On the Ground in Jerusalem

I got into the cab this morning and as I told my driver that I was heading to Jerusalem, he looked back at me in the rearview mirror. “Be safe,” he said, as his way of remarking on the recent stabbings and heightened tensions. “Don’t think about tomorrow. Just think about today. You can only live in the moment, if you start worrying about what will happen to you…that’s not living.”

I’m working with a radio-show/podcast called Israel Story. We’re the Israeli rip-off of This American Life (even Ira Glass says so in the first episode). The Ira Glass of Israel Story is called Mishy and he lives in Jerusalem. So while the rest of the team lives in Tel Aviv and Jaffa, every two weeks we trek to Jerusalem to meet. 

The creative team that I am now a part of, produces documentary journalism and tells stories about life in this crazy place. The first programs were produced in Hebrew but then after gaining a lot of attention began, we’re also producing programs in EnglishThey produced an amazing piece on the radical vegan movement in Israel, which you can listen to in this episode called Holy Cow!, and another one on a massive Yiddish bookshop hidden away in the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station. The second English season begins tomorrow!

{You can find us any way that you normally get your podcasts:   iTunes  ,   Stitcher  , or listen   online  .}

{You can find us any way that you normally get your podcasts: iTunesStitcher, or listen online.}

The morning was productive and exciting as we prepared the finishing touches on the first episode of the season and discussed the episodes to come. 

And then I walked out of our innovative and thoughtful corner where we were sitting in the neighborhood of Nahlaot in West Jerusalem, and out into the world outside.

The “situation,” as Israelis call it, is not simple. Nor is it fine.

I walked quickly. I put my phone in my pocket and tried to be aware of my surroundings rather than the many conversations I was having elsewhere.

My face adopted the frown of all the other people around me. I felt all the tension that I’ve been working so hard to release through yoga return to my shoulders. I walked rather than taking buses or the light-rail because the anxiety of being enclosed in a public space with a crowd was overpowering.

There were police on almost every corner. I saw a woman banging a prayer book against the hood of a car and it seemed as if she was cursing it. A siren cried nearby and I stopped breathing. I crossed a street with a blind man. I saw pairs of nuns walking around wearing head-to-toe black outfits and watched as people’s heads turn checking that it wasn’t a hijab. I didn’t see anyone in a hijab. I went to pay the property tax on my apartment and was pointed in the right direction by a man in Palestinian-accented Hebrew. I passed a burger joint that was laying out rows upon rows of checkered-patterned, paper wrapped burgers on tables to feed the police for free. I ate sabich (a sandwich of fried eggplants and eggs with humus and salads) and watched as 25 kilos of eggplant were delivered, but the man forgot the 2 crates of tomatoes. Two soldiers came in to eat; the man fixing up sandwiches shouted to his help to fill up these soldiers’ food well so they can have a good meal. The streets felt quieter.

Collecting all of these little episodes felt immensely meaningful; Jerusalem tends to do that, it adds a sense of mystified meaning and a layer of “pre-ordained-ness” to every little thing. But at the same time, it was all scattered, disjointed, and colored by my search to make meaning from the madness.

I let out a huge sigh of relief when I was finally sitting on the bus headed back to Tel Aviv (after darting through the silent Central Bus Station through the side entrances rather than the main entrance). It might all be in my head.

But my friends living in Jerusalem told me that they ordered their groceries to be delivered to their house this week rather then venture out into the market. Last week, another friend of mine was 2 meters from a stabbing attack in the Central Bus Station in Jerusalem where a 70-year-old woman died. Two nights ago, there was a stabbing in Be’er Sheva and in the frenzy, and Eritrean man was beaten to death. Tensions are high, the violence and the seemingly randomness of it all is real.

These attacks don't emerge in a vacuum. In the West Bank in the last 2 weeks alone, I can't even keep track of how many people have died. There have been tons of stabbings, shootings, protests, rocks thrown, arrests, detentions, home demolitions, and raids. Today alone, 9 Palestinians were injured with live fire, and there were several stabbing attacks in the settlements of Gush Etzion and Kiryat Arba, and in Hebron.  In the neighborhood of Silwan in East Jerusalem, the Abu Nab family was evacuated and their home was replaced by settlers. The "wave of violence" that's spreading into the borders of Israel are occurrences when the reality of the occupation in the West Bank and the disenfranchisement of Palestinian-Israeli citizens within the borders bleeds into mainstream Israeli society. It's mind boggling to try to see any way in which this desolate situation won't get worse.

Yet amidst it all, there are moments that make you pause and smile. An article is making the rounds on Facebook about a hummus place that is giving 50% off the meal to tables that are both Jewish and Palestinian. On Saturday night there was a demonstration of over 2,000 people in Jerusalem, Palestinians and Jewish-Israelis, who came together to call for an end to hate and violence. And my friends at the Center for Jewish Nonviolence have organized an important week of actions coinciding with the World Zionist Conference that is taking place now in Jerusalem. They have plenty of events taking place such as picking olives with the Palestinian community in Susiya, meeting with families who have been evicted, and posting flyers near the conference area asking what the representatives are doing to end the occupation.

Amidst all the crazy, there is always a grain of hope. At least that’s what I keep telling myself. My grain of hope is that this Thursday, I am meeting with my team from Building Bridges to work on our plans for the next year. My team is comprised of an Israeli woman my age and a Palestinian man, also my age, who lives in a refugee camp in the West Bank. Knowing that we’ve created a space for these worlds to interact, have meaningful conversation and work to build something together—that gives me hope.