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Pictures of a sad Jerusalem

October 16, 2015

In the evenings, Jerusalem is a ghost town. Empty streets, shop-keepers outside on the pavement chain-smoking, no one to attend inside, the odd couple whispering at a table, alone in a restaurant.

During the day, Israelis who are normally over-invested in our smartphones, now repeatedly watching what amount to snuff films. There on the screen is burly Ala Abu Jamal, plowing his phone-company car into people at a bus stop, leaping out to hack at the injured with a meat-cleaver, and then shot dead before our eyes by the security guard who happened to be nearby. We know we must refuse to watch this, we are unable not to.

The car of our friend, Reuvat, was stoned as she drove through Nazareth. Our “good Arabs,” the citizens of Israel, are now fully identifying as Palestinians. Reuvat somehow kept the car moving, and once out of danger, she pulled over and sat weeping in her car.

The terrorists are young people from Jerusalem neighborhoods. No security barrier keeps them in the territories. They carry blue resident ID cards, live and walk and work here among us. We cannot wall them off, much as the politicians pretend that we can. The same politicians who endlessly declare the unification of Jerusalem are now ordering huge concrete roadblocks at the exits of the Arab neighborhoods, while pedestrians come through freely with their bags and bulky dresses.

Over coffee, we wonder what it is that moves a young Palestinian to leave his/her home with a kitchen knife to seek Israeli victims, knowing that what he/she is about to do will likely end in death. Is it the lure of the experience, after years of helpless hopelessness, where for several moments he will be supremely powerful? Is it the devastating awareness, for a youth, that life is very unlikely to get any better, so why not end it a hero? How does he leave his family, knowing he will not see them again? She selects the knife to place in her purse, knowing that she will not continue school, find a job, marry, bear children? Is she praying, as she sets out to her mission?

So many Israelis would be furious with me for this gesture, sure that my empathy is a form of justification?  We repeat like a mantra, “When will it end?” yet we refuse to see that until we can understand these people, and until we can see our part in creating this horror, it will not end.

Frumit, Aviv and I stop off for sahleb in Abu Ghosh, the Arab village we must traverse on our way home from a bar mitzvah in the suburbs. The people are surprised to see Jews walk through the door, thankful. The guy behind the counter asks how I am, in Hebrew. I respond in Arabic, “I’m ok but the situation is terrible.” He smiles his appreciation for the connection.

At the bar mitzvah, I looked around at this lovely group of young Israelis, celebrating a terrific boy, the same age as the boy who went out stabbing the other day. Everyone has quietly agreed not to discuss the situation for an evening. A bubble of blindness.

I still know that the cure for helplessness and depression is action. I will watch no more clips, read no more headlines. This Shabbat, my action will be to go back to learning Arabic, pushing my awkward hands to make the beautiful letters, reviewing my vocabulary cards. And I will call Fulla to see if she has been able to get out of her neighborhood in East Jerusalem so that she can receive the regular injection she needs. If she needs me, I’ll go as close as is safe and meet her to get her to the clinic. Little things, anything to be able to make this feel better.

During my run this morning in Jerusalem forest, I surprised a jackal on the path. As he fled, I murmured, “Run, jackal, run! You are right, we humans are dangerous.”

Silence descends on pre-Shabbat Jerusalem. The quiet is only broken by the odd ambulance that screams by……


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One Comment
  1. Beulah Trey permalink

    Kol hakavod. One at a time we are on the road to peace. At a time like this it is more important than ever to keep connected to our hope, our tikva. So this is our journey to peace. That is the only end that is a true ending.

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