While walking from Jerusalem’s Jaffa Street to the Old City, I spent the first three minutes looking at everyone and wondering if they were going to stab me. This was stupid on the grounds of it being highly improbable, and because, in those moments of distraction, I was more likely to be hit by a tram.

However, it reminded me of the effects of the “knife intifada” on the human psyche, and partially explains why the number of tourists visiting Jerusalem is dropping.

Officially, there is no problem. Unofficially, there is.

Security was strict. Proportionally more Arab Christians this year than usual.

For the country as a whole, visitor figures are slightly up on the first three months of last year, albeit well below pre-2014 Gaza war levels. However, the overall statistics do not tell the story of what is happening in specific areas.

Since September, 28 Israelis and two American tourists have been killed in Palestinian attacks. More than 180 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli gunfire, of which the Israeli authorities say at least 135 were attackers.

The Hebrew University has warned overseas students not to visit “sensitive areas”, for example around the Damascus Gate, where several stabbings have taken place. Other organisations have issued similar advice. The effects are plain to see.

I took a mid-morning walk through East Jerusalem from Damascus Gate, up along Salah-al-Din street, all the way up to the Sheik Jarrah district, pausing only for coffee and newspapers. Then I looped back past the Al Quds University, re-entering the Old City by Lion Gate. During the one-hour walk, I saw four tourists.  “It’s very bad,” said a shopkeeper. “I don’t get any busy days now.” ‘Lesh” I asked – “Why?” He smiled and shrugged. “You already know, it’s the ‘situation’.”

The Old City was busy, but this was Easter, and it should have been packed. Heading south towards the Western Wall it was obvious security had been seriously intensified with far more groups of  police and border guards than usual stationed at the intersections of the narrow Old City streets. This added to the slight air of tension, but one that dissipated upon passing through the metal detectors and into the Jewish Quarter.

I went up to see Moshe and Dov Kempinski at the Shorashim Biblical Shop, always a good place to take one of the many pulses beating in the heart of the Eternal City. “We’re down in numbers, not as bad as elsewhere in the Jewish Quarter, but over in the Muslim Quarter the numbers are really down. We are seeing “purposeful tourism” – people going to specific places,” said Moshe.

The tradition of walking the Stations began in the mid 4th Century CE. The route has changed over the years.

This being Easter, there was a specific time to be in a specific place. Christians from the world over were in town to walk the Stations of The Cross, following what they believe was the route Jesus took whilst carrying his cross on the way to be being crucified by the Romans. In a corner of the Via Dolorosa by the third station (where Jesus fell for the first time) the police had set up metal barriers to contain the crowds, and construct a ‘media pen’ for the photographers.

Usually, the whole of the Via Dolorosa is closed off as wave after wave of the faithful pour through the Old city on their way to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. To prevent crushes, groups of several hundred stop-start along the route. This year rhere was no need and in fact a passageway was created down one side of the Via for people to go about their business as usual.

The first wave came – men carrying crosses, nuns clutching rosary beads, women in African dress, Americans, priests chanting in Latin, and many Arab Christians. Then the next wave, then the third. And then it was over. The barriers came down, the media photographers left, and the Arab café owners who’d been happily plying their trade to sightseers looked on mournfully as the tail of the procession disappeared.  “Jeez,” said an Israeli tour guide who was with a visiting American couple from Wisconsin –  “That’s it?”

That was it. Terror hurts everyone.

Adapted from an article in the UK’s Jewish Chronicle




5 Comments on "Letter From Jerusalem"

  1. mahatmacoatmabag | 1st April 2016 at 1:55 pm | Reply

    “I spent the first three minutes looking at everyone and wondering if they were going to stab me.” Well that sounds like anybody going about their normal business in a South or East London street, the only difference being the slow response by the unarmed UK Police & if you are lucky an ambulance will eventually arrive to take you to an overcrowded A & E or if unlucky the morgue. In late March in 2015 I escorted my cousins visiting from the UK around Jerusalem, like you we walked down Jaffa Street to the Old City, visiting the Tower of David Museum near the Jaffa Gate, then on to the Western Wall & back through the Old City’s narrow streets out to the Mamilla Mall where we had a fish meal in the Cafe Rimon & later we walked back up Jaffa street to the Mahane Yehuda Market. By that time we were worn out & got a bus from the Jerusalem central bus station back to Tel Aviv. It was peaceful & quiet, nobody stabbed us, we didn’t even get overcharged anywhere or harassed by hawkers in the Old City, the Western Wall was full with visiting tour groups, the cafe & the market were all busy despite it being Wednesday mid-morning through the mid-afternoon. Quite frankly its safer to walk around most parts of Israel than the UK any day except in East Jerusalem or Judea & Samaria when Hamas & PA whip up trouble to get the EU to cough up more aid money for their leaders Swiss bank accounts. If you must know some of us in Israel don’t call it the “knife intifada” we call it the Abbas-ifada.

    • The stats say that you are twice as likely to be murdered in Israel than in the UK with the respective rates per 100,000 being 2 for Israel and 1 for the UK.

      • mahatmacoatmabag | 1st April 2016 at 8:10 pm | Reply

        In Israel the stats are distorted by the spike in terrorist murders specifically of Jews in East Jerusalem, Judea & Samaria unlike the UK where the motivation is principally criminal in nature and is a long term problem of British society

        • The murder trend in the UK is actually downward, the number of murders has almost halved since 2003 and is lower than in the early 80s. Last year Scotland recorded its lowest number of murders since comparable records began in 1976. All murder data is skewed to some extent, by far the biggest type in the UK is domestic/killing an ex partner but it doesn’t alter the fact that a murder is a murder and on average your twice as likely to be a murder victim in Israel than in the UK.

  2. Tim, I was in Jordan during the build up to the invasion of Iraq and remember myself and my wife having Petra practically to ourselves, same at Jerash and all of the other well trodden sites. At that time I wasn’t overly worried about the risk to ourselves but there would be no chance of me visiting now even if I hadn’t been already. The problem for Israel, Jordan and other stable middle eastern countries is that while the overall risk of being attacked may be low there are plenty of other places to visit which have a lower chance of this happening. No tourist industry exists in a bubble and there lots of great things to see all over the world without having to worry about people trying to kill you. On the package holiday front this year Turkey and Egypt’s loss is going to be Spain and Portugals gain.

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