Fragile / Not Fragile

Not a good coincidence.  Two days after I wrote about the history of Hill of Evil Counsel/Armon HaNatziv another awful event was added to the disasters on that hill and I’m writing about it on Friday the 13th (which actually has no meaning in Israel – you can take the girl out of the US, but you can’t take the US out of the girl).

On Sunday four soldiers, three girls and a boy, were killed by a terrorist using a truck as a weapon.

Groups of IDF soldiers come to Jerusalem on Sundays for cultural education days during their service.  You’ll see them at museums, visiting historical sites, and also at overlooks like this one.  In Israel, men and women between the ages of 18 to 22 serve in the military.  Men serve around 3 years and women serve nearly 2 years.  You can intellectually understand the numbers reflecting their ages, but you don’t realize how young they are until you see them.

My office job is at a museum and I took time to notice the soldiers who came in this week.  Their eyes are clear and innocent.  They haven’t seen serious difficulties yet.  They still have their whole futures ahead of them.  They are full of idealism and hope.  They are not yet cynical and jaded about life.

The American part of my brain still notices that every one of them carries a weapon slung across their shoulders and the Israeli part of my brain knows that this is perfectly safe. When they go into a tour of the museum they lay their weapons in a square built up like Lincoln Logs and leave one or two people to guard them.  It’s a weird feeling to pass a gun tower made up of 50 or so rifles guarded by another young person with a rifle at the ready.  This is not out of the ordinary.

Yet, these soldiers are still kids.  They are kids with targets on their backs.

In the days after the attack, I find my senses heightened.  I’m listening a lot harder. Is that a helicopter? How many ambulance sirens were there? Are those footsteps behind me?  And I’m tuned to my surroundings.  Is that a shadow? Have I seen that person before? What are they doing?

I went to the shuk the next day and ran my errands as usual, all the while keeping vigilant watch on everything around me.

The illusion of calm had been fragile.  Our will and courage to go on is not fragile.

So That Happened

On Monday a bus blew up.

I heard a lot of sirens all of a sudden just before 6pm.  At first I thought it was a VIP and his entourage.  But then there were more.  And more.

Facebook.  A friend’s comment.  “Anyone know what happened on Derech Hevron?” And then the answers started flooding in.  It wasn’t Derech Hevron.  A bus.  Was it terror?  Wait.  The police don’t want to say that yet.  Definitely bus on fire.  Second bus also on fire.  Then the evidence pointed to terror.

*Sigh*  I remember those days.  I didn’t like those days.  I don’t want those days back.

Between 6pm and 7pm I had to make a decision.  My Tai Chi class is in the same neighborhood as the bus bombing.  Should I take a bus as usual?  Class wasn’t canceled (of course), so I decided to walk.  I walked in part because I could use the additional exercise.  The chance of another bus attack was pretty small, but it’s been so long since a bus attack that I just didn’t want to get on a bus.

It took 45 minutes and I was pretty pleased with myself.

On the way back, another choice.  As I was passing the bus stop, the bus came.  I could have gotten on.  There were plenty of people taking the bus right then.  But I chose to walk.

I was happy with the accomplishment of walking to and from class.  It was a good long walk and something that I had considered doing before.  But I’m bothered by the fact that the thing that pushed me to do it was a bus blowing up.

Two days later, I had a chance to ease my bothered feelings.  I took a train and a bus to where I needed to go.  I walked in crowded areas where I needed to run my errands and life was back to normal.

Since this is Israel, “normal” right now means high alert.  Over major holidays in Israel there is a much more visible presence of security personnel and starting today and for the next 48 hours the West Bank and Gaza Strip are closed off.

I am sure that upon hearing the words “West Bank closed off” there are those who would cry “oppressive occupation” and excuse all violence against civilians as “legitimate protest.”  I disagree.  Besides nothing being “legitimate” about blowing up a bus filled with civilians, as a citizen of Israel, I expect my government and our armed forces to protect civilians.  I expect to feel secure as I walk or take a bus in my streets.  And when I look at images like this, I’m glad that security personnel are doing everything in their power to keep us safe.

bus bomb

Screen capture from HaAretz

Originally, I had plans to write a nice Friday email about my first Passover in Israel, but this week provided many other potential topics – this bus bombing, a follow-up on Western Wall/Temple Mount issues, and Prince, another icon from my childhood, passed away.  Well, it will still be Passover next Friday and I may yet write about these other things too.

Wishing everyone a peaceful Passover!

Danger in Israel

It’s not terror.  There have been more deaths in Israel due to traffic accidents than terror.  I had a friend who kept track of these things (I trust him because he is a science person) and he found that even in the worst days of the Second Intifada, there were still more people killed in traffic accidents than due to terror attacks.

This week a full bus collided with a truck stopped on the side of the road on Highway 1 in Israel.  Six people died, three of them were under 18.  It’s especially horrible because the driver of the bus had already had an accident similar to this one on the same road and was suspended from driving between cities for two years.

Israel is still safer than other places in our part of the world.  (For statistics and another opinion, see this article.)  I remember being in Sinai and our driver was driving on the wrong side of the road.  When asked why, he said that this part of the road was smoother, so there was no reason for him to do damage to his car if the road was simply better on the other side.  You could see miles ahead, but it was still a bit disconcerting because he drove like he was being chased.

In Egypt, a taxi driver was taking us to the airport in the wee hours of the morning.  He didn’t have his headlights on, so we mentioned that he might want to turn them on.  He said that having them off saved gas.  (If anyone can tell me that this is true, please comment.)  Besides, there were streetlamps on the highway, so nothing to worry about.

Here in Israel, there is a different driving culture than most Americans are used to – and thankfully it’s not quite like Sinai or Egypt.  Streets are noisy.  The horn is a method of communication with your fellow drivers.  It might say, “Hey! I’m right here (in case you are not using your mirrors).”  Perhaps, “Woohoo!  I’m going through the intersection.”  Taxi drivers often use it to say, “Hey! Wanna taxi?”  It is also used aggressively, “Go!!! The light changed .3 milliseconds ago!!!”  Or “what the hell is the matter with you?!?! Why are you making a 3-point turn in the middle of the road and blocking both directions of traffic?!?!”  This last one is more common than you might think.

A video of driving on the highway in Israel.  It’s not that bad.  Really!

My Israeli driving test

When I converted my US license to an Israeli license, I was required to take at least one lesson, but I didn’t have to take the written part of the test.  In those days, English-speakers told many horror stories of awful driving tests and almost no one passed on their first try.  Additionally, in Israel you can get an “automatic only” license or “manual transmission” license that allows you to drive both standards and automatics.  I went for the manual since I knew how to drive one.  But I was worried.

You take the test in the instructor’s car, which is why it’s good to have at least one lesson so that you can get used to the car.  I arrived at the testing facility and was going to be tested with another student in the car.  The person giving the test didn’t speak a lot of English, but we decided it would be fine.  I carefully pulled out of the parking lot, taking my time and generally being over-cautious.  We get on the road and the tester says “Left!”  I was in the outside lane so I changed lanes to the inside lane.  He started yelling, “Left! Left!” and then tried to grab the steering wheel.  I used a Karate Kid wax off motion to block and shouted back “Ok.  I got it!”  He meant the left turn lane.  So I made the turn.  “Pull over.  Stop the car.”  End of test.

I was sure I had failed.  It was Friday and I wouldn’t get results until the next week, so I spent the weekend wondering how many more lessons I would need, how much it would cost, hoping that I wouldn’t fail too many times and have to take the written portion in Hebrew.  The results came out and I passed.  I guess it was because in the chaos I still had control of the car.  I didn’t question it and I won’t now.  As far as I’m concerned it’s just another miracle of the many that take place in Israel.

And if you decide to visit Israel, don’t worry about terrorism, just be sure to look both ways before crossing the street.

A Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week

If last week was bad, this week was worse.  Tuesday was a terrible day.  A glance at Facebook told me that two nearly simultaneous attacks took place in Jerusalem and two stabbings in Ra’anana (a suburb of Tel Aviv).  This is the age of instant images so there was almost immediate video and photos of the attacks.  Most of it was too graphic for me to watch.  Other days were not much better.

There is simply too much going on for me to process in any coherent way, but I would like to refer you to one article that analyzes the situation concisely and accurately.  Yesterday’s op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.

For my part, I can share my thoughts as someone who lives in Jerusalem.  I’m cautious.  I don’t go out unnecessarily.  However, I am not walking around in a paranoid frenzy.  I see people out and about.  They’re smiling.  Traffic still backs up on a particular road in my neighborhood and people still get annoyed about it and honk their horns.  Life is going on, just a bit more cautiously.

The problem with these attacks is that they are random.  You never know who might attack or when something might happen.  The sales of pepper spray are off the charts.  Self-defense courses are springing open.  Videos of what to do in case of a knife attack are available on the internet.  I’ve taken a self-defense course (before I went to Thailand) and my study of Tai Chi, believe it or not, helps me to feel a little bit more secure.

An email I received giving me links to information that can help during this wave of terror

An email I received giving me links to information that can help during this wave of terror

At the same time we’re hearing news of terrible things going on, I’m also seeing news of friends getting married, getting engaged, having happy moments with their children, sharing good times with friends.  People go out on purpose to show they are not afraid.  Life is still precious and with glasses clinking, To Life!

The political stuff

Two political points – I won’t ramble on too much about this, but I think they are important.

If you see a headline that says “Man stabs several people in the street,” you might think that the guy probably had a psychotic break.  If you see that headline a few more times and come to “Wave of stabbings occurring day after day,” you might start to wonder where the police are and what the heck is going on.  It’s a crime wave and something needs to be done.

If the headline is then “Palestinian stabs Jew,” the first thought should not be “Oh, well, alright then, he’s probably enraged about the settlements/Temple Mount/occupation/etc.”  If the stabbings in the earlier headline are troubling, the new designations should not change the shock and horror of the violence.  (“Jew stabs Palestinian” is equally horrifying and also not excused by rage over the situation.)

The worst is “Israeli police kill man after attempted stabbing.”  That is a headline with an agenda.  It is a true headline, but fails to mention the part where a Palestinian was the one trying to stab the police officer.  If the majority of people read only headlines, then Israel does indeed look like a violent police state.  In the screen capture below, the reporter also said that the guy was unarmed, but in stills, it is very clear that he has a knife in his hand.

Point #1: Read the article.  The headline is probably misleading.

The reporter misrepresented the situation and was corrected on air. But that doesn't change the headline.

The reporter misrepresented the situation and was corrected on air. But that doesn’t change the headline.

You might have heard about the 13-year-old boy who was mentioned by Mahmoud Abbas as a child executed in cold blood by the Israelis while he was alive and well in an Israeli hospital.  Besides the politics of that situation (we’d be here all day for that), I wonder why no one seems to be asking why a 13-year-old boy is stabbing another 13-year-old boy.

Where is the outcry about using this kid as a child soldier?  Who put the knife in his hand?  Is a 13-year-old legitimately enraged about the settlements/Temple Mount/occupation?  And if he is brainwashed to hate Jews, isn’t that a form of emotional and psychological abuse?  Who advocates for him?  Where are his human rights?

This is one kid in one situation.  I hope he is not a model for the next generation.  Palestinian activists point their fingers at Israel, blame Israel for the situation and claim that Palestinian lives are miserable, but I wonder why these same activists don’t take a nuanced approach and start asking who puts knives into children’s hands, sends them out to shed blood and encourages them to risk being shot by Israeli police.

Point #2:  The situation is complicated and there are no easy answers.  Look at the big picture.  

Let’s all have a Shabbat Shalom!  We could really use it.

Bringing guns to a knife fight

It seemed like every time I looked at Facebook this week, I saw another attack.  In the last few days there have been a significant number of knife attacks in Jerusalem and in other places around the country (Tel Aviv, Afula, Kiryat Gat, Hebron, and others).  There are a lot of people smarter and better informed than I am to answer the questions of: Why now? Is it because of the Temple Mount?  Is it because of the settlements? How should Netanyahu be handling the situation?

I don’t have those answers.  What I can do is share my thoughts on the situation as I see it and how it affects my day to day life.

A terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. (From the StandWithUs Facebook page.)

A terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.
(From the StandWithUs Facebook page.)

I can honestly say that it’s scary.  But I don’t want to live my life paralyzed in fear.  I am, and will continue to be, cautious and aware of my surroundings. But in the same way that people don’t stop driving because of road rage or drive-by shootings, I’m going to go about my daily life.  I was going to have some visitors from the US and I would have gone into the Old City with them if they had decided to come.  In the end they canceled and I completely understand.  Meanwhile, this week I’ve been hearing a lot of sirens and there’s a helicopter circling regularly.

When you hear the word “stabbing,” it’s hard to imagine what that actually means.  We see it on TV and in the movies and in that imaginary world, it seems like a very survivable injury.  But then I thought about the last time I cut my finger cutting vegetables.  Sure.  It’s a tiny thing in comparison.  Then I tried to magnify the pain 100-fold or 1,000-fold.  I read a short piece written by a knife attack survivor.  She had been stabbed 13 times.  Besides the pain, the most disturbing part of her account was her description of the attacker.  What kind of dissociative state would you have to be in to plunge a knife into another human being 13 times?

Then there are the “rocks” being thrown at cars.  What’s a “rock” anyhow?  It’s not the rock that you send skipping across the water.  Make a fist.  It’s not a rock that size either.  In some cases, “rocks” are cinder blocks, the kind that you build houses with.  But not all rock-throwers are throwing cinder blocks; they’re heavy.  “Rocks” are generally about the size of a beer bottle.  Along with those rocks are actual glass bottles filled with gasoline and lit on fire.  This week I saw a video of an acquaintance of mine minutes after rocks had been thrown at his car.

When this new wave of violence got started, our prime minister was in New York making a powerful speech in the UN and there didn’t really seem to be a policy in place.  The IDF was trying to keep a lid on a simmering pot, not very successfully.  And then, after a particularly bad day, the mayor of Jerusalem made a statement on the radio:  People with gun licenses and training should start carrying their weapons.

Say what now?

You can read his statement again, I’ll wait.  At first, I thought it was a mistake, but then it was reported in the English news and then it was backed up by the deputy minister of defense.  With the wave of knife and other violence, those people with gun licenses and training should carry their weapons and consider it a form of reserve duty.  (Nope, I’m not kidding:  HERE, HERE, and HERE.)

The mayor's converted hand gun. (Screen capture from the Times of Israel.)

The mayor’s converted hand gun and his license.
(Screen capture from the Times of Israel.)

To be fair, most men and many women serve in the military and have gun training.  It’s also not very easy to get a gun license in Israel.  On top of that, the number of Israel’s civilian gun accidents is quite low.  Israel has not turned into a Wild West town with a bunch of trigger-happy vigilantes.  I remember when a terrorist used a tractor to ram into bus in Jerusalem it was a quick-thinking, armed citizen (along with others) who shot the terrorist and saved lives.  I’m sure there are other examples.

I titled this post “Bringing guns to a knife fight” in part for the shock value, but that is actually what’s going on here right now.  The police and the army are not able to protect the citizens and we have to count on each other in these awful times.  I’m disappointed in and angry at the government and their inability to protect citizens, but one thing I know for sure is that when Israel gets attacked, we all stand together.

P.S.  I don’t want to post something about the media and the false picture they are painting outside of Israel, however, the “best” example is the BBC.

P.P.S . Things may get worse by the time I post this, but I want to leave you with a different image: As I write this, I have my door open so that I can hear the Greek music at the café across the street.  A few minutes ago, I heard rumbling engines and horns honking.  It was a motorcycle club on their Harleys flying Israeli flags and the honking was a show of support.  That is Israel.