“We’re sold out of everything!” exclaimed an employee of an IDF clothing and weapons shop on Jerusalem’s Ben-Yehuda Street Tuesday afternoon, when asked if he had any pepper spray in stock.
“It’s crazy. I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Asked who was buying all the merchandise, he replied, “Everyone.”
A few meters away, eating shwarma on a bench under a clear sky, two women in their 20s said they planned on arming themselves soon.
“The attacks are happening everywhere, and I want to be able to protect myself,” said Nofar, who requested that her last name not be published.
“I’m afraid, but despite this, we still go everywhere we can, because we know that Israel is strong and soldiers and people in this country are very connected, so it gives us strength. It gives me strength.”
While conceding that she was also afraid, her companion, Efrat, said she would not allow terrorists to prevent her from living a normal life.
“Yes, I’m frightened and will buy pepper spray like her, because they can come from anywhere and you don’t feel safe – but we won’t stop our lives and will go out and do what we want to do,” she said.
“They won’t stop us from living.”
Still, Efrat said she had adopted some new behaviors as the violence continued to spread through the capital.
“When I go to the bus stop, I stand a few meters away to look around,” she said.
Joining half a dozen friends down the street, Aryeh Green, 16, said he was not taking any chances.
“We all have pepper spray, knives – even brass knuckles,” he said. “I keep a baseball bat by my bed, because you never know when, or if, you are going to get attacked. You always have to be prepared.”
Green’s friend David Bromberg, who said Arabs had recently attacked his brother’s car while his infant twin sons were inside, said he faulted police for the crisis.
“We are afraid because our police aren’t doing a good job,” he said. “Mostly, they arrest Jews for spraying graffiti [in ‘price-tag’ attacks].”
Bromberg added that he felt he could be attacked without warning at any moment.
“I’m afraid an Arab will come and kill me; that’s what they do,” he said. “So I have to walk around knowing they want to kill us.”
Asked if he felt safe, Meir, a 20-year-old IDF conscript of five months who said he could not reveal his last name due to army policy, reached into his right pocket.
“When I go outside, I carry this,” he said, pulling out a silver utility knife. “I don’t know who is going to jump me. They want the Jews dead and out of al-Aksa [Mosque] and Israel.”
Despite repeated requests, Meir said, his commanding officer has refused to issue him a standard machine gun “because of where I am psychologically.”
“They won’t give one to me right now because they think I will use it the wrong way,” he explained.
Tourist Jonathan Cole, who is visiting the country for a month from South Africa, said he felt “tangible tension.”
“I’ve been to Israel quite a few times, including during the Iraq war, and now there’s more tension – like this unknown tension,” he said. “Back then it was rockets, now it can be anything.”
Cole added that while he felt safe downtown, he had experienced an unsettling encounter outside the Old City a few days ago, when he and a friend visited an Arab area along with the friend’s small child.
“An Arab kid circled us with his bike, yelling aggressively and stopping short by slamming on his breaks in front of the stroller,” he said. “I feel safer here.”
When asked about his state of mind amid the chronic violence, Avraham Zokaim, a 73-year-old Judaica shop owner, did not mince words.
“I’ll tell you truly: No one is safe, because of the terror of the Arabs,” he said. “I want to say to Benjamin Netanyahu: ‘You’ve brought back the time of [prime minister Yitzhak] Rabin.’” Then, smacking his hand on the counter next to his cash register, he shouted, “If you cannot take care of Jerusalem, how can you take on Iran?” Netanyahu “should have finished the war in Gaza,” he added. “They were losing, but he didn’t finish it!”
Eric Benhaim of Netanya, who was visiting his 24-yearold son in Jerusalem, described the violence as a “new intifada.”
“I lived in Jerusalem in 1983 during the first intifada, and I feel the same thing now,” he said. “It’s not possible to live with Arabs who want to kill me. If you want to kill me, I will kill you first.”
Moreover, Benhaim said he believed Netanyahu was “afraid to respond” to the crisis due to pressure from the US government.
“I think Bibi [Netanyahu] wants a new administration that will support him,” he said.
Nonetheless, casually strolling down a bustling Jaffa Road, 74-year-old Yoshua Cemony said he felt no fear.
“No, I’m not afraid, because I know that Israel is strong and will finish this,” he said.