This week’s post is a “day in the life” story. Join me on my trip to Talpiot – a neighborhood known for being the place where people shop for basics at no-frills stores at discount prices.
On Sunday morning I had an appointment in the neighborhood of Talpiot. Just as I arrived at the bus stop, bus number 34 arrived. It wasn’t crowded and I could have taken a seat if I wanted to. I arrived half an hour early and had a chance to visit the newly remodeled mall in the neighborhood.
I never liked that mall in the past. It was dark, dingy, and somehow seemed to retain noise and bounce it off the walls. It felt old and oppressive. I had to steel myself for a mission if there was any reason I had to go there. But now, it was a different world!
Every mall has metal detectors and security guards. They are more worried about what you might bring in, not what you might take out. At the entrance, I handed over my bag and noted that the security guy was talking to a mall cleaner and based on his accent I guessed that the cleaner was Arab.
The mall was just starting to open, so there were not many people and most of the stores were in the middle of opening their doors. The coffee shops were quite busy already, because it’s not possible to start the day in Israel without coffee. At first everything seemed the same, so I strolled around. Hey, there’s a proper food court! Oh, look at all the new stores! They’re having a sale!
Then I noticed an escalator where there hadn’t been one previously, so I went up. A second floor! Here were the big name brand stores that were never seen before in Talpiot. There was a seating area with a lovely view that I never knew existed from Talpiot. Wow! Jerusalem is beautiful from every angle, even from Talpiot!
As I was walking around the nearly empty second floor, I heard two young men speaking Arabic behind me. I found myself wondering if it was possible that they would stab me in the middle of a mall. Was I safe? Well, maybe they were just ordinary thieves. Should I hold my bag closer? Then I was troubled by my own thoughts. Why would I assume that just because they were young men speaking Arabic that they would either be terrorists or thieves? As these thoughts crossed my mind, I noted the thoughts and kept my slow strolling pace and held my bag in the same way I had been holding it before. Paranoid thoughts were not going to get the better of me.
They were walking faster than I was and passed me. Walking close to each other as friends, they were talking happily about something, and went down the escalator ahead of me. They didn’t give me a second look.
After my appointment, I took the bus home. Again the bus was not too full, but Talpiot is early on the bus route. My trip would be nine stops. At the third stop, a soldier got on the bus. He was in uniform with an automatic rifle slung across his chest with his hand on the pistol grip. He walked the length of the bus and got off. His partner was waiting outside at the stop. At the fourth stop, the same thing happened. At the sixth, seventh, and eighth, a soldier got on the bus leaving his partner outside, walked the length and got off.
It was a security check. Back in the days of bus bombings, we had security on the buses all the time. Even today, we have security on the light rail. But this was the army doing a security check. One could guess that they had a viable threat and they increased security on public transport to counteract it.
On Monday, two Palestinian pre-teens (12- and 13-years-old) stabbed a security officer on the light rail in Jerusalem. Half an hour later a 37-year-old Palestinian attacked guards at the Damascus Gate in the Old City.
The Arabs I saw at the mall just want to do their work and get on with their lives. But that doesn’t make the security threats any less real. I don’t enjoy the fact that the army is doing security checks and that living in Jerusalem requires being in a state of alert. On the other hand, if your city is struck by a crime wave that involves individuals using knives, cars, Molotov cocktails, and rocks to cause chaos, you do what you have to do.
How did I feel? I’m glad the army is responding to threats. I don’t feel particularly nervous when soldiers are obviously doing a security check on a bus with their weapons at the ready. At the same time, I know that they are looking for potential threats and they are profiling. They are profiling the same way I profiled in the mall just an hour before. The only thing that gave me pause was that the security threat seemed to be heading toward my neighborhood.
Do I live in a police state? No. I live in a place where the nation’s sons and daughters proudly serve in the army. The soldiers I saw on the bus are someone’s son, brother, husband, or father (some looked older than regular soldiers so they are likely reservists). And they want to keep all of us safe.