Terror Returns to Jerusalem

Written by Tim Mak on Thursday March 24, 2011

It’s shocking to see how quickly tensions escalate in Israel, and how easily a tenuous calm was shattered by Wednesday’s attack in downtown Jerusalem.

It’s shocking to see how quickly tensions escalate in Israel, and how a tenuous calm was so quickly shattered by Wednesday’s terrorist attack in downtown Jerusalem.

Yesterday afternoon, a bomb exploded near a downtown Jerusalem bus depot, killing a sixty-year-old woman and injuring dozens more. Chaos reigned over the city’s streets as roads were blocked and police set up checkpoints in a bid to catch the person who placed the bomb. The radio and internet were clogged with contradictory information about casualties and possible deaths.

And yet, only a week ago Jerusalem had been embracing a steady calm. The last bus bombing had occurred seven years ago, in 2004.

“Back [during the Second Intifada], I didn’t go into the city for years,” said our tour guide, who lives in the suburbs.

“Any problems of danger now?” I asked, “Do you feel there are any safety issues in going into the city?”

“Now?” she responded, “Now, of course there is no such danger.”

This has all changed with the events of yesterday’s bombing. I remember also being told during my recent trip to Israel the anxiousness that one would feel when driving behind a bus during the Second Intifada. ‘Happily gone now,’ said one former resident of Jerusalem. Gone only temporarily, it seems.

Indeed, Israelis have been forcefully jolted from a period of relative calm. There hasn’t been a bus bombing in seven years; Hezbollah has been quiet on the border between Israel and Lebanon for four and a half years; the West Bank is enjoying a stable enough security situation that they’re able to remove 70% of all checkpoints, and an IDF spokesman hails the current environment as the safest in the last decade.

And yet this fragile easiness was shattered instantly when Jerusalem’s bombing occurred. Israelis are forced to return to their post-attack rituals, ably described by one West Bank blogger (h/t Seth Mandel):

First, as soon as you hear of the attack, you think of anyone you know that might be in the area of the attack, and you start to phone them. If you are lucky you get right through and you breathe a sigh of relief that they are ok. Immediately afterwards you feel guilty. Why should I be happy when other people have lost their loved ones?

Then you turn on the internet to get as much information as possible, clicking from one site to the other to get the latest news. The numbers are important, the level of injuries are important, and the most important of course are the numbers of dead.

A little while later, you are still attached to the news, and you wait to hear the names of the dead (G-d forbid) and again you are curious to see if you know them. In a country as small as Israel, the chances are pretty good.

Later still you watch the coverage of the funerals. Inevitably you wonder if this will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, and pushes Israel to undertake an operation against the terrorists.

Slowly the intensity fades. And you forget about terror attacks until the next time, although not completely.

Jerusalemites have had ample time to allow the terror attacks of the past to slowly recede, but the situation in Israel is now escalating in an extraordinarily disconcerting way, particularly in the Gaza Strip.

Last week, an Iranian shipment of arms headed to the Gaza strip was seized by the Israeli navy.  In the previous two days, Israel has been repeatedly hit by rockets from the Gaza Strip: four mortars, three Qassam rockets, and two Grad rockets. The IDF has retaliated, launching strikes that have killed terrorists and caught civilians in the crossfire; this in turn leading to more rocket attacks. This morning, Israeli tanks struck an alleged Hamas facility in Gaza after a dozen rockets were fired from the location.

There is cause for real anxiety in Israel: as a fear of busses returns; as rocket attacks escalate; and as average residents feel unease at the mere prospect of traveling downtown.

Tim Mak was in Israel as a Media Fellow with the new media organization Act for Israel.

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