Jerusalem Adapts to Strange Terror Routine, Again

The current terror wave is completely different to the second intifada, but Jerusalemites are learning to live with the complex reality.

Locals - all ultra-Orthodox men - congregate at the scene of a terror attack in Jerusalem's Romema neighborhood, December 6, 2015.
Emil Salman

The stabbing and car-ramming attack in Jerusalem’s Romema neighborhood on Sunday evening was the capital’s fourth terror attack in the past week. It seem that Jerusalem, like the West Bank, has settled down to a rather strange routine. Young Palestinians – sometimes women, sometimes even children – try to attack passersby or police officers and are quickly shot, usually to death. In most cases, they do not even manage to seriously injure their victims before being shot.

In the four most recent incidents, a total of five people were injured in the attacks – four lightly and one in moderate condition. All the terrorists bar one were shot and killed. It seems that none were dispatched by any organization, and none gave much thought to the planning of the attacks.

The pictures of knives at the various attacks also seem to indicate that the motive for the attack was a spontaneous, almost irrational burst of anger: the weapons used were all pocket or kitchen knives.

Meanwhile, what would have seemed an unbearable situation a few months ago has become, out of a lack of choice, part of the daily routine. It’s like the summer of 2014 and the wave of violence that followed the murder of Arab-Israeli Mohammed Abu Khdeir and Operation Protective Edge in Gaza. The feeling at the time was that Jerusalem was sinking into a deep crisis, but then, too, the city paid a price but learned to adapt.

People changed their habits: They started getting off the light rail train at the stop before Shoafat in East Jerusalem and taking a bus instead; Jews avoided stores in the eastern parts of the city, while Palestinians avoided the various entertainment hot spots in the western part. That wave of violence has been accompanied in recent months by a new wave characterized by knife attacks. But the deep crisis we remember from the time of the second intifada (in 2000-2005) has not returned.

Jerusalem has undoubtedly changed, though, and the routine has been damaged. Store owners, cabdrivers and shoppers all agree that recent events have caused a change in the public’s movements in downtown areas. There is also additional damage to businesses dependent on tourism, as well as severe harm to businesses in the Old City. A number of businesses in the city center closed last week, including some long-established establishments.

Paramedics remove the body of a terrorist from the scene of an attack on a Jerusalem street, December 6, 2015. Traffic is at a standstill.
Emil Salman

The pupils who served as crossing guards near their schools are still not back on the streets, following pressure from parents. But as of now, it seems the residents of Jerusalem have adapted to the stabbing attacks: On Sunday, the coffee shops downtown were full, ditto the light rail trains. It’s hard to say there’s a dread of the next stabbing attack.

During the suicide bombing attacks of the second intifada, the emergency services and municipality developed a rather horrifying routine to quickly erase them from the public domain. Some specialized in cleaning up the blood stains, others collected body parts, while the police worked hard to reopen roads and restore routine as soon as possible.

The scope of the latest terror wave is completely different, but efforts to swiftly erase events are also evident in the recent attacks. But even the most optimistic Jerusalemite understands that this is effective only up to a point. The longer the terror attacks continue, so the chances of a much more serious attack increase – and, along with it, substantial harm to daily life in Jerusalem.