Jerusalem: The rhythm of life

By Ann Feinstein

Living and staying alive have become two vastly different concepts in Israel ever since the eruption of the al-Aksa intifada in September 2000. Living refers to being employed and being able to make rent payments and purchase basic groceries. Staying alive is what makes living look good even if you have become another unemployment statistic (as I was for many months) with no relief in sight.

My home is in Jerusalem, right near the Haas Promenade, which boasts the most gorgeous panoramic view of this charmed city and was once a lovely place to stroll, day or night. Today, the beauty of this promenade has been marred by the murder of a young female law student and a myriad of attempted murders by a terrorist cell (operating in West Jerusalem) of young boys (the oldest only 16).

Strolls are taken only in the presence of the Border Police and visitors do not stray far from their cars. The atmosphere in Israel’s controversial capital is tense, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Even the Sabbath does not provide any respite from the insidious tension that permeates our lives on every level. It is a tension that has become the norm.

This past summer, the youngsters of Jerusalem became intimately acquainted with their homes, and the immediate property surrounding them; those being the only places deemed safe for play. The children in my building were an annoyance, through no fault of their own, as their high-pitched chatter became a constant soundtrack from morning until night. There is restlessness among an entire population not used to being confined in their homes. Entertainment outside the home has taken a deep cut and thousands of businesses, in all sectors, have closed their doors – unable to make ends meet, not to mention a profit.

The majority of Israelis are addicted to the news. These past two years have imbued us with a seventh sense: heightened sensitivity to breaking news, at any hour, of yet another suicide bomber, another assault on our fragile sanity. “HaMatzav” in Hebrew, or “The Situation,” is what we Israelis refer to as we summarize its negative effects on our existence.

How has “The Situation” caused damage today – what sector has suffered in particular – is a question asked and debated every hour by people from all walks of life. It is a question that has become a catalyst, uniting blue-collar with white, teenagers with adults. It is something that we Israelis are obsessed with to the point of hysteria. Silent hysteria, coursing through our veins … and flowing out in tears from eyes that are weary from witnessing so much tragedy.

Israel’s excellent transportation system has seen a 200% decrease in bus passengers over the last few months due to the realistic threat of injury or death before reaching your destination. Today, the very idea of taking a bus into downtown Jerusalem, the Mall (or any other public place) is enough to give you an ulcer. The sheer fear of a suicide bomber actually getting on the bus or pulling up next to it in another vehicle has kept me, more times than I would like to admit, from going about my everyday routine.

My mother (who also resides in Jerusalem) and I spend Thursday afternoons together, and we always choose the Mall as our venue over the city center because it is more contained, making it easier to maintain some semblance of security. Still, we listen to the news to determine how high the alert is for Jerusalem that day and say a heartfelt thank you to the security guards checking cars, bags and bodies for anything that might be construed as suspicious. My cell phone (another necessity these days) is always with me when I venture out alone so that in the event something does happen, I can make the (usual) fruitless attempts (all phone lines crash at a terrorist attack site) to report to family and friends that I am okay.

Fear has become a constant undertone in our lives. Although it is not apparent upon first glance, it has influenced our behavior on many levels. We have altered our lives to accommodate detonating cars, exploding men and women, snipers and stabbers. Funerals have become a regular feature on the news – an untimely showcase of the lives of innocent men, women and children … so many children, violently snuffed out in the most horrid manner imaginable.

Israel is like a tautly drawn rubber band being plucked incessantly and in grave danger of snapping. Security being our No. 1 priority has caused severe economic strife and social problems (like the burgeoning unemployment rate) to soar to new heights. These issues which have been largely ignored, despite intense warning signs, have become too immense and overwhelming for anyone to tame, much less eradicate.

“The Situation” is not going to change anytime soon – which is a sobering thought at best. We, the Israelis, will survive this latest onslaught of never-ending terror. It is what we do. We have no choice.