November 29, 2015

Terrorism in Jerusalem: A First Hand Account

Noah Brown ‘18

During the week of September 27, 2015, I was in Israel with my family celebrating my brother’s Bar Mitzvah. During the trip we stayed in Jerusalem for four days. While we were there, there was an attack on October 4 inside of the old city when a Palestinian teenager stabbed two Orthodox Jewish men. On my way back to the hotel that night, I encountered a group of approximately 100 Israelis protesting in the street that our hotel was on. Although there wasn’t any violence, there were many chants and signs about hating the Palestinian people. The protestors had a few journalists following them, along with civilians just trying to get by. Then, there were the police, who branded assault rifles, batons, visors and combat boots. Thankfully, the protest never became violent, but the demeanor of the police made me more uneasy than the protest itself.
The next morning, my father told my family that we were going to the old city, where Palestinians were banned from entering for the next few days. This sanctioned racial profiling was even more foreign of a concept to me than seeing people pass by armed soldiers and police officers like it was nothing. When I entered the old city on the, there were soldiers everywhere. It was nighttime and we entered down a lane that served as the entrance to the Jewish quarter. It felt like a Film Noir scene, lights spaced unevenly with darkness prevailing, which instilled terror in my heart. Anxiety and dread filled my lungs and I found it a little difficult to breathe.
After walking for about 100 meters, I passed an Imam and four people joining him in prayer. They were in the street, outside the door of a mosque under hesitant police and military supervision and protection. I wish that I could say that I passed them by without having my heart jump into my throat. I wish that I had walked by without almost calling for the police. Even though I knew the statistics and I was positive they were all searched very thoroughly multiple times on their way to their mosque, I still felt a prejudice against them that I had never felt before. The police and military presence, though, had shattered that mindset, serving as a physical embodiment of the tension in Jerusalem.
After a long trek, we made our way down to the Western Wall, which we had seen a few days earlier on a tour. It was Simchat Torah and despite the threat and tension, there were old men and little children jumping and singing.
Going to the interior portion of the Wall, I ran into a madrich of my Na’ale trip last year, Yedidyah Wenner. We caught up for a while, and eventually Wenner began explaining how only a fraction of people were present on Simchat Torah because of obvious factors. My father then replied and said that the shootings really shocked my family. Yedidyah agreed, but added, “Yeah, this happens most time there’s an event like this.” Despite the fact that they were both saying the same thing, I noticed a difference in tone.
To Wenner, it seemed routine, something that he expected. To my father and me, however, where the 24-hour news cycle dominates and shootings like these could be played out for weeks, this seemed like a real shock; an imminent threat.
Aside from differences in culture and language, the most striking thing about Israel is the role violence plays into people’s lives directly. That’s not to say that violence is not permeated deeply into American society; however, in Israel, there’s something very real about it. Perhaps it’s the “us-versus-them” mentality. Maybe it’s the proximity; it’s a small country and being so close to demonstrations, military and conflict makes it seem all too real. Either way, coming back to America released a tension somewhere deep inside of me that I didn’t know I had carried the whole trip.
In America, whenever I hear of a shooting, it always happens somewhere else and doesn’t impact me, and as a result, I stop caring. This is because I believe that we, the consumers of the American media, don’t put ourselves in the shoes of those affected by tragedies. A lack of empathy in the modern world is what makes “foreign conflicts” and “gun violence” sound so unrelated to the people who are not present. This trip opened my eyes.
I was in Israel when the Oregon shooting occurred. Concise, powerful stories which these attacks sadly create must be told as realistically as possible. When people see numbers and statistics and the same photographs over and over, they become desensitized. I have seen that a little fear goes a long way in invoking empathy – even if it is for selfish reasons.
Getting people to care is the most difficult part of writing on shootings. My trip allowed me to see what the news cannot show or tell me, and while it was a terrible experience, it allowed me to see the world in a new light.
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