Recently it’s felt like terror threats are the default explanation for everything in Jerusalem. I’m always apprehensive to say that I feel unsafe in Israel because the truth is I never worry about security. I’m much more likely to walk around alone at night here than I am in the states and I generally place more trust in strangers. However, this past week I’ve noticed a presence of threats I can’t ignore.
It began when we received mass texts from the university urging us not to go into East Jerusalem — the Arab part of the city in the West Bank — because of rioting.
The next morning I noticed a back up of cars on my way to school that seemed to extend for blocks. An unattended package had been found near Aroma — Israel’s version of Starbucks — a block away from the entrance to the University. Because all bags left without an owner present a potential threat, an emergency squad blows them all up. The police need to block off the surrounding areas during the explosions, so it generally creates a major disturbance.
Later that day on my way home from class, the security guard at the entrance to the student village stopped me and my friends to search our bags. Bag searching happens everywhere in Israel, but usually we only show our student IDs to enter the village. I asked the guard, half in jest, “Why today?” He replied, in a much more serious tone, “You haven’t heard? We’re at war with Iran.” My jaw dropped in unison with my two Americans friends’. We stood there for a few seconds that felt like minutes. The guard chuckled with a satisfied I got you smile.
Last night I was walking from dinner to Mamilla Avenue — what Israel considers its Fifth Avenue or Champs Elysées. The most central intersection in downtown Jerusalem was closed off by police and soldiers. Roads were closed off with caution tape, traffic flowed in steady U-turns away from the crossing and pedestrian traffic was diverted in circuitous detours. The friend I was walking with and I confidently agreed that the police must have been suspecting terrorist activity.
An hour later, I found out that the intersection around the famous David Citadel Hotel had been closed off for Hillary Clinton’s arrival after talks with top Israeli government officials. I realized how far I’d come from my hometown, Washington, DC. At home, road blocks are almost always for politicians. In Jerusalem, apparently they suggest terror.