After Years of Calm, Fear Is Dividing Jerusalem

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An Israeli soldier secures the area following a stabbing attack Israeli police said was carried out by a woman near the police headquarters in Jerusalem on October 12, 2015. Credit: AFP

After a particularly difficult day – even for weathered Jerusalem reporters – good news arrived from the Hadassah-Ein Kerem Hospital: The condition of the 13-year-old boy stabbed on his bike in Pisgat Ze'ev has slightly improved following a long and complicated surgery. The rumors of his death were premature.

Read the latest analyses and opinions on the escalating violence throughout Israel and the West Bank: Israel's 'Mr. Security' tells nation 'it could be worse’ as terror attacks multiply (Yossi Verter) | War-weathered Israelis feeling helpless in wake of 'unpredictable' attacks (Judy Maltz)

At the end of the day, many questions about this spontaneous and murderous violence arose. The boy on the bike was stabbed by another 13-year-old, Ahmed Mansara from Shoafat. The two lived not too far apart. Anyone who wants to understand what's going on in Jerusalem must tackle the issues of the involvement of teens and children in the stabbing attacks. Three out of five assailants in Jerusalem on Monday were under 18. Ahmed was the youngest.

In the Israeli public discourse, the children's murderous violence should prove that no group or organization is behind these acts and that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's accusations of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and of the Israeli Arab lawmakers of demonic incitement are completely baseless. It is highly doubtful that Ahmed knows who the Palestinian president is, and he certainly has no idea who Haneen Zoabi is. It's likely that Facebook debates and photos of dead Palestinian terrorists posted online had a lot more influence on him. Therefore, calm will not be achieved by Israel implementing a shoot-to-kill policy against every suspected terrorist and adding more dead bodies to the pile, despite what most of Israel's politicians might say. On Monday evening, a shocking video was massively shared on Arab social media showing Ahmed lying on the light rail tracks after he was shot by police officers. This video will likely make more teens try to stab a soldier or a Jewish civilian. The circle of violence will continue.

But difficult questions must also be asked regarding the long-term effects this violence could have on Jerusalem. Jerusalemites' sense of security was already eroded in the summer of 2014, when violent protests and vehicular attacks spread following the murder of Mohamed Abu Khdeir and the rising tensions on Temple Mount. But the spontaneous knifings, which spread on Monday far beyond the limits of the Old City - to Pisgat Ze'ev in the north and to the Chords Bridge in the west - are starting to exert an influence on citizens' day-to-day activities for the first time in many years: A rising number of parents are grounding their children at home; residents are avoiding crowded places and locations deemed likely to draw attackers; shopping in the Old City or in East Jerusalem has become an extreme sport.

The last time Jerusalemites' sense of safety was destabilized so badly was during the second intifada in the early 2000s. The repercussions were disastrous – a serious blow to Jerusalem's economy and social structure that some say the city has never recovered from. But these harsh times were forgotten in the calm years which followed. Until the 2014 riots it was evident that the city was not only thriving but was more unified than ever before. Palestinians work and spend time in the west side of the city and Israelis, though to a lesser degree, visit and shop in the east. But on Monday the residents of Jerusalem - both Israelis and Palestinians – amended their mental map of their city, feeding it with calculations of risk and dread. Both sides now think twice before crossing to the other side of the city or to the adjacent neighborhood. Fear is dividing Jerusalem.

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