Even before we made aliyah, I had adopted the Israeli habit of counting sirens. In the US, hearing more than one or two emergency vehicle sirens headed in the same direction in a minute or two is relatively rare. I never got much beyond counting 3 sirens.
In Israel, however, there is a rule of thumb about hearing sirens. One siren from an emergency vehicle is a standard heart attack, two or three sirens means an ordinary traffic accident. More than three sirens in a minute or two means you should start reciting Psalms—there’s been a terrorist attack.
Tuesday morning, around 10 AM, in less than 15 minutes I heard eight sirens headed towards Shaare Tzedek and Hadassah hospitals. And then I stopped counting. But the vehicles with sirens blaring kept driving by.
In the southern part of Jerusalem, two Arabs on a number 78 bus attacked other passengers. One had a gun, the other was armed with a knife. Before they were stopped by the police, they had injured five people, killing Chaim Chaviv and Alon Govberg.
Around the same time, Alaa Abu Gamal ran down a small group of people in Geula, not far from where we live. After driving into them, he got out of his car, which had been supplied to him by the phone company where he worked, and started attacking the injured with a meat cleaver. He killed Rabbi Yishayahu Akiva Kirshevski before being subdued by passers by and then taken into police custody.
In Ra’anana the same day, two Arabs stabbed several people in separate attacks. Both attackers were arrested by police. By the time the police arrived at the scene of one of the incidents, the attacker had been injured and subdued by passersby.
Late Monday afternoon, two young Arabs attacked two Jews in Pisgat Ze’ev, a suburb of Jerusalem. They stabbed a 13 year old so many times he almost bled to death, and following prolonged surgery is still in critical care. They seriously wounded a 24 year old man who also needed immediate surgery when he arrived at the hospital. A driver hit the 13 year old attacker with his car, stopping the attack. The injured Arab was taken to the same hospital as the victims for treatment. The other attacker, 15 years old, was killed by the police after he attacked them. Police released security camera videos of the attack after Palestinian media claimed the attackers were innocent of wrong doing.
Wednesday evening, an Arab stabbed a 60 year old woman boarding a bus in front of the Central Bus Station. The bus driver made sure the woman boarded the bus, then shut the doors so the terrorist could not follow her. The attacker was then shot and killed by police. He was later identified as a resident of Jerusalem who had recently been released after serving a three year term in prison for terrorist activity.
The number of Israelis wounded in Arab terrorist attacks is steadily increasing. Nir Barkat, the mayor of Jerusalem, called on all citizens with gun permits to carry their guns with them at all times. In an interview, he said that he was issuing this call because everyone with a gun permit has been trained to use it, usually in the army. He said in an interview that he would not give the same advice in the US because in the US you don’t know who has guns; they could be untrained in firearm usage or could be mentally unstable.
People on the street are more alert, more wary. As I was walking home Tuesday evening, I saw the shadow of a person gaining on me. I looked over my shoulder and saw a man walking in my direction. As I turned back and quickened my pace a little, he called out, “Al pachad! Al pachad!” (No fear! No fear!)
I recognized his voice—it was Gilad from the makollet, the neighborhood market. He caught up with me, and we chatted a little about the situation, then he hurried on to his destination as I turned to go to my apartment.
When I got on the light rail Tuesday afternoon, I looked around and saw some seats facing forward. Good! I hate riding backwards. But then I realized that I didn’t want to have my back to other travelers. I turned and sat in one of the sideways facing seats opposite the door. From there, I could see what was going on in the car. Other passengers must have felt the same way; all the seats facing the center aisle were occupied before many people sat in the forward or backward facing seats.
That there were seats on the light rail at 5:30 in the afternoon is remarkable in itself. That’s prime travel time. There are almost never any seats to be found on the light rail or the buses at that time of day. But the buses and tram cars had few passengers. No one is going out for pleasure. According to a doctor and a therapist I talked to, people are even canceling health care appointments, or simply not showing up. They go to work or school and come home.
Citizens are fighting the terrorists when they can. In the last two days, several Arabs have been subdued by bystanders during an attack. In one incident, the attacker was stopped by unarmed people; when the police arrived the terrorist was being held on the ground by three people sitting on him. Three sitting on one—is that a disproportionate response?
Stores that sell self protection equipment are selling out of all their supplies. Most stores don’t have any pepper spray left. Even without regular weapons, people are protecting themselves and others. Yair ben Shabat stopped an attack on a bus using nunchuks, a favorite weapon of many Kung Fu aficionados, and Matan Chocron used a selfie stick to help subdue the terrorist in Geula. Mickey Ruhavi beat an Arab attacker at a bus stop in Ra’anana with an umbrella. The Arab survived, but the umbrella did not. Given the poor quality of Israeli umbrellas, I’m not surprised the umbrella is now worthless, but I am surprised that it lasted long enough to have the desired effect.
The satirical TV show Eretz Nehederet has unveiled a design for the
shoulder patch for an IDF unit that would use unconventional weapons. The Proposed shoulder patch for a “Neutralization Force” shows crossed nunchuks, a selfie stick, and an open umbrella.
Police and security personnel are out in much greater numbers than usual. At every light rail station there are at least two Citipass security workers, in their dark pants, khaki shirts, and a coiled white cord running from their ear to their communications device. For the first time I also saw a man dressed all in black with a Citipass ID patch on his shirt carrying a machine gun.
Police were also patrolling some of the larger light rail stations. At the corner on Jaffa and King George, two national policemen were carrying their machine guns front of them. They were wearing protective vests. One of the officers drummed a rhythm on his chest–the vest made the sound of his fingers louder than it would have been on his unprotected body. When they stopped, they stood back to back, watching the area in all directions. There was not much to see. Few passengers were waiting for the train. Even the usual street musicians and beggars were absent.
Spiritual initiatives to deal with the Situation are being promoted. Yesterday I received emails from two different directions about a communal recitation of Tehillim (Psalms). At 3 PM EDT, 10 PM Jerusalem time, everyone was to stop what they were doing and recite nine specific Psalms. Someone else has put out a call for everyone to refrain from engaging in lashon harah. Lashon harah literally means “bad speech,” and includes gossip, spreading rumors, slander, libel, and bad mouthing others. It includes not just speaking, but also listening to any of these things. Given human nature, refraining from lashon harah is very hard, so the initiators of this campaign are asking everyone to watch their speech for one hour a day.
And, being a society of Jewish mothers, we engage in kitchen
activism. A woman in Kiryat Moshe is asking for cakes and cookies to give to the police and security personnel at bus stops, light rail stations, and on the street. Partaking of these snacks won’t interfere with their duties. A female border police officer helped stop an attacker by shooting at her without dropping her Magnum ice cream. The photo of her holding her rifle and ice cream went viral.
As usual, we respond to stress with humor. Several current jokes refer to the man who used the car provided to him by the telephone/internet company Bezek, for which he worked. A couple of examples:
The terrorist on Jerusalem’s Malchei Yisrael Street was an employee of Bezeq. If you want your terrorist to come from Syria, you have to order Bezeq International.
Me: Your employee just stabbed me.
Bezeq Customer Service: Have you tried taking out the knife and reinserting it?
News release- The Shin Bet just got a warning that a terrorist who works for HOT (an internet/telephone service provider) is planning an attack. He will arrive in another couple of months.
While all this is going on, we still try to live our normal everyday life. Thursday is my errands day. I’ve made my shopping list as usual, but will stop at an additional store. I need to get a weapons grade umbrella.