Surviving a Suicide Bomber … Israel Police Officer Visits the Memorial to Tell Her Story

Video by NLEOMF, Nov. 18, 2008

The summer of 2002 was a time of heightened alert in Israel. Dozens of suicide bombings have been carried out throughout the country, and Jerusalem was on high alert following reports that a suicide bomber was on his way to the city.

Sgt. Major Ronit Tubol is an intelligence officer with the Israel Police; her husband is a captain on the same department. Sgt. Major Tubol’s unit that was trying to find the bomber suspected of heading to Jerusalem. Based on the intelligence reports, they believed the bomber was coming from the north, but he entered Jerusalem from the south. There, he boarded a bus headed toward downtown.

Video by NLEOMF, Nov. 18, 2008

Also on the bus that June morning was Sgt. Major Tubol, who had just dropped off her 9-month-old child at day care and was headed to police headquarters in plain clothes. Sgt. Major Tubol was standing directly behind the suicide bomber, when he detonated a pack laden with 20 pounds of explosives and ball bearings. The blast blew a hole in the vehicle’s roof and propelled Ronit Tubol onto the street some distance away. She was unconscious and severely injured … but alive. Nineteen other passengers on the bus perished that day.

As police responded to the blast, they discovered Sgt. Major Tubol’s police credentials in the wreckage, and authorities began a frantic search of the victims looking for the officer. In the meantime, Ronit’s husband had responded to the scene to help with the investigation, still unaware that his wife had been on the bus. As fellow officers were about to notify him and escort him to local morgue to try an identify her body, a call came in from Hadassah Hospital that Sgt. Major Tubol may be there. Her husband responded right away, asked to see her jewelry and confirmed it was her.

Sgt. Major Tubol lay in a coma for more than two weeks. When she woke, she found that she had lost the ability to walk, talk and write. But she also knew that she desperately wanted to return to work and continue her life as a mother and wife. After four months in hospitals and a year of rehabilitation—re-learning the basic life skills most of us take for granted—Ronit Tubol achieved her goals. She is back at work in the intelligence unit of the Israel Police, and she and her husband are now the proud parents of two children.

Photos by NLEOMF, Nov. 18, 2008

Sgt. Major Tubol is in DC this week to be honored by the Anti-Defamation League and to share her incredible story of survival and strength, determination and hope, with her U.S. law enforcement colleagues. On Monday evening, at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, she received the ADL’s Ina Kay Award, which recognizes individuals for extraordinary acts of courage in confronting intolerance and injustice, extremism and terrorism.

On Tuesday morning, she visited the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial to relate her story of courage to Memorial Fund staff, Board members and other supporters who had gathered under sunny but cold skies. She was joined by David Friedman, Regional Director of the ADL’s DC Office, and Elise Jarvis, ADL’s Associate Director for Law Enforcement Outreach. Herb Giobbi, the NLEOMF’s Chief Operating Officer, led the ceremony.

Sgt. Major Tubol described her ordeal in detail. Much of the information she has gleaned from others, as her memory of the incident is blurred. But Ronit Tubol is clear on the larger meaning behind her story: “In Israel, we never give up … we never give in to terrorists.”

Following Ronit’s remarks, she joined Mr. Friedman and University of Maryland Department of Public Safety Major Jay Gruber in laying a wreath in honor of fallen officers at the Memorial’s center medallion. Major Gruber serves as president of the Shomrim Society of Washington, DC, an organization of Jewish law enforcement officers.

Lynn Lyons-Wynne, NLEOMF Senior Director of Memorial Programs, gave the group a tour of the Memorial. She pointed out that among the 18,274 officers whose names are on the Memorial, at least 26 are Jewish, according to NLEOMF research records and information from the National Conference of Shomrim Societies. Only one of those is a woman – Miami-Dade (FL) Police Officer Cheryl Seiden was shot and killed in July 1982 during an attempted robbery when the officer was off-duty.

Following the ceremony, Sgt. Major Tubol and her hosts headed off to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives for another session with law enforcement personnel – another lesson in courage, determination and resolve. It is a lesson all of American law enforcement can take to heart, as officers here continue their dual mission of fighting both crime and terrorism.