Notes from take-away town
A short time after the thwarted terror attack at the Cafit cafe in Jerusalem last week, ultra-Orthodox Chabad members mobilized on Emek Refaim Street, where the cafe is located, and urged passers-by to put on tefillin (phylacteries). A theological discussion took place around one such Chabad booth, which was situated (of all places) in front of a non-kosher butcher. "A miracle happened here," exclaimed one newly Orthodox Chabad member. "If so," replied one pedestrian, "why didn't a miracle occur at Beit Yisrael." "Well," the Chabad man responded to this allusion to the brutal terror attack in a Haredi area a few days before, "you also need some luck."
A week after the Beit Yisrael attack, neither luck nor a miracle transpired at the Moment cafe. Yesterday, from one end to another, Jerusalem had the appearance of a beaten and shocked city. As though in tribute to the Hebrew meaning of its name, Emek Refaim Street was a deserted valley of the ghosts. Few cars and pedestrians were to be found on other central streets in the city. An eerie silence shrouded the town.
"It's the quiet after one storm and before the next," Eden, a shift manager at the Coffee Shop cafe, sadly noted. Not a soul was to be found at the establishment, located close to Cafit, and is packed in normal times. Only the young waiters, who have, in a flash, been transformed into combat soldiers, were around, to get through their shifts. On Saturday, Coffee Shop was filled, as was the Moment cafe. When patrons learned of the bomb attack at Moment, they left Coffee Shop in a panic; some went to search for friends at Moment.
Jerusalem became "take-away" city yesterday. Take what you need, and get home as quickly as you can, was the watchword. Hanging over the Aroma Cafe, which has branches in the center of town and also on Emek Refaim, was a notice declaring "In light of the danger, we can't guarantee security. We have decided to close the seating section. There is only `take-away.'" Other establishments decided not to open at all. Proprietors who decided to maintain a semblance of normal life had to hire security guards. Uniformed and undercover security guards flooded leisure venues in the city, giving it the appearance of Hebron on a bad day. Wherever they were posted, the guards kept watch over empty seats.
The sole signs of bustling life were to be found at Saturday night's scene of death, the Moment cafe. What the media defined as the "stronghold of secular Jerusalem" was transformed into a holy venue. As members of Hesed v'Emet (Benevolence and Truth) finished their work of collecting all shreds of human tissue for burial, a group of teenage girls from a nearby religious institution sat on the sidewalk. They quietly read passages from the Book of Psalms; they sat next to a poster reading "each man will comfort and aid his brother; his brother will be told, `be strong.'"
But the scene that unfolded a few meters from this group, before the entrance to the Prime Minister's official residence, was not exactly one of brotherhood. If, before yesterday, there was talk of the "Lebanonization of the territories," yesterday witnessed the Lebanonization of protest.
Exactly 20 years ago, this space between Moment and the Prime Minister's Residence was a constant locus of protest activity. This was the site where left-wing activists sat in front of Menachem Begin's house, carrying posters that gave updated figures about the number of casualties Israel had sustained in Lebanon; the leftists demonstrated at the site until they couldn't stand it any longer, and went home. This was also the place where angry right-wingers spat in the faces of the Women in Black, who protest regularly at a nearby square. This is where the right demonstrates for or against prime ministers, depending upon who is in power. And this is where the Peace Coalition demonstrated last Saturday night, a short time before the Beit Yisrael attack. Yesterday, Lebanon returned to Aza Street.
There was the same intensity, the same pain, the same hatred. Once again, Peace Now set up shop, carrying the posters which divulged updated information about the number of fatalities on both sides: 340 Israelis, 961 Palestinians. A black band framed this sign; a caption announced in big letters "Peace and security, Sharon style." As in the case of the Lebanon War, peace activists vow that they will remain at the site in protest, until negotiations resume, or until Sharon's resignation (not a likely occurrence, they figure).
As in the case of the Lebanon War, right-wing, Kahane-affiliated extremists have come back for a standoff with the peace activists. These right-wing activists curse and taunt; policemen separate them from the peace demonstrators. Also, a group of young settlers have arrived on the scene, to "give strength to the IDF." Elisha, 18, from Efrat, explained: "We are here to strengthen the IDF against all those who refuse to serve. We are here because we find it sad that our brothers prefer the Palestinians."
At another end of town, near the Nahalat Shiva quarter, which has known its share of terror attacks in the past, sat Abed, from the East Jerusalem village of Issawiyeh. For 10 years he has sold his wares - small beauty items and candies - in the area, trying to bring home bread for his 13 children. Neither fear nor the lack of buyers deters him. "There, in that cemetery, my grandfather's grandfather's grandfather is buried," he said, pointing toward a nearby Muslim burial place. "Now those dead people, yours and our own, are killing all of us."
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