Downtown Jerusalem, and particularly the Old City, have been unusually quiet for months, and even the recent ‘Sounds of Jerusalem’ street festival appeared to have had limited success in coaxing scared visitors back to Israel’s capital city. (That said, it was also unusually cold and rainy weather a couple of weeks’ ago, and if there’s one thing that Israelis fear more than a Palestinian terrorist, it’s getting caught in a downpour.)
The fear is also hitting places like Hevron, too, which has been in the news for all the wrong reasons for weeks leading up to Pesach. Most people have heard about the story of the soldier who ‘eliminated’ a terrorist a bit too permanently for the Israeli Government’s liking, and ended up getting a very stiff prison sentence that could keep him behind bars for almost a decade (!)
So in people’s minds, ‘Hevron’ has unfortunately become synonymous with terrorism, so many people are giving it a wide berth this year.
This morning, I got in my regular Hyundai i20, (without rock-proof windows or bullet-proof body work) and I drove the regular route down Road 60, through Gush Etzion, straight down to Hevron. The hills were green and gorgeous, the ride was very peaceful (thank God) – and the Cave of the Patriarchs was the most quiet I’ve seen it in ages.
Normally, the town council for Kiryat Arba and Hevron put on a park and ride service, where you park your car in Kiryat Arba, and then take a five minute bus journey to the tomb of the Patriarchs, at the center of Hevron.
Normally, the car parks are full of hundreds of cars, but today – hardly any. Now, in fairness we did set out pretty early for Hevron, and we didn’t stay very long – I left by 10.30am. But it still struck me that people are scared to visit – and that’s a real shame, because Hevron is as safe as any where else in the world right now, appearances notwithstanding.
I know we hear about the stabbings and all the other things going on in Israel far more than we do about the attacks, assaults and murders happening in the rest of the world, so I came back determined to try to write something that would provide a little perspective on the wave of terror hitting Israel, to underline that this country is still just about as safe as it comes.
For example, if you take a look at the crime figures for February 2016 released by the Metropolitan Police (the police force responsible for enabling the citizens of London and Greater London to sleep ‘safely’ in their beds at night), you find the following scary statistics
There were just under 5,000 reported cases of criminal damage and arson; just under 300 people arrested for possessing weapons (including knives and guns); and more than 25,000 (no, that’s not a typo) violent and / or sexual offences committed on London’s streets.
How about New York?
Well, the latest stats for NYC show that there were 8 murders in the last week, (and 19 in the last month); 25 shooting victims (involving 22 separate shooting incidents) in the last week, plus 360 violent assaults, and a whole bunch of other nasty things going on.
Now, what about Israel, even in the middle of its wave of terror? According to the official statistics from the Israeli government, by March 27, 2016, the picture looked like this
Since 13 September 2015, 34 people have been killed in terrorist attacks and 382 people (including 4 Palestinians) injured.
There have been 144 stabbing attacks (including 66 attempted attacks), 85 shootings, and 42 vehicular (ramming) attacks.
Let me pause for a moment to say every single person killed, every single person injured, is a terrible, horrible tragedy, and I’m not writing this article to minimize the problem, or the suffering of the people affected, God forbid.
But what I am trying to do is to give some perspective, that even in the middle of this current wave of terror, Israel is still probably the safest place in the world, particularly for Jews.
For example, the one day of Islamic terrorism that recently occurred in Belgium killed and wounded almost as many people as all the recent terrorist attacks combined, that have occurred in Israel.
What can we learn from this?
Each person must draw their own conclusions, but this much appears to be clear: don’t avoid coming to Israel, or going to the Old City, or visiting places like Hevron because you think these places are ‘dangerous’. The streets of New York are much more violent; the suburbs of London are much more dangerous; the terrorist attacks happening abroad are much more lethal.
There are no guarantees that anywhere today is truly ‘safe’. But one thing you can be sure of God is looking after Israel, and the Jews that live here, and visit here.
And once you really start to internalize that, you stop worrying so much and you start enjoying your Pesach vacation a whole bunch more.