If the light rail is under threat, so is Jerusalem

Two months ago, my family and I moved from our home in Jerusalem to the United States. It was a painful decision for many reasons, including the fact that Israel was engaged in yet another military operation in the Gaza Strip. We knew we weren’t leaving because of the violence – I had been accepted to a doctoral program at Virginia Tech University and by early May we had decided to make the move. But that didn’t make it any easier, any less painful.

When we arrived in the U.S., many of the congregants at my father-in-law’s synagogue congratulated us, assuming that we were happy to be far away from the trauma of war. “Your parents must be so relieved that you are safe and sound,” one woman instructed me.

Well, to be honest, not really.

Despite the innumerable apps that can now link you to any part of the world, keeping you plugged in to your friend’s and family’s lives, there is no replacement for the physical bond between a human being and their home. It is the comfort one takes with the sound of siren as Shabbat arrives, the soft evening breeze that revives the spirit even after the hottest summer days, the familiar faces of gardeners, caregivers, and cabbies in one’s neighborhood, and the knowledge that the local grocer will let you walk out with your produce even if you forgot your wallet. Most importantly, it is the extraordinary presence of time and place that Jerusalem extends all of her residents.

Time and place took center stage Wednesday, as a heinous attack of terror cut short the life of an innocent 3-month old and injuring eight others. The terrorist, reportedly a former prisoner and Hamas member by the name of Abdelrahman al-Shaludi, drove his a car into a crowd waiting at the Jerusalem light rail station near Ammunition Hill.

The light rail has been one of the few bright lights in a city with a myriad of social and political issues. To put it simply, it is a vehicle for Jews and Arabs to share space and perhaps take a tiny step towards mutual recognition (albeit, it does have its critics and a portion of the route runs along the old armistice line which divides East and West Jerusalem). Since the outset of last summer’s operation however, the light rail has become increasingly under attack by East Jerusalem residents intent on “derailing” this circumstantial symbol of coexistence. Most incidents have involved rock throwing, so by comparison Wednesday’s tragedy was by far the most hideous and shocking.

But all of this has simply revealed how fragile the calm of the last decade actually was. Perhaps a narrow window of opportunity – between the end of the Second Intifada and this summer’s Gaza war – has slammed shut. I think about the violence committed by both sides since early June, how quickly people rushed back to their familiar corners the moment things got bad, and wonder what it will take to recover. It may take another decade.

We cannot allow terrorists and radicals have the final word. That is why the light rail runs again. But now it matters more than ever who is on board.

Posted on by Gabriel in Israel