Tensions are elevated in Jerusalem amid several devastating terrorist attacks in the city over the past month.
The first, on a Shabbat evening in the Neveh Ya’acov neighborhood, left seven Israelis dead as they departed synagogue to go home to their meals. The next day, a 13-year-old Palestinian opened fire on Jewish worshipers in the City of David, leaving two civilians wounded. Shortly before sundown on Friday last week, a terrorist rammed his vehicle into Israelis at a bus stop, killing three – including two brothers aged six and eight. And there were two stabbing attacks this past week, one by a 14-year-old.
This is alongside record numbers of Palestinians being killed by IDF forces in the West Bank during ensuing raids and arrests, leading to a general feeling of unease by everyone in the holy city. The Magazine spoke with a range of individuals in the capital to find out how they feel, what they are doing differently, and where they see things going.
What did Israelis think about the violence in Jerusalem?
Views were diverse, depending on where they stood in the spectrum – whether native-born Israeli, immigrant, secular or religious. For example, Samantha Levy, an activist who moved to Israel nine years ago, said that “the circumstances in Jerusalem lead me to seek out training in self-defense and how to handle security threats.”
For native Israelis or those who have lived in the country for a long time, recent events have rekindled horrid memories from the days of the Second Intifada in the early 2000s. Noam Elia, an Israeli-American who grew up in Jerusalem and returned six months ago after living in New York for a decade, said that the situation is not like then, when buses were blowing up nearly every week. He added, however, that things are moving in a dangerous direction.
“I remember during the Second Intifada riding my scooter up Agrippas Street and was about to turn into the Nahalot neighborhood when I saw a police officer at the end of the street. I decided not to turn, and a few seconds later a huge explosion went off. It is scary.”Noam Elia
“I remember during the Second Intifada riding my scooter up Agrippas Street and was about to turn into the Nahalot neighborhood when I saw a police officer at the end of the street. I decided not to turn, and a few seconds later a huge explosion went off. It is scary.” Although bombs are not going off today, “you have to keep an eye out for suspicious people or activities. Jerusalem is the center of all of this.”
Emanuel, a tech entrepreneur, recalled what it was like to grow up in Jerusalem. “You are exposed to persistent conflict from a young age. I remember being in school in the heart of the city, and you could hear the sounds of attacks while sitting in class.
“The constant state of alertness, whether at bus stops or while taking public transportation, has become a way of life for me. Despite this, I have not let it sway my choice of making Jerusalem my home.”
Another resident, Isabella Swart, said there is a sense of anxiety in the air but that “Israel is a super-resilient country. We are not afraid because we are in our land with our people.” She continued with a suggestion to add cement barriers on sidewalks to prevent ramming.
Elya Cowland of Ramot, where the two children were killed last week, spoke somberly about an attack that was close to home. “Despite not knowing the victims, I feel a heightened sense of tragedy and loss. When terror struck my neighborhood, the numbness I usually feel regarding these attacks shattered. I saw with complete clarity the heinousness and horrific nature of the event.”
“Despite not knowing the victims, I feel a heightened sense of tragedy and loss. When terror struck my neighborhood, the numbness I usually feel regarding these attacks shattered. I saw with complete clarity the heinousness and horrific nature of the event.”Elya Cowland
Rabbi Yehoshua Pfeffer of Ramot also spoke about the attacks as he was headed to the shiva for the victims, pointing out two ways to view the situation. “On the one hand, this is a human tragedy – and that is perhaps the first reaction, especially with this so close to home. These are bus stops where all our kids are, so you feel a certain sense of insecurity; you don’t know who is going to be next. The result is a more tense atmosphere.
“The religious response is to turn to God in prayer and strengthen elements of practice. But there is also the political aspect. For example, people such as [National Security Minister Itamar] Ben-Gvir have promised to restore security in face of attacks and threats.
“He is always first at the scene and garnered support from even haredim and the youth. And yet, has he done anything? Is it all talk or will he actually do something that will give us a greater sense of security?”
He pointed out that Ramot is a primarily haredi area. “We don’t consider ourselves settlers; there is no settler consciousness here. This is happening to us, and what is the response from our rabbis and [haredi] politicians? Nothing. Just to pray. Of course we need to, but we also need policy.”
Pfeffer lamented the imbalance between MKs and rabbis, who “can speak up on religious matters – which are important – but so are people’s lives. If you have the privilege to be in power, you cannot sit on the sidelines. It is up to [the politicians] to come up with some type of policy.”
ARABS WHO live in east Jerusalem chose to remain anonymous when speaking with the Magazine. One said that he thinks that “the silent majority of east Jerusalemites don’t like attacks on civilians because it hurts them more than it benefits them. However, I think the majority see attacks on soldiers and police as a win.”
Others expressed outrage at the deadly shooting at the Neveh Ya’acov synagogue, saying that “attacks on those leaving prayer services is crossing a line.”
Yet it is evident that the general mood among Palestinians in east Jerusalem and the West Bank is reaching a boiling point. This is especially true in east Jerusalem. Arabs there are under complete Israeli sovereignty, yet lack the same services that are available to Israelis. This includes issues surrounding passports and visas – flash points, as they desire the freedom to travel and work abroad. The reality is bleaker in West Bank cities such as Nablus or Jenin, where many attackers come from.
What happens going forward?
Policymakers are assessing how the terror attacks will impact tourism and, in turn, the economy. Upward of four million people on average visit Jerusalem annually, with tourism a vital economic lifeline. Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, whose portfolio includes tourism, told the Magazine that “the recent terrorist attacks have shaken our whole nation and left us in mourning. I understand the fear and concern among our residents and tourists alike, but Jerusalem is a city of strength and resilience.
“It has faced and overcome many challenges in the past, and these acts of terror will not define it.” She continued that “necessary measures have been taken to ensure safety and security. I am confident that Jerusalem will continue to thrive and attract visitors from around the world.”
HOW TO respond on an individual level is a question on the minds of many. Ben-Gvir has pushed for expediting gun licenses for civilians, pointing to the fact that many terrorists are stopped quickly by armed Israelis. Those interviewed echoed this sentiment, expressing a desire to obtain a license and purchase a gun. Some are even carrying deterrents such as pepper spray or knives.
Elia said he has purchased pepper spray for himself and his family; others said they keep an eye out for potentially dangerous situations.
Arguably, the most frightening reality about the current attacks is just how unpredictable they can be. Unlike in the past, when attacks were often carried out by centralized terror groups, today’s terrorists may have no prior history of criminal behavior, yet find themselves so radicalized that they take up arms.
These types of “lone wolf” terrorists have sprung up across the world and are also a challenge for Israel’s police forces. Though there is a common profile of these attackers – single and unemployed – the provocative rhetoric in the mosques and the proliferation of hateful messaging on social media are also inciting brutal attacks on civilians, young and old.
WHERE THIS is leading to is anyone’s guess. Will it spiral into an all-out third intifada as some predict? Though many hope not, the possibility is nevertheless being discussed. Even the smallest of perceived provocations, such as Ariel Sharon’s 2000 visit to the Temple Mount, can spiral out of control and be the catalyst of wide-scale disturbances.
Levy pointed out that the lack of action or change in the political realm ensures that the status quo of terror will continue. “Our political figures have not been pursuing the change that we need.” As a result, “it makes no sense that children should have to be killed by a ramming at a bus stop before Shabbat or that older people should be killed as they exit a synagogue after prayers.”
Elia believes politicians like Ben-Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich are aiming for escalation, as “it can help reach a determination in the conflict.”
In any case, it is clear from these discussions that despite the uptick in violence, no one is making plans to leave the country. This is their home, nowhere else. With that in mind, no amount of attacks can stop people from continuing to move to the capital and start families.