Rabbi Reuven Birmajer finished teaching his Talmud class at a religious seminary in Jerusalem last week, and then told his students he had to rush home. Deliverymen were bringing a new bed.
“He was afraid a Palestinian guy was going to deliver the bed, and his wife was going to be all alone,” explains student Chaim Zbar.
But it was the rabbi who was killed in a Palestinian stabbing on his way home. Now Zbar avoids going out in the streets.
For more than three months, Jerusalem has seen near-daily Palestinian attacks on Israelis — shootings, rammings with cars and many stabbings.
About 20 Israelis have died. More than 130 Palestinians have died. Israel says most were committing attacks; others were killed during clashes with troops.
Much of the violence has taken place in Jerusalem, and for residents like Zbar, the tensions are affecting daily routines.
“The thing I don’t like is I don’t consider [myself] to be a prejudiced person,” he says. “But with all this happening, I see someone, I think, it’s a Palestinian. I think, he may harm me. But he may just be a normal guy — normal life, normal job — and he’s not trying to harm anyone. But I can’t assume that. I don’t know him. I have to be careful.”
A short walk away, 29-year-old Palestinian Amjad Karmi is also nervous. Karmi mans a hookah shop in the Old City. He’s worried — even though the violence is not as intense now as it was a few weeks ago.
“We don’t feel [it’s] that dangerous, like before, but we [are] afraid, still now, to go out,” he says.
Karmi is afraid he could find himself at the scene of an attack and be mistaken for an assailant. He stopped going to an Israeli mall after drawing suspicious looks.
“Not like normal looking, you know?” he says. “They checking you. They afraid [of] you. You know, the personal feeling, it’s bad.”
Personal — that’s what many people say. It’s not the anonymous violence of a rocket or bomb: It’s the fear of the person next to you on the street. For some, it’s regret for suspecting an innocent person in the first place.
Things could change if the violence escalates, but at the moment, people have mostly gotten used to the new normal in the city — the posters for self-defense classes, the stores advertising pepper spray. Weeks ago, the streets often felt empty as fearful residents stayed inside. But not anymore.
Lots of Israelis crowded on the street recently for a Middle Eastern music festival. One Israeli in the crowd, Avital Keslasi, said she just wants to live a little.
“There’s been violence here for a long time, years, right?” Keslasi said. “Nonsense. It will pass.”
The city has begun to install waist-high concrete poles around bus stops to protect people against the kinds of car-ramming attacks that have killed a number of Israelis. But already, people seem to stare right through the concrete barriers, as if they’ve always been there.