Is It Safe to Go to Jerusalem?

Despite the obvious tension throughout the city, few of Jerusalem's residents seem to appreciate the idea of their fellow Israelis staying away.

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Jerusalem school children
Jerusalem school childrenCredit: Archive

My kid was supposed to be in Jerusalem today.

If all had gone as planned, he and his high school classmates would be happily sloshing through one of the ancient tunnels in the City of David, known as Hezekiah's Tunnel, which was build to protect the city water supply from an expected Assyrian siege about 2700 years ago. It’s one of the most popular school field trip destinations for teenagers, as it seamlessly combines a history lesson with a fun and adventurous 45-minute underground hike. Your feet get numb as you make your way through the knee-high water, your flashlights giving out an eerie glow along the stone walls, a cool, dark escape from the Middle Eastern sun.

Though it may feel like a Biblical Disneyland once you are underground, the fact remains that it is located in one of the flashpoints of the Palestinian Israeli conflict - the neighborhood of Silwan - where, on Sunday night, there were 21 people injured by stun grenades and foam bullets as Israeli authorities put down “disturbances” related to the funeral of Abdel Rahman Al-Shaludi, the Palestinian who drove into a crowd of light rail passengers last Wednesday, killing a woman and a baby, and injuring several others. Silwan was only one location in the Jerusalem’s weekend of stones, flames, and blood.

And so, the field trip was cancelled, my son’s class was told. Teenage-style, he and his friends thought that calling off the trip was ridiculous. “The trip’s been postponed till there is quiet in Jerusalem,” he said, rolling his eyes, teenager-style. “also known as - never.”

He said it was crazy that his class - many of whom will be in IDF uniform in less than a year couldn't handle possible exposure to unrest - which he thought was unlikely during the day. But the combination of jittery parents and cautious school administration tipped the scales in favor of being better safe than sorry. It just didn't seem like the time for a fun day out in Silwan.

They weren't alone. The evening before, the news leaked out that parents of eighth graders had pressed for the cancellation of a visit to Jerusalem across the city pushed for the cancellation of their trips - they were worried about the children visiting Ammunition Hill, where last Wednesday’s car attack and even the Western Wall.

An overreaction? My neighbor David Schwartz thinks so. On the same day as the cancelled Tel Aviv excursions, Schwartz, took his son and a group of his friends to join in a classmate’s Bar Mitzvah celebration at the Western Wall and said it looked like business as usual. “Everybody was going about their business, the city was flooded with visitors, there were many schoolchildren from around the country, and lots of other Bar Mitzvah groups.”

When I praised him for being braver than Tel Aviv parents and keeping to his plans despite the danger, he joked, “Danger from what, being smothered by European tourists? Or worse, being bowled over by a ululating, darbuka-playing hamula parading to the Kotel to celebrate a Bar Mitzvah?”

David hails from New Jersey and said “Nobody would stop walking along Fifth Avenue if people were burning tires in the Bronx.”

Jerusalem city council member Rachel Azaria would have given David a pat on the back.

She lashed out at her Tel Aviv counterparts on her Facebook wall, “Tel Aviv municipality - you are pissing me off! Your decision to cancel school trips to Jerusalem is infuriating. Tomorrow morning, like every morning, thousands of Jerusalem children will go to school as usual. And if we and our kids can keep our routines going, your kids can take their regularly scheduled trips to Jerusalem.” She called the ability to “stick to a routine” as “the greatest inner strength Israeli society possesses” and said that visiting Jerusalem is “an opportunity to demonstrate solidarity and responsibility.”

But despite the wounded feelings and bravado of Azaria and other officials, Jerusalem residents - even those who don’t live in the heart of the unrest - are clearly uneasy about the current state of affairs - helicopters buzzing overhead non-stop for days, hearing gunshots and small explosions. Those who live on the East and West Jerusalem seam feel it most, but the echoes in the Jerusalem hills mean that the sounds travel to other parts. They find themselves avoiding roads at night that they used to travel freely. Others have stopped travelling on the light rail.

And yet, few of them seem to appreciate the idea of their fellow Israelis staying away. Just a few months ago, residents of the southern half of the country felt isolated and frustrated when residents of the center of the country wouldn't travel there because of Gaza rockets. Now, it seems, Jerusalemites are beginning to understand how they felt.

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