The safe place to be?

As war rages in the North, popular Jerusalem spots are crowded.

ben yehuda 298.88 (photo credit: Erika Snyder)
ben yehuda 298.88
(photo credit: Erika Snyder)
As residents in the North are packed into bomb shelters, Jerusalem thrives. Rehov Ben-Yehuda remains packed, the crowd is shoulder to shoulder at Mahaneh Yehuda and hundreds of people wait at bus stops throughout Jerusalem. In a city that was plagued by suicide bombings during the second intifada, the calm is striking. Though a potential suicide bomber was thwarted by police on Jaffa Road Monday morning, so far residents have enjoyed relative safety from the escalating conflict in other areas of the country. "I feel very good and safe," says Jerusalemite Eti Bracha, standing in the shade at Mahaneh Yehuda. As people push past her, their arms loaded with food parcels, the only imminent threat appears to be aggressive shoppers. "Well," she considers, "I feel a little afraid. But I must buy my food." Among the Jerusalem residents and tourists interviewed by In Jerusalem at popular sites, the general consensus is one of hopeful safety. Overwhelmingly, citizens trust the Jerusalem Police and the IDF. Jerusalem Police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby speaks confidently of the security situation in Jerusalem, despite a raised level of alert across the country. Members from police forces from districts across the country, Ben-Ruby told IJ, have increased patrols throughout the city, though not in response to any specific threats. "We increased our activity in Jerusalem in many ways," he says. "There are more checkpoints, and more people in the streets. Citizens are more vigilant as well, based on the number of phone calls received at the police emergency room downstairs here. "Now, except for the incident at Jaffa Gate, we have managed to stop the suicide bombers in Jerusalem. Now, we don't have a specific alert focused on Jerusalem. We are on high alert throughout the country. We have no specific information about other events so far." He denies that there was any danger riding buses or gathering in crowded places, though Ben-Ruby asks that citizens help the police by being aware of their surroundings and calling if they see "anything at all" suspicious. Meanwhile, on Rehov Ben-Yehuda, crowds of teens, tourists and residents go about their lives as usual. Though Kikar Zion appears less crowded than usual, the cool early-evening wind calls to many people, who are presumably tired of watching the war in the North on the television. Members of a large extended family from North America, speaking and laughing loudly as they walked through Kikar Zion up Ben-Yehuda to buy souvenirs and enjoy the sights, appeared to be enjoying themselves. They arrived in the country to dedicate a wellness center to soldiers. The dedication was supposed to take place on a base in the North. Following the dedication, the family had planned to attend a bar mitzva on a missile ship off the coast of Haifa. Needless to say, their plans have changed. The bar mitzva was moved to Jerusalem and took place on Monday. The bar mitzva boy's aunt, Nancy Pilcher of Washington, DC, is cautiously optimistic. "I feel pretty safe here [in Jerusalem]. This is my first trip to Israel in 35 years. I don't go on vacation often. It usually rains," she says with a wry smile and a hint of irony, noting that Katyushas are now falling in Haifa where the family had planned to stay. A few minutes later, the crowd beginning to swell in the square, Pilcher speaks a little less confidently. "Well, I'm not going to say I'm carefree," she says. "We are keeping plans as usual, though." In general, age determines the response to the question, "do you feel safe?" Joe Reichert, 16, of Beit Shemesh, who works on Ben-Yehuda, says he feels Jerusalem is the "safest place to be in the world." In Mahaneh Yehuda market, Bryndel Rubin, strolling with a friend, says she is scared for her daughter's sake. "I am afraid," she says. "I have a little daughter and I am not sending her on buses anymore." Others, such as Jerusalemite Avi Chaim, say their "daily life will stay the same." Two sisters, born in pre-state Israel, sit patiently at a bus stop on Tuesday morning in the mid-day heat. "I never feel safe," says the older of the two, holding tightly onto her purse as she glances at a bus speeding past. "We are always in a state of war." But, says the younger sister, "You can get used to anything if you do not have a choice." Many families from the North have sought safety in the capital. More than 50 families from the North have come to Jerusalem with the help of Yuli Ben-Lavi and Hahevra Lematnasim (the Community Center Association), a community organization that arranges services for those in need in Jerusalem and throughout the country. In the past few days, Ben-Lavi has matched families from the North with families in Jerusalem willing to donate space in their homes to those hoping to escape the Katyushas. "This week, they found a suicide bomber in Jerusalem," says Ben-Levi. "I don't know if Jerusalem is the safest place, but it is out of the range of the Katyushas."