Sunday, October 18, 2015

Letter from Pisgat Ze'ev, Jerusalem

Pisgat Ze'ev in quiter times: Jews and Muslims mix in Kosher Cafe

This is a letter sent by a friend living in Pisgat Ze'ev, Jerusalem to her friends outside Israel.
Dear Friends,

Thank you all for your wishes. It means so much to hear from you and to know that you are thinking of us. We miss being in touch, hope you are doing well, and are heartened by your concern. Yes, these are definitely difficult times, times for concern. I know you wanted to hear more from someone local about what’s happening here and how we’re reacting. These are my impressions….

Well, recent events reflect some shifts in Israel that have been a long time coming but somehow still caught us by surprise in their intensity. Jerusalem is feeling the heaviest weight of the burden, reminding us too much of past intifadas and conflicts, of past pain and of worse things that may yet come. Although this “terror wave” isn’t yet being called an intifada or uprising, in a way Jerusalem feels at war.

My friend whose son is in the SWAT unit of the border police is experiencing the worries that parents of soldiers felt during last summer’s war, when their sons were deep in the Gaza Strip trying to stop the incessant rocket fire into Israel and to uncover the terrorist tunnels. This time, our boys and girls on the front lines today are standing vigilantly on the tense almost-empty street corners of Jerusalem, which until a few days ago was thriving with local visitors and foreign tourists all enjoying the beauty of its old historical walls, burgeoning night life, and delicious Israeli restaurant fare. Now, all these places are silent, with Israelis rushing from their homes to workplaces and back, avoiding public spaces. And with many Arab workers barricaded in their East Jerusalem neighborhoods and prohibited from going out to work in the Western part of the city.

Maybe it’s not yet a war, but we certainly are on the defensive. Suspicion has replaced guarded trust and familiar casualness between Jews and Arabs in our city. Mutual suspicion and fear have risen up between Jews and Arabs – who honestly and truly do coexist in Jerusalem – in its hospitals, grocery stores, cafes, and government offices. Relative coexistence pervades even the neighborhood of Pisgat Zeev to some extent, with some Arabs buying homes here – including my own next-door neighbor. But now, in this terror wave, suspicion has raised its ugly head. How can it not? When a 13-year-old Moslem boy from our adjacent neighborhood of Beit Hanina walks over to Pisgat Zeev with the intention of killing Jews and then brutally stabs another 13-year-old, a Jewish boy riding his bicycle on a quiet residential street outside the candy and toy stores in Pisgat Zeev, how can we now help but look over our shoulders at every Moslem child and adult passing us by on the street?

If such young boys and girls can be persuaded into believing ludicrous lies about the Israeli Jews’ intentions to destroy or confiscate the Al Aksa Mosque atop the Temple Mount, if these children believe that killing Jews is the right way to protest that supposed threat to their holy of holies, if their Facebook pages and muezzin sermons and tacit parental approval lead them on this treacherous path, then what hope do we have for the future generation of Moslem youth growing up with these negative convictions? Most experts here believe that the vast majority of Jerusalem’s Arab residents wants quiet, wants peace, wants to keep working in the city. But as often happens in our country, the volatile extremists make their mark and influence events.

Wariness is rampant on both sides: The Jews are trying anxiously to avoid encounters with possibly malicious Arab neighbors, and moderate Arabs have told us that they too are afraid – of revengeful accusations or even worse from angry Jews and of repercussions from Arab extremists for speaking out and condemning this latest spate of violence.

So many friends have been close to terrorist attacks. In the course of two days this week, I personally had three “near misses” right before/after knife attacks – at Ammunition Hill, in Pisgat Zeev at my children’s train/bus stop, and at the Central Bus Station. Tuesday afternoon, I was on my way to pick up my son from high school because we decided he shouldn’t be taking public transportation when his route had been hit several times by terrorist attacks in past days. A few minutes after leaving Pisgat Zeev, I unknowingly drove up to Ammunition Hill/Police Headquarters just after a young woman shouted “Allah is Great” and stabbed passers-by. I arrived at the same time as the first responders. Stuck in my car in the road blockade at the scene, I saw tens and tens of soldiers, police, and civilians running to help, rushing to try to save their fellow Israelis. I saw head-scarfed Arab girls who had witnessed the attack, sobbing and rocking on the ground in horror. I watched the paramedics who had treated both victims and perpetrator, putting the stretchers into the ambulances. I looked on as the city’s mayor, Nir Barkat, quickly arrived to assess the situation and calm the onlookers.

In this crazy situation, from my car, I thought about how, unfortunately, our too-frequent past experiences have made our city’s responders extremely efficient. And another thought hit me: With all of the tremendous complexity it entailed, the medical personnel gave care to the terrorist too, not just to her victims. I’ve seen that humanity again and again over the past few days – and not just from those who took the Hippocratic Oath. Although Palestinian propaganda-mongers have been claiming the opposite, I’ve seen that even people trying to prevent these lone terrorists from continuing on their killing spree have been trying not to use excessive force to stop them, when possible.

And I thought again how these times have made all of us come together as a community, in our mutual concern and defense. Rather than running away from frightening events, even civilians ran toward those in distress. Yes indeed, most Israelis are veterans of military service, but not all have combat experience and yet the sense of collective responsibility, of proactive action, dominates and pulls people to try and help.

That sense of community and humanity extends out to you. We feel your presence and your togetherness with us, from afar. Let’s continue to be in touch and let’s hope and pray that these difficult days pass quickly, and when things calm down we’d really like to see you here again in our beautiful city.

Best wishes for quiet days,

 See also:

No comments: