Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Reframing perspective

Israel is a strange place.

For the last, well, since nearly forever, in the Middle East there have been some Arabs who have used various means to kill Israelis. Really Jews, but since these particular people don't seem to care who dies along with the Jews, I'll say Israelis.

They have used suicide bombers to blow up buses, pizza joints and coffee shops. We put up checkpoints to inspect cars and people to keep explosives from getting into the country. They found ways to sneak in around the checkpoints. So we put up a security fence to force them through the checkpoints. They enter schools and private homes to shoot and kill children and women. We put security guards at kindergardens. Everything they try, we find a way to block them; they just come up with another method.

The last few years have seen the weapon of choice change from one of preparation to one of convenience. And what's more convenient than a bulldozer when you're working on one of the many construction sites throughout Jerusalem? The first bulldozer attack killed a number of people, and would have killed more if not for so many Israelis being, unfortunately, prepared for anything. There have been two more attacks that were defined as terror attacks, and one, in Modi'in, that was shrugged off as a disgruntled worker.

So today, I was travelling on a bus in Jerusalem. We were stopped at the traffic light on Jaffa Street at Mahane Yehuda, the shuk, or marketplace. There is construction running the length of Jaffa, due to the new rail line being built, so there are fences and cement barricades and traffic jams all over the place. While we were stopped at the light, a breaker bulldozer started up next to us, and next to the large crowd entering Mahane Yehuda. As the bulldozer started moving, there was a collective intake of breath on the bus and a tangible tension in the air. The majority of people who were watching were all thinking the same thing: will the driver use his machine for construction, or destruction?

We watched as he swung the arm around, into the crowd of people gathered around the entrance to the shuk. Next to me, I heard my older seatmate start murmuring, "oy" and sucking in her breath. The arm came down - so close to the people - and, like a mother's hand directing her child out of the way, gently moved a cement barrier further into the work zone to widen the pathway for the pedestrians.

The light changed, and the collective release of deeply held breath nearly got lost in the bus sounds. The nervous chuckles had turned into regular bus chatter by the time we neared the hospital, where we got stuck behind an ambulance being searched for explosives before the crew could transport their patient to emergency. This, no one on the bus paid attention to.

"Normal" takes on a whole new meaning in Israel.

No comments: