I was about to finish my half pita of falafel when the shooting broke out. “Oh shit,” I thought, “it’s happening.” Instantly, Jerusalem’s Central Bus Station turned into a battle zone: armed soldiers on furlough, border police and private security guards stormed down the stairs of the station and into the street across, where the incident was already over. We, however, didn’t even know if the shootings were an act of terror or self-defense; some of us tried to find shelter from the unknown attackers, others ran into random stores or hid behind solid objects.
Within minutes it became clear that the situation was under control. The station was evacuated and the crowd of passengers filled the main road where the stabber’s body lay on the ground surrounded by cops and military. The security personnel no longer pointed their guns at him; it was evident he was dead. One civilian was able to get close to the body and tried to defile it. The security forces aptly took control of him, despite his violent attempts to resist arrest.
The press arrived seconds later; like vultures, they preyed on the traumatized people, the dead body and the blood. By then, the initial panic had passed, yet since the security forces seemed to assume that the stabber wasn’t acting alone, they extensively searched the station and the surroundings streets, keeping the atmosphere tense. There were two false reports of a second stabber who got away and SWAT teams, special ops soldiers, undercover agents and armed citizens ran from one side of the street to the other followed by tens, perhaps more, of curious uninvolved people.
It took an hour for things to calm down and for people to begin to decompress. Men and women were in crisis mode, some weeping or hugging loved ones. I struck up a conversation with a young ultra-Orthodox man about the details of the incident. Then, a man interrupted our conversation. I could tell he was soft on the edges from the look in his eyes. He was nearing fifty, wore glasses, a white cap, and a white shirt carrying the name of Rabbi Nachman Of Breslov. He thought he had found a good crowd for his preaching: “In a week or two the whole situation will calm down, the knifing campaign will be over and they [Arabs] will be allowed on the streets again.” This was not hope talking; he had other ideas in mind. “When they return, we should slay them one by one. None of them is good. Even six feet under they are no good.”
The ultra-Orthodox guy and I firmly objected, but he did find a choir with other people who started to listen. He had a specific plan in mind. “There is an Arab worker in the falafel place nearby. Who around here is enough of a man to beat him up? We should teach him a lesson.” Another self appointed preacher arrived and said, “Jews, listen! In the name of God, we should kill all them Arabs one by one.” Again, I objected and said, “You are taking God’s name in vain!”
That was a turning point.
While the white-capped older guy still tried to get the attention of the people and rally them against the Arab man, I became the main attraction. “Are you a lefty?” someone asked. At first I tried to give an honest answer, and said that this issue has nothing to do with political opinion, a person is a person. But when I understood they were looking to attack ‘a lefty’ I said, “Yes, I’m a lefty. Do you have a problem with that?”
It turns out, many of them did.
One guy made a point by sticking his face close to mine. Something about his cartoonishly angry face didn’t scare me. I could tell, despite his repeated promises to rip me apart, that he wouldn’t raise his hand against me. Yet he wasn’t the only one around. Before I understood what was going on, some twenty or thirty men were chanting at me, saying that lefties are worse than the Nazis, that we should all go to the Gaza Strip and all that too-familiar stuff.
The ultra-Orthodox guy I was chatting with, tried to get me out of there. “Don’t say anything more”, he pleaded with me. There were too many people though, and they circled around us from behind. They were mostly kids, under the age of sixteen or seventeen, some even younger. Only a few of them were grown men. But make no mistake, they were all men. Eventually, two border control female police officers arrived, smuggled me out of the crowd and into the central bus station, which had just reopened.
The current round of bloodshed is felt very differently in the streets of Jerusalem than in years past, and not for one reason alone. One factor is that Israeli society has transformed dramatically. Precisely twenty years ago we’ve been through much tougher terror attacks, at least in terms of bodybag count. Buses and restaurants exploded right and left. Yet the panic and the hatred were not towards citizens as much as towards the ‘lefty’ government. Now, that the ‘right’ in Israel is in power for so many years, the rage and the blame for the situation is directed towards individual ‘lefties.’ Two days ago, a prominent Israeli blogger and Facebook celebrity received a phone call from a stranger who threatened that unless she posted a statement saying “death to all Arabs” on her Facebook wall, her younger brother would get hurt; to reinforce the warning, he proved that he knew her and her brother’s state ID numbers. As Israelis, we know well that threats can quickly evolve into actions.
Vigorous hatred towards Arabs and lefty ‘traitors’ isn’t new. “Death to Arabs” graffiti has been occupying a wall near my house for years now and when I was a combat soldier more than five years ago, one of my soldiers told me that “being gay is better than being a lefty, since being gay can be cured.” A recent study shows that the leftwing party leader, Zehava Galon, is the most hated person on the web, with thousands of death threats and other kind wishes. In recent years the situation has seriously intensified and the current stabbing campaign is used to justify any sort of hate speech against Arabs and ‘lefties’ without filters. The real absurdity is that the so-called ‘lefty’ opposition in Israel is weaker than ever. In fact, as a political power, it barely exists.
This is the real purpose of terror in a nutshell. The aim of terrorism is not only to kill people, but also to seed fear inside the population and tear it apart from within. In Israel terror has a two layer effect. It drives Jews and Arabs apart, and turns ‘lefties’ and ‘righties’ against one another. In times of relative quiet, some of us cultivate deep and meaningful relationships with Arab Jerusalemites. Now, my friend who just a month ago went to a football match near Ramallah with East Jerusalemite mates, wouldn’t go there, and my friend from East Jerusalem won’t meet me in downtown West Jerusalem. Instead, Jews are up in arms against any Arab and even other Jews.