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Jerusalem Notebook: Terrorism’s Unseen Wounds

By Wednesday, March 16, 2016

A few days ago, a visiting friend and I walked through Jerusalem’s Mamilla Mall, up some steep stairs and through the Old City’s Jaffa Gate. We both had some gift shopping to do, and we had decided to pick up some pottery and other items in the Christian Quarter’s shops.

Of course, thanks to the present wave of stabbings, we thought twice about our destination. But we went anyway.

One of the first things we noticed was the rather thin array of tourists and the unusually quiet walk along the usually bustling David Street. There were few hucksters, and several shops were shuttered.

We turned left on Christian Quarter Road and went into a couple of shops that we’d been to before; both of the shopkeepers are longtime friends of the woman who was shopping with me. And their stories were rather heartbreaking.

Although neither of them had faced a terrorist’s knife directly, the ripple effect of the stabbings – and particularly those in and around the Old City – had deeply wounded each of them.

Israel’s Ministry of Tourism continues to report only a slightly decreased number of tourists in the country, but that wasn’t what we heard from these two men. And their lack of customers underscored their plight.

“I’ve been using the free time to do some remodeling of my shop,” an elderly Arab Christian merchant told us.

Granted, with so few people around, it was easier for him to tear out shelves and make some long-delayed repairs. “But it’s so expensive and there’s no income to offset the costs,” he lamented.

This man was born and raised in the Jerusalem’s Old City Christian community. He has seen his share of wars and terrorism. And he is infuriated by the present attacks.

His voice rose as he described an incident. “A 50-year-old woman tried to stab a policeman this morning. Fifty years old! How ridiculous is that?”

By then, he was almost shouting, and he furtively glanced out the door of his shop to see if anyone was listening.

“The police shot her dead,” he concluded more quietly. “What else could they do?”

Later that day, a Times of Israel account confirmed his story:

The 50-year-old woman, an Israeli citizen, approached the officers who were standing on Hagai Street, which runs from the Damascus Gate to the Western Wall. As she got closer, she took a knife out of her bag and attempted to stab them, police said.

“The officers … responded quickly and professionally. They shot and neutralized the threat,” police said in a statement.

The old man carefully wrapped our pottery purchases. As he worked, it was evident that he was grateful for our business. But he cautioned us to be very careful as we walked through the Old City. And not just about terrorists.

His mistrust of his neighbors was explicit. “Hold your handbags close to you,” he instructed grimly, “and don’t look at them or answer them when they say, ‘You’re so beautiful. Please come into my shop.’ Ignore them. Don’t go in any shops unless you know the shopkeeper.”

We left him, bearing a few gifts and very heavy hearts.

Our next stop offered more bad news. First of all, the shopkeeper, a younger Arab Christian – we’ll call him Issa – is contemplating leaving Israel for the United States. He has weathered two intifadas and several Gaza operations. And once again his gift shop is struggling. He is trying to do more online sales, and is having some success with that.

But the mistrust that terrorism incites affects him, too, because he is also an Arab.

Many people speak of the “hatred” that exists between the Arabs and Jews in Israel. It seems to me, that at least on the Israeli side, a better word than hatred would be “mistrust.”

Issa’s story of lost income and tension in the Old City mirrored the older man’s story. But then he told us a poignant account that reveals how stressful the terrorism is for people of all ages.

“My little girl – she’s only 6 years old – was so terrified of Israeli soldiers that she was afraid to walk past them,” he said. “She cried every time we got near them.”

Issa explained that his daughter had heard stories (at school) that Israeli soldiers target and shoot Arab children for no reason. Her father tried to comfort her, promising again and again that the stories weren’t true. But her fears continued.

“So,” Issa told us, “I took her by the hand, and as we went out the Damascus gate, I led her up to a young Israeli female soldier – I guess she must have been about 20 years old. I told the soldier, ‘My daughter is very scared of you!’”

The young Jewish soldier looked carefully at Issa and his child. Then she knelt down and said to the little girl, “You know what? I’m very scared too. I don’t want to be here! I want to be at the beach with my friends in Tel Aviv!”

Then the soldier asked, “Are you afraid of my gun?”

And the child nodded.

So the soldier took the little girl’s hand and placed it gently on the gun. “You see? It won’t hurt you! You don’t need to be afraid.”

The conversation mostly marked the end of Issa’s worries about his daughter’s peace of mind. But his personal worries continue. Should he stay in Israel? Or will he make the effort to start his life over in another place?

By now twilight was shadowing the streets. We wanted to leave the Old City before dark.

Just as we reached the Jaffa Gate, we noticed that several police officers were hurriedly closing the heavy doors blocking street traffic. Sirens wailed in the distance.

My friend and I looked at each other. “Something’s up,” one of us said.

We rushed through the Jaffa Gate pedestrian passage and into the Mamilla Mall. By then, the sirens were nearby. As we headed out of the mall, we saw flashing lights on police cars and other emergency vehicles.

The next morning we read the report in the Jerusalem Post,

Two border police officers are in critical and serious condition after being shot in the head by an Arab terrorist outside the Old City’s Nablus Gate in east Jerusalem early Tuesday evening. Following a brief chase, the terrorist was shot dead at the scene.

Shortly after 5 p.m. … shots were fired on officers who were on a regular patrol in and around the area, and as a result, we have two officers down who were seriously injured,” said police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld at the scene of the attack.

The stabbing attacks – and gunshot and car-ramming assaults – take their toll in human life. But the ever-widening effect of terrorism moves like ripples from a stone tossed in a pool.

The immediate loss of life is the headline news. Next to that, the injuries.

Petra Heldt, one of my Jerusalem friends, is the survivor of a double Hamas bombing at the Machane Yehuda market, which killed 16 people and injured 178 in 1997.

Petra – just one of 178 – spent more than three agonizing years recovering from her severe burns. Long-term or permanent injuries are rarely reported. Understandably, they are given less attention than the ever-growing list of fatalities.

But then comes the next ripple – the families of the dead and injured: the grieving, the caregiving, the trepidation, the loss of “normal” life. And the friends and loved ones and neighbors who share the burden.

Then, as we saw, there is the toll taken on relations between Arabs and Jews. Resentments abound, mistrust intensifies, and yes, hatred is fueled. There are efforts at reconciliation, of course, and expressions of sorrow. But the emotional and spiritual damage cuts as deeply as a knife tearing flesh.

There’s the larger circle of wounded businesses. Merchants in small shops – like those we witnessed – are counting their losses, tour guides are staring at cancellations on their calendars, and cafes are all but empty.

And, finally, there are some very twisted international news reports that blame the Israeli soldiers and police for defending themselves.

And so it goes.

And what does terrorism achieve? What does the incitement in Palestinian Authority media, in radical mosques, in Arab school curriculum hope to accomplish in the long term?

Death and destruction, of course. And the desolation of the ripple effect. In the case of terror against Israel, there is also the faint hope in some misguided minds that the Israelis will pack up and leave their Promised Land.

Meanwhile, many would-be terrorists, when interviewed, simply declare that they want to “kill Jews.” That’s what they’ve learned from their political/religious leaders and media stars.

But the deeper reasons for Islamist terrorism – which includes today’s attacks on Israelis – are rooted in ideology and not simply in political hatred.

By looking beyond the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and pulling back the lens to capture a wider view of the horrendous bloodshed that is currently flooding the Middle East, we are faced with the mindset of radical Islamists who despise Jews and Christians (as well as other infidels). Some are Sunnis, like Islamic State leader Al-Baghdadi, who has slaughtered tens of thousands and displaced millions, and has declared,

I commend the lions of the Caliphate … the mighty and defiant who … refused humiliation and subservience and offered their blood and lives for their religion. How good you are! How good you are! We ask Allah [the Glorified] to allow us to see you in al-Quds [Jerusalem] very soon. It is a sufficient deed for you with Allah that you have pounded the beds of the Jews with terror.

Meanwhile Hezbollah’s Shia spiritual leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, has quite concisely summed up his theological plan for success. “We are going to win because they love life and we love death.”

There is little we as individuals can do to turn the tide on the present spate of violence. If we are soldiers, we can fight. If we are warriors in prayer, we can plead for safety and for transformed minds and hearts.

And thankfully, we can fix our eyes on our own source of strength and hope, and encourage others to do so as well. Because despite the fear and pain and losses, and in spite of the ripple effect of every wounded body and soul, we Christians and Jews have far better promises – for now and always.

The words of Moses – that mighty prophet and warrior of God – bear repeating:

“I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live” (Deut. 30:19).

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