and theaters and reach people on the streets, preferably with audience participation.
At a prearranged meeting point, Atia — whose past work has included satirical videos on contentious social and political issues — materialized in a straw hat with a clip-on microphone, introducing himself as a tour guide named Ronen Matalon. He proceeded to lead the group through a crowded open-air market and down Jaffa Road, stopping at stone memorial plaques put up by the city at the sites of grisly bombings in buses, restaurants and bus stops, where dozens of Israelis were killed.
Jaffa Road has changed since those times. The once-gritty street clogged with buses and cars is now traffic-free, the facades of its stone buildings sandblasted clean, a light-rail train gliding quietly down its length, with cafe tables and chairs dotting some sidewalks. And most of the time, pedestrians pass the memorial plaques without so much as a glance.
But Atia, who said he grew up on Jaffa Road, tried to re-create what it felt like at the time of the attacks, ticking off stories about bombers and some of their victims, evoking the mood and the public reaction. His running commentary, supplemented with newspaper photos and invited comments from the group, was intended to sketch a brief social history of the impact of the bombings.
The memorial plaques have evolved, Atia pointed out, reflecting a hardening of public attitudes over the years.
A plaque commemorating victims of a double-suicide bombing in the market in July 1997 said the victims “perished” in a terrorist attack, and a list of their names was followed by the Hebrew initials for “of blessed memory.” However plaques put up at the height of the bombings a few years later said the victims were “murdered,” their names followed by initials for “May God avenge their deaths.”
“There’s a shift from the terminology of memory to the terminology of revenge,” Atia said.
The guide prodded his listeners to relive their reactions at the time of the attacks: the frantic phone calls to make sure loved ones were safe; the sense that death lurked behind simple daily acts, like getting on a bus or driving next to one; the morbid fascination of the crowds that gathered at the bomb sites; and the empty streets downtown in the aftermath of the explosions.