Over two months since a terrorism wave metastasized throughout the capital necessitating security measures not seen since the second intifada, Jerusalem residents on Monday expressed trepidation, coupled with steely resolve.
Sitting a few meters from the iconic Zion Square, where an industrial crane prepared for the candle lighting ceremony of an enormous menorah on the second night of Hanukka, Barak Kahana, a 25-year-old student, said he felt no safer now than in October.
“Actually, I don’t feel much safer than when this began a few months ago because you don’t know when someone is going to pull a knife; you don’t know what’s going to happen on any given day,” said Kahana.
“It’s happened here on this street at least five times,” he continued, pointing toward Jaffa Road. “So I have to watch my back and try not to take public transportation, like the bus or train, and hope it doesn’t happen to me.”
Consequently, Kahana said he is steering clear of the Old City, which he used to routinely visit, as well as other flashpoint areas in the capital.
“I try to stay downtown, or just at my place,” he said. “I don’t go out unless necessary.”
Asked if he recalled a time when he felt as vulnerable to violence, Kahana said the ongoing threat of terrorist attacks is even more nerve-wracking than the second intifada was.
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“It was different then, because it was bombs,” he said.
“Now it’s different – you don’t know if a person will take his knife from the kitchen and go out. Personally, I do not feel confident because we don’t have control over this. In the intifada it was more dangerous, but there was more control.”
Allen Rosenwasser, a filmmaker who made aliya from Brooklyn 30 years ago, said the protracted nature of the violence precluded any meaningful sense of security.
“It would be ridiculous to feel safer,” he said. “The longer it goes on, the less safe you feel. Why would you feel more safe?” With respect to improving security, Rosenwasser said such an undertaking is “virtually impossible.”
“Anyone can [carry out an attack] at anytime, anywhere,” he said, adding that the only solution is political.
“If there’s a solution that’s viable, it would have to take away peoples’ reasons for wanting to be that violent, in a dramatic way,” he said.
“As long as people feel that they are being stepped on and don’t have rights, and their future holds nothing in store for them, they are capable of anything, just as we are.”
Moreover, until the government and Palestinian Authority make meaningful concessions, Rosenwasser contended that the country will remain in a “no-win situation.”
“As long as all the talk seems to be about ‘when a peace process will start,’ or ‘if a peace process will start,’ or ‘is there a partner’ – until all those things stop being said – it’s just going to continue, and maybe get worse.”
Meanwhile, Matan Hadad, 26, who was walking his blueeyed Husky near Zion Square, said Israelis have become accustomed to such terrorism, and will not become disillusioned by its perpetrators.
“Israeli civilians are used to these situations and people keep living day after day; it’s normal here,” he said. “You don’t become scared to leave your house.”
While Hadad conceded that some Israelis are indeed rattled by the violence, he said that the majority remain stoic.
“Some of them, yes, I believe they are nervous,” he said.
“But most of us? Nope. Because we are used to it, and 70 percent of the civilians in Israel go to the army and see what the Israeli army can do. So, I am confident.”
For the time being, Hadad said the most effective deterrent against terrorism is to cut off violent Arab neighborhoods from the rest of the capital.
“You cannot put more police or soldiers on the streets because everywhere you go you have them, so the solution is to close them off from society,” he said.
“Put up checkpoints, and do what we do in Gaza. If they want to put our lives in danger, then that’s what we should do.
If they want to come in peace, come. You want to live only with yourselves? I don’t have a problem with that.
“If they want to put civilians’ lives in danger, then put them in a cage,” he concluded.
Despite the heightened tensions, 18-year-old American gap-year students, Eitana Friedman and Allie Miller, of Philadelphia and Baltimore respectively, who arrived to the city on October 1, said they are feeling increasingly secure.
“I definitely look over my shoulder still, and am very cautious about what’s going on, but I feel a lot safer than when I first got here,” said Friedman.
“And especially with what is happening around the world right now, honestly I feel safer in Jerusalem than I would in a lot of places.”
“I think that they’re doing a really great job at making sure that all areas where there are a lot of civilians are covered,” she added.
Miller said that although the students in her program were on lockdown for the first three weeks of the wave of terrorism and are forbidden from using public transportation or going to the Old City, the dramatic police presence has reassured her.
“I do feel safer,” she said.
“Maybe it’s a false sense of security, but we’ve got to keep living and we can’t be scared of everything. You do have to remember to look behind your back.”
Asked if they learned anything from observing how Israelis cope with the volatility, both young women nodded with approval.
“They really know how to look at the positive,” said Miller.
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