A German journalist writes about being in Israel, which still feels like a secure harbor

The first section of this article was written before the Paris terrorist attacks; the second section was added after the attacks.

A German journalist in Israel (photo credit: Courtesy)
A German journalist in Israel
(photo credit: Courtesy)
‘Going to Israel? You are entering a war zone!” a friend of mine exclaimed when I informed him that, as a German reporter, I would be working in Jerusalem for a few months.
I knew he had a different opinion than I did – and a very wrong picture of this wonderful country. But how could he have known better? It was the same with other people to whom I spoke.
Much of the European and German media is awash with reports that come out of Israel primarily after acts of terrorism: stabbings, rammings, stone-throwing, firebombings and rocket attacks. In most cases, such stories bear headlines such as “Palestinians shot by soldiers,” “After violence, US Secretary of State Kerry calls for deescalation” or “Terror in Israel: Bloodbath at bus station.”
Yet reality is the opposite. I do feel safe here: safer than in some districts of Berlin.
Certainly, there are things that may be unusual from a tourist’s point of view.
Every time you enter a public building, shopping center or central bus station, there are airport-like security scanners.
Furthermore, there are numerous soldiers with assault rifles, armed police forces and private security guards with concealed weapons. Unless you are from Switzerland, where a lot of soldiers are allowed to take their rifles home, this might be an unusual scene. However, not to worry, the women and men on duty are there not to intimidate, but to protect.
Yes, there are attacks. On November 8, for example, a woman tried to stab a security guard in Betar Illit. Days before, on November 5, a terrorist attempted to stab a soldier at the Gush Etzion crossroads and was neutralized. On November 2, a 19-year-old-terrorist stabbed three people in Rishon Lezion and was arrested.
So: Is living in Israel more dangerous than anywhere else? Not really.
Security is serious here, with terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah gunning for Israel’s destruction. But Israeli security forces are succeeding in keeping the Middle East’s only democracy safe.
Terrorists achieve their goals when the population lives in fear – but this is far from the reality here in Israel. People here continue to enjoy life. There are great events, such as the Red Sea Jazz Festival, Tel Aviv Marathon, Ahava Dead Sea Festival, Klezmer Festival and Haifa International Film Festival.
Israel Football Association matches are played several days a week. Basketball, tennis and even ice hockey are big sports here as well. On beaches – especially in Tel Aviv – you can see people of all ages running, playing matkot (beach paddle ball) and picnicking.
World-class DJs are spinning in discos and clubs all over the country.
Israel is not one step from war, but thriving – and this is what I have consistently been my friends and relatives who are considering a visit to Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Eilat or any other Israeli cities.
AND THEN came the Paris attacks.
From a European point of view, the situation in Syria was something distant, only in the news – with thousands of refugees entering Greece or the coalition executing air strikes. The terror assault on Charlie Hebdo and and the 2004 Madrid bombings were barely mentioned.
But that all changed on Friday, November 13, when extremists allegedly from Islamic State murdered more than 130 people and injured hundreds more. Several EU member countries, such as Switzerland, Austria and my native Germany, called into service additional police and officers from counterterror units.
In Germany, for example, the police now go on patrol with submachine guns and bulletproof vests. That is really an unusual sight in any big European city – but a common sight in Israel. As I stated before, the terrorists have won when we decide to change the way of life as we know it.
Europe boasts democracies that defend themselves, and now these democracies must demonstrate strength and determination – and take all means necessary to protect themselves from extremists of all stripes. Perhaps the old and often fossilized Europe can now learn some lessons from Israel: increasing the overall level of security and putting up metal detectors and X-ray-devices in places like post offices, shopping centers and subways. Implementation of these and other policies might still be unpopular in Brussels, but they help every day to prevent terrorist attacks in Israel.