Living with Terror

Sign in downtown Jerusalem "And the main thing is not to be afraid at all"
Sign in downtown Jerusalem “And the main thing is not to be afraid at all”

I was sitting near the back of the number 34 bus, returning home from class, when the policeman boarded. That would not have been unusual. Several policeman ride this bus to and from work every day. They usually carry their lunches in their hand. This officer was carrying a rifle. A big rifle. A “You do what I say and do it NOW!” rifle. He walked slowly to the back of the bus looking to his right and left. When he reached the back of the bus, he turned around and slowly walked to the front again checking us over.

The woman next to me turned her head and looked at me. I shrugged my shoulders.

The bus did not move. It sat at the stop even though no one boarded or exited.

I shifted in my seat, trying to see what was happening. All I could see through the bus windshield was another policeman standing in the middle of the street. No traffic was moving past him in either direction.

And then another security person boarded the bus. This one was dressed all in black, from his hat to bullet proof vest to his boots. He too carried his rifle in the ready position in front of him, as if he expected one of us Thursday afternoon shoppers to attack him at any moment. He too walked the length of bus, looking at each of us as if our faces would betray what was really in our Herzog College and Bank Hapoalim shopping bags. After inspecting the whole bus, he descended through the back door.

And still we sat there, wondering. What was going on? Had there been another knife attack on a bus? Had an Arab run from the site of an attack carrying his weapon? Had the police received a report of a potential terrorist headed towards Jerusalem? How could we find out? Should I call home to ask if everyone was okay? Should I call home to tell them I am okay?

I wished I had remembered to top off my phone’s battery at breakfast. It didn’t have enough power left for me to check my usual news sources. Without The Muqata and the Jerusalem Post, I was in the dark, even though it was a bright sunny day.

A few minutes later, one of the policeman banged on a window of the bus. The driver closed the bus doors and continued on his way.

It seemed like everyone started breathing again at the same time.

My neighbor looked at me and shrugged her shoulders. I shook my head. Who knows what that was about?

Security is out in full force. Police, border police, security guards,

Police patrolling a light rail station, Jerusalem
Police patrolling a light rail station, Jerusalem

soldiers—they are everywhere, usually in pairs or trios. They’re at light rail stations, bus stops, and busy intersections. They carry serious weapons. And they are all wearing bullet-proof vests

We overthink all our actions. Do I want to stand at a distance from the others, so I won’t be part of a targeted crowd? Or do I want to be with a group of people so I won’t look like an easy target and there will people around to help if, G-d forbid, something bad happens? Do I want to sit in the back of the bus, where I can see everyone in front of me? Or near the driver? Do I want to ride the light rail in a forward-facing seat, or on the side looking towards the door and aisle? Do I even want to go out of the apartment?

An ordinary Arab girl who set out that morning had first posted a message that she was going to become a martyr. Her parents saw the message and called the police, who searched all buses travelling from her direction. They found her at the entrance to the city, four blocks from my apartment. I go through that intersection daily. On this day, I traversed it an hour after the police had left.

I go past the Central Bus Station several times a week, often around the time a 70 year old woman was stabbed there. I took my granddaughter dress shopping on Malchei Yisrael street a few days before the terrorist attack there. I have been in the Beer Sheva bus station often enough to explain its layout to a friend when we were talking about Sunday’s terrorist attack there. She told me about her Sunday trip which took her to the Ra’anana bus station not too long before the terrorist attack there. Sara mentioned that the whole city of Givat Zeev was in lockdown Sunday night because a suspicious person had been seen by a security guard. When I asked her what she would tell her children the next morning, she replied, “Nothing. If they ask about the chairs piled against the back door, I’ll say that Ima is silly.”

Soldier patrolling in downtown Jerusalem
Soldier patrolling in downtown Jerusalem

We’re all affected by what is going on yet we seem to be finding ways of dealing with it. We leave earlier in the morning because Jerusalem’s holy traffic jams are worse than ever. People drive their children to school instead of letting them walk or take public transportation. Fewer people ride the buses and light rail. Pedestrian traffic downtown is lighter than usual, and stores are empty of customers. Although the weather is lovely, almost none of the tables outside restaurants are occupied. Last week the beggars and street musicians stayed home. On Monday most of them were back at their regular positions in downtown Jerusalem. I smiled when I heard music that night. The balalaika player had returned. His rectangular plastic box with the picture of the Lubavitcher Rebbe sits on top of his amplifier. I gave him an extra shekel —I had missed his music which made waiting for the light rail less tedious..

Last week many after school programs were canceled—the teachers went on a one day strike because the security guards left at 1:30. Then the city found money in its special budget to pay for the needed guards in border areas. Other schools simply locked their gates and doors.

The stabbings and shootings have gone on long enough that people are starting to react in defiance. “If you stop living normally, the terrorists have won” is the general Israeli attitude. That’s why Sbarro’s Pizza quickly repaired and reopened the restaurant that sustained a deadly suicide bombing attack in 2001. That’s why building continues in Yehuda and Shomron. That’s why people go into the Old City of Jerusalem to pray or just to walk around. No Arab terrorist is going to control where we go or what we do. We just do it a little more alert, a little more watchful.

Solidarity and chizook are the big things. Chizook means strengthening or encouragement, and many are engaging on acts to strengthen others. A woman on the Kiryat Moshe/Givat Shaul electronic bulletin board is soliciting short pieces, a paragraph or two, of chizook and inspiration. She publishes two or three every day.

Groups of teenagers walk along well traveled streets, carrying Israeli flags and singing loudly, songs like “Am Yisrael Chai” (The People Israel Lives).

Someone started a shared public recitation of Psalms for the recovery of terror victims in Israel and as a merit to bring peace. They are trying to get 1000 readings of the whole book. By clicking on a link (http://tinyurl.com/pyrq27h) you get to a site that asks you to say the Psalm which is printed below the instructions. Although the instructions may be accessed in many languages, the Psalms themselves are in Hebrew. When I first went to the site on Monday they had completed 31 readings of the entire book; on Friday morning they were working on the 42nd reading. At that time, more than 2000 people had participated.

Graffiti and posters always reflect the times. Several walls now sport brightly painted slogans, such as Am Yisrael Chai. A large banner hanging on the metal barrier at a downtown construction site uses the second line of the song by Rabbi Nachman of Breslov: V’ha’ikar lo l’fakhaid klal (The main thing thing is not to be afraid at all).

Meanwhile the attacks continue. I hate to open the newspaper in the morning, because at least one headline blares news about another person fighting for life after being stabbed, shot, or run down by a car. At this time, we see no end in sight. The terror will continue until Muslim clerics stop preaching that it is a religious duty of all Muslims to kill all Jews. The terror will continue until Arab politicians stop encouraging it.

I have read the statements Mahmoud Abbas has made to the foreign press that he is not in favor of terrorist acts. I also read translations of his Arabic speeches in which he praises terrorists and decries Jewish attempts to protect ourselves. His government continues to reward acts of terror by paying salaries to Arabs who are in Israeli jails for killing and injuring Jews. The more people they killed, the higher their salaries. Until Abbas and other politicians declare in Arabic, in public in their own countries, that acts of terror are wrong, I cannot believe they disapprove of killing Israelis. The day the Palestinian Authority stops paying huge salaries to people who kill Jews, I will start believing they really want to live alongside of us. The day Islamic clerics declare in their weekly sermons that Jews have a right to live in their ancient homeland, I will start believing they really want peace.

In the meantime, I live my life as best I can, watching my surroundings when I go out. I try not to jump to the conclusion that every siren is a terrorist attack, reminding myself that people are still having heart attacks, that traffic accidents and house fires still occur. But I say my daily prayers for peace with special emphasis.

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