- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 17, 2004

JERUSALEM - The summer was a busy one for Yafit Kaduri. The 18-year-old waitress at the central Jerusalem branch of Sbarro pizzeria described her restaurant as being packed with American, French and Mexican tourists.

Now, as she passed out advertisement leaflets on a cobblestone street just around the corner, Miss Kaduri shrugged off fears of a repeat of the August 2001 Sbarro bombing that killed 15 persons.

“Whoever lives here knows it could happen anywhere,” she said. “Should we stop living because of this?”

Dozens of yards away on Zion Square, a pair of border police officers reclined against the concrete base of a utility pole.

Buried under a flak jacket, backpack, M-16 and the burden of the late-afternoon sun, one officer savored a break from patrolling the plaza.



“It’s relaxed … for now.”

Four years after the outbreak of fighting with the Palestinians, Jerusalem is carefully trying to accustom itself to a new routine.

Though suicide bombers continue to strike Israelis, most recently killing 34 at a tourist resort near the Israeli-Egyptian border, Jerusalem itself has experienced a dramatic drop this year in the number of attacks.

With an eight-month respite in major attacks in central Jerusalem, residents are returning to cafes and to the Ben Yehuda Street pedestrian mall, earlier the site of numerous bombings.

Commuters again ride the buses. Emergency workers have turned their attention to preparing for natural disasters such as earthquakes.

But if the city has been able to re-create a notion of the routine, there are few who fool themselves that it is a complete return to normal.

The tripwire of that tension remains extremely sensitive in Jerusalem.

A reporter taking notes and snapping pictures of restaurants and security guards soon arouses suspicions. The “suspect” is stopped quickly and interrogated on the street by a regular police officer.

After 20 minutes, Officer Oren Ohayon returns the reporter’s notebook and identification card with an apology.

“I’m sorry for the discomfort, but we had to check,” Officer Ohayon said. “It’s routine that’s not a routine.”

With daily reports of foiled bombings, Jerusalem remains in a constant state of alert. Life continues in the absence of any foreseeable resolution of the four years of violence, but it is under a heavy blanket of security that Jerusalemites have accepted as part of the new ambience of their city.

And with the trauma of previous attacks always just beneath the surface, locals say they have grown thick skin to protect themselves in the event of a new calamity.

‘State of trauma’

“Everybody in Jerusalem lives in a state of trauma. Everybody has been affected by an attack and has lived through it,” said Caryn Green, a social worker who runs a shelter for teenagers one block off Zion Square.

“It becomes normal,” she said. “It allows you to become numb enough to continue on with normal life. … You become like, OK, I’m still going jogging.”

But normal life for Miss Green also means being able to tell when the city is on high alert for a terrorist attack even without listening to the radio.

Two to three times a week, roads and intersections around Zion Square and Jaffa Street fill with security personnel who are assigned in pairs to patrol every corner.

The police presence has become so routine that Miss Green said she no longer notices it.

Even in the absence of a terrorist alert, the security presence on Jaffa Street is hard to miss. In addition to the border and regular police officers, Jaffa’s strip of restaurants and retail shops swarms with private guards hired by local businesses.

At the beginning of the year, Sbarro relocated from a prominent corner at Jaffa and King George streets where the pizzeria was bombed three years ago.

The new location on Jaffa Street on the opposite side of Zion Square is just as central, though much more modest. On a recent weekday afternoon, the restaurant was half full with families and patrons in their teens and 20s.

As she walked up Jaffa away from the restaurant, one customer who had just finished eating said she has stopped worrying about the possibility of a new bombing.

“We’re used to the fact that you can leave your house and you don’t know if you’re returning,” said the woman, who declined to give her name.

‘An equilibrium’

Amid the tentative calm, Israelis gradually have re-established routines — some of them familiar and others slightly altered.

In Jerusalem, for example, restaurants are judged not only for food, but also for the level of security.

“I think the country has adapted a business-as-usual attitude. It’s not completely the way it was, but there’s an equilibrium,” said Alan Cohen, an assistant director at the Israel Community Stress Prevention Center.

“In Jerusalem, there’s a quiet tension. People adopt certain types of behavior to assert control over the situation.”

The last catastrophic attack to rock the city occurred Feb. 22, a bus bombing that killed eight and wounded more than 60.

On Sept. 22, Israeli border police stopped a female suicide bomber as she approached a Jerusalem checkpoint. She blew herself up, killing two police officers, before she reached her probable civilian targets.

Security forces have foiled dozens of other attacks.

Jerusalemites know their safety is precarious. The barrier that protects northern Israel has yet to surround the city.

But on a recent Saturday night, crowds of Jewish teenagers and young adults spilled into the street of Emek Refaim, the German Colony neighborhood’s strip of cafes and boutiques.

Cafit, a popular spot that attracts a more mature crowd, remained cordoned off from the commotion behind a stone wall and an iron gate.

Across the street, a line formed outside Coffee Shop. The 3-year-old cafe — with modern industrial interior design — tries to erase the separation with gaggles of cafe hoppers outside by opening huge rectangular windows that swing inward.

Coffee Shop manager Rinat Mizrahi, 25, said the establishment has prospered because its java is imported from South Africa.

A year ago, Mr. Mizrahi was working a shift when a bomb went off at the nearby Cafe Hillel. Customers stayed away for a month but eventually returned. The near-miss bombing at Cafit during the summer was barely felt there.

“We’ve been living in an inferno for dozens of years,” she said. We’re used to it.”

Farther up the Emek Refaim strip, dreadlocked youths smoke cigarettes and drink Guinness beer at wooden tables outside the Joy Grill Bar.

Srulik Klein, 21, said he frequents the cozy pub with its exterior of roughly cut Jerusalem stone because it is one of the few kosher meat restaurants that open in the evenings after the end of the Jewish Sabbath.

“I prefer to sit inside because it’s more comfortable, but the security issue isn’t a consideration,” he said. “If there isn’t room inside, I’ll move outside. It doesn’t matter.”

At a burger joint just a few storefronts away, Shimrit Cohen, 18, and a group of friends concede that other friends from Tel Aviv are intimidated by the Jerusalem night life.

They uncomfortably rattle off a few dark jokes about bombings, like having a “blast” at Sbarro.

Two of Miss Cohen’s friends from kindergarten were killed in the Sbarro blast, and she herself witnessed a bombing.

“We see everything that’s going on around us, but you have to continue on,” Miss Cohen said. “It’s like road accidents. Are you going to stop going to travel in cars? People are dying every day. But we’re living in Jerusalem and this is our reality. We need to deal with it and not run away.”

PHOTO2

‘A dissonance’

Over years of attacks in the city, Hadassah Hospital at Ein Kerem has absorbed the largest number of casualties. The dubious distinction has made the hospital’s emergency staff a model of efficiency.

A software system dubbed Adam was developed to share data on bombing victims with other hospitals. With the lull in attacks, the hospital is trying to adapt the Adam system for use in case of earthquakes and other instances of crisis management. But the staff is still bracing for the next bombing.

“When things are getting quieter, it’s easy to put things aside and act as if life has gotten back to normal,” said Rita Abramov, chief of the hospital’s social workers.

“It’s a dissonance. It’s a crazy situation, because you can’t live on alert all the time, so you try to get back to normal life. But on the other hand, you can’t let things go as if nothing is going to happen.”

For the past three summers, an annual outdoor craft festival has been moved to Ben Yehuda Street to boost business in the city center.

Patrons now must pass through a security perimeter to reach the merchants. It still hasn’t brought back the thousands of foreign tourists who used to pack the walking mall past midnight in the summer.

“Look outside. You call that a pedestrian mall?” asked Yossi Zakaim, who owns a souvenir shop on Ben Yehuda within spitting distance of Zion Square.

Since the start of the intifada, or uprising, Mr. Zakaim has had to lay off his staff and run down a lifetime of savings to stay in business.

“It’s only going backward. I eat from whatever I sell. I’m not greedy, but for the young people there’s no future.”

For municipal planners, the spate of attacks spurred plans to revitalize Jerusalem’s city center.

For two decades, new neighborhoods had spread outward with self-contained commercial centers and shopping malls that took away business from areas around Ben Yehuda Street and Jaffa Road.

Back when the infiltration of bombers turned the city center into a ghost town, officials realized they needed to invest more in building up the main shopping district.

Moving ahead

Despite the increased security threat, the city has moved ahead with plans to build a $300 million light-rail system and is planning on giving a face lift to downtown buildings.

“Terror is the worst possible thing, but big cities know how to use it for change,” said Asaf Whitman, director of Eden, the municipality-owned commercial development company.

The wild card is how much to invest in security. Eden assumes that the high-violence atmosphere of the Palestinian intifada can’t hold up for 20 years.

But many merchants in the city center have pressed Jerusalem to close roads and build a permanent perimeter of gates around the shopping districts to be manned by security personnel.

Mr. Whitman said the city has dismissed the request. Defining an inner security blanket would stir an unending dispute with merchants left outside the perimeter.

What’s more, closing off the city center permanently could be a disaster for Jerusalem’s image at home and abroad.

“There are no doors in cities. Cities are open places,” Mr. Whitman said. “I didn’t see them closing New York City after 9/11. We’re the same.”

Back at the Jaffa Street Sbarro, Alladin, the restaurant’s Arab shift manager, greets customers. But he recoils from questions about business and Arab-Jewish cooperation at the pizzeria.

“I don’t want to talk about it anymore,” said Alladin, who declined to give his surname. “It was a good story three years ago, but enough.”

Outside the restaurant, several security guards from nearby restaurants and bus stops gather to joke and talk about soccer. Though they wear uniforms ranging from olive green fatigues to khaki vests and white button-down shirts, the guards are working together and comparing notes.

“Even though some Jerusalemites feel more comfortable in restaurants, security guards cannot relax,” said Motti Sorokeh, who oversees 10 guards posted at stores along Jaffa. “Every day there are alerts.”

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide