by Lauren Pincus
I have an added layer here. It lies thin under the surface of my skin and I feel it all the time. It crept up on me slowly and is now embedded in my shoulders and it clenches my teeth. If it was there in New York, it came and went. Here in Jerusalem, I feel it all the time. It stays in my head and keeps me up at night. It makes me search out my exits and look over my shoulder when I walk down the street.
Am I being irrational? A man was stabbed on the street by my apartment, close to the seam line between West and East Jerusalem. Whole crowds of people are hit by cars in an attempt to terrorize light rail riders. Holy sites are desecrated and worshippers are killed. Planned assassination attempts are broadcast in the media. In the states when a handful of people are killed, it is a tragedy. Here in Israel, it has a name and it is called terrorism.
Solidarity of Nations/Achvat Amim
I moved to Jerusalem two and a half months ago to work with a coexistence group. I was worried about joining a special Masa program called Solidarity of Nations/Achvat Amim (http://www.achvatamim.org/) after the summer of chaos and violence, but when September came, I flew at a fortuitous time of peace. Then after a few weeks of holiday cheer and getting to know the city, the assaults began again. And although it doesn’t look or feel like it did during the summer, my place in it has changed. From the states, it was difficult to get a sense of how the violence feels on the ground. From my place here now, I understand that on both sides, the fear comes from distrust.
Last week, I was walking down the street, and I passed a man sitting on a bench with a plastic bag in his hand. He banged the glass inside the bag against the bench to break it. In the moments after I heard the glass break and saw his closed fist come down on the bench, I saw shards of glass scatter in front of me. I saw the glint come close to my face and felt the tear of my skin. But in reality, I passed the man as he threw the plastic bag filled with pieces of glass into the trash next to the bench. It all appeared and was over in a matter of seconds as I continued walking down the street.
Hearing both sides of the conflict
Everyone I have met since my arrival understands that the strained feeling of the city is characteristic of Jerusalem. It is a microcosm of the feelings in Israel that bubbles over into violence on the streets. Less than an hour away, Tel Aviv feels like a different country that you should need a passport to enter. Since I moved in though, things are getting more strained and everyone feels it.
The added layer of tension that I feel is also a pressure, an encumbrance to choose a side. I am in a position to hear both sides of the conflict and I feel a heaviness for staying as neutral as possible. I am told that Israelis know and understand that human rights violations exist and that as an outsider, it is not my fight. I should take the right side, keep quiet about the rest, and consider how I frame my experience for those back in the States who don't know what it is like here. I am an outsider and this is a problem that has to be fixed by Israelis and Palestinians. I wonder, can a two state solution be a reality if both sides are so fixed in their hatred? How and when will this end? I believe that everyone is tired and burned out from the war.
The conflict needs to end
I have been here two months and I feel exhausted by it. It is my added layer that makes me tired and keeps me up all night, worried. The trauma is inherent, living in a region where people constantly fear for their lives. I moved to Jerusalem because I support Israel. The longer I am here, the more conflicted I feel about the role I play here. I do not condone the violence on either side. But the conflict needs to end and the only way that can happen is with an end to the occupation. Human rights violations of Palestinians living in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza come from both Israeli and Palestinian authorities. How can we end the occupation as this violence continues to brew? I feel that all people are entitled to self-determination and universal human rights, but at the same time I worry that with an end to the occupation, the violence will get worse. People deserve equal access to services and to rights, but when both groups hate the other, what stops the violence? Leaders with peaceful rhetoric and a mind for coexistence are needed.
As part of my Masa program, I volunteer at a bilingual Hebrew-Arabic school in Jerusalem. Today, the worry in the air was palpable. The children knew that something was wrong because they couldn't leave the school grounds until dismissal at the end of the day. The teachers worried about if and how to confront the issue, what the children would say and how they should respond. They worried about how to talk about the issue together as colleagues and as individuals. They worried about the families of the children and of their own families at home. Each time someone has been killed in the last few weeks, I have felt as though I breath less, as though the added layer pushes out the oxygen, until today, I felt suffocated by the news.
The teachers ended their meeting and went back to their classes. The students were released at three thirty in the afternoon. They went home tonight and they will return in the morning. I went home and exerted control over the few things within my power. I cleaned my apartment. I redecorated my room, trimmed my nails, cut my hair. Life just keeps going on.
The Jerusalem hills with Hadassah Hospital in the background at sunset