Amid Attacks In Jerusalem, A New Fear: That Person Next To You On The Street | St. Louis Public Radio

Amid Attacks In Jerusalem, A New Fear: That Person Next To You On The Street

Originally published on January 2, 2016 10:37 am

Rabbi Reuven Birmajer finished teaching his Talmud class at a religious seminary in Jerusalem last week, and then told his students he had to rush home. Deliverymen were bringing a new bed.

"He was afraid a Palestinian guy was going to deliver the bed, and his wife was going to be all alone," explains student Chaim Zbar.

But it was the rabbi who was killed in a Palestinian stabbing on his way home. Now Zbar avoids going out in the streets.

For more than three months, Jerusalem has seen near-daily Palestinian attacks on Israelis — shootings, rammings with cars and many stabbings.

About 20 Israelis have died. More than 130 Palestinians have died. Israel says most were committing attacks; others were killed during clashes with troops.

Much of the violence has taken place in Jerusalem, and for residents like Zbar, the tensions are affecting daily routines.

"The thing I don't like is I don't consider [myself] to be a prejudiced person," he says. "But with all this happening, I see someone, I think, it's a Palestinian. I think, he may harm me. But he may just be a normal guy — normal life, normal job — and he's not trying to harm anyone. But I can't assume that. I don't know him. I have to be careful."

A short walk away, 29-year-old Palestinian Amjad Karmi is also nervous. Karmi mans a hookah shop in the Old City. He's worried — even though the violence is not as intense now as it was a few weeks ago.

"We don't feel [it's] that dangerous, like before, but we [are] afraid, still now, to go out," he says.

Karmi is afraid he could find himself at the scene of an attack and be mistaken for an assailant. He stopped going to an Israeli mall after drawing suspicious looks.

"Not like normal looking, you know?" he says. "They checking you. They afraid [of] you. You know, the personal feeling, it's bad."

Personal — that's what many people say. It's not the anonymous violence of a rocket or bomb: It's the fear of the person next to you on the street. For some, it's regret for suspecting an innocent person in the first place.

Things could change if the violence escalates, but at the moment, people have mostly gotten used to the new normal in the city — the posters for self-defense classes, the stores advertising pepper spray. Weeks ago, the streets often felt empty as fearful residents stayed inside. But not anymore.

Lots of Israelis crowded on the street recently for a Middle Eastern music festival. One Israeli in the crowd, Avital Keslasi, said she just wants to live a little.

"There's been violence here for a long time, years, right?" Keslasi said. "Nonsense. It will pass."

The city has begun to install waist-high concrete poles around bus stops to protect people against the kinds of car-ramming attacks that have killed a number of Israelis. But already, people seem to stare right through the concrete barriers, as if they've always been there.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Two Israelis were killed on Friday and others wounded as a shooter opened fire at a bar in downtown Tel Aviv. Authorities are searching for suspects and are not saying whether this is terrorism or a criminal act. Attacks against Israelis have been a near daily occurrence for more than three months. Along with shootings there have been vehicle rammings and stabbings. The Israeli death toll is around 20. Many Palestinians have died as well, more than 130. Israel says most of those killed were in the process of committing attacks, others were killed during clashes with troops. Violence is becoming a fact of daily life in Jerusalem. Reporter Daniel Estrin spoke with people in that city about how tensions have affected their daily routines.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken).

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Rabbi Reuven Birmajer finished teaching his Talmud class at this religious seminary last week and then told his students he had to rush home. Delivery men were bringing a new bed.

CHAIM ZBAR: He was afraid a Palestinian guy was going to deliver the bed and his wife was going to be all alone.

ESTRIN: Chaim Zbar, a student, says the rabbi was worried the deliveryman could be Palestinian and be a danger to his wife. But it was the rabbi who was killed in a Palestinian stabbing on his way home. And now his student avoids going out in the streets.

ZBAR: The thing I don't like is - I do not consider me to be a prejudiced person - but with all this happening, like I see someone, I think it's a Palestinian. I think he may hurt me. But he may just be a, you know, normal guy who has a normal life, normal job and he's not trying to harm anyone. But I can't assume that. I don't know him. I have to be careful.

ESTRIN: A short walk away, I met a Palestinian who's also nervous. Twenty-nine-year-old Amjad Karmi mans a hookah shop in the Old City. He's worried even though the violence isn't as intense in Jerusalem as it was a few weeks ago.

AMJAD KARMI: We don't feel that dangerous like before, but we are afraid, still now, to go out.

ESTRIN: He's afraid he could find himself at the scene of an attack and get mistaken for an attacker. He stopped going to an Israeli mall after drawing suspicious looks.

KARMI: Not like normal looking, you know? They checking you. They afraid from you. You know, the personal feeling, it's bad.

ESTRIN: Personal, that's what many people say. It's not the anonymous violence of a rocket or bomb, it's the fear of that person next to you on the street. And for some, it's regret for suspecting an innocent person in the first place. Things could change if there's a steep escalation in the violence. But at the moment, people have mostly gotten used to the new normal in the city - the posters for self-defense classes, the stores advertising pepper spray. Weeks ago, there were times the streets felt empty. But not anymore.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ESTRIN: Lots of Israelis crowded on the street recently for a Middle Eastern music festival. One Israeli in the crowd, Avital Keslasi, says she just wants to live a little.

AVITAL KESLASI: (Foreign language spoken).

ESTRIN: She said, "there's been violence here for a long time, years, right? Nonsense. It'll pass." The city has now begun to install concrete poles about waist high around bus stops. They're supposed to protect people against the kinds of car-ramming attacks that have killed a number of Israelis while they waited for the bus. But already people seem to stare right through the concrete barriers, as if they've always been there. For NPR News, I'm Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.