John Davison
Last updated: 20 November, 2014

In Jerusalem, randomness of attacks scares Israelis and Palestinians alike

It's a sunny morning in Jerusalem, the cafes are full and the shops are bustling, as if this week's attack on a synagogue, the deadliest in years, had changed nothing of the city's daily routine. And yet.

Israelis and Palestinians in the Holy City have been accustomed to living with the threat of violence for decades, but recent weeks have seen fears rise to new levels, with random, deadly assaults targeting ordinary citizens in broad daylight.

A spate of “lone wolf” attacks by Palestinians, reprisals by hardline Jews and a growing focus on religious confrontation have left both sides living in dread of what will come next.

Sipping a coffee outdoors at a west Jerusalem cafe, Ayelet Blass said even hardened Israelis are finding it difficult to come to terms with the city’s new reality.

“The randomness is scary,” she said. “I’m afraid to walk around — God knows what’s going to happen, even in the middle of the day.”

Just down the road, Palestinian taxi driver Shadi said similar fears were felt by the city’s Arab residents.

“I’m more scared living and working here now than in a long time. Especially after the death of that bus driver,” Shadi said, referring to an east Jerusalem Palestinian who was found hanged in his vehicle this week.

Israeli police say it was suicide, but Palestinians believe it was a religiously motivated murder.

“I now avoid driving into religious Jewish areas, because I’m afraid I’ll pay the price,” Shadi, who refused to give his last name, said as he worked on his broken-down cab.

“If I see a Jewish couple, I’ll pick them up — they’re less likely to be a threat. But if it’s three young guys, especially hardline religious men, I don’t take them.”

‘It can kick off suddenly’

Tensions have been rising in Jerusalem since the bodies of three kidnapped young Israelis were discovered in late June, leading to a revenge attack in which a Palestinian teenager was abducted and burned alive.

Controversial efforts to give Jews more access to the flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound have fuelled unrest, along with a slew of new Israeli settlement projects in east Jerusalem.

Stone-throwing Palestinians have clashed frequently with police and over the last month Jerusalem has seen a wave of apparently impromptu attacks on Jews.

Palestinian drivers have twice rammed their vehicles into crowds of pedestrians, leaving four dead. Both attackers were shot dead by police.

The tensions culminated Tuesday in the city’s worst attack in years, as two Palestinians used a gun and meat cleavers to kill five people at a synagogue before being shot dead by police.

The target of the attack — a place of worship in a usually quiet suburb far from Arab areas — has especially unnerved many Israelis.

“I was a soldier, I served in the (occupied) territories. In certain areas there’s an argument” for Palestinian attacks, said Daniel Makover, sitting with Blass at the west Jerusalem cafe.

“But it’s eerie that it happened in an area that’s uncontested… and in a synagogue, of all places,” he said.

After Tuesday’s attack, many Palestinians — like sisters Abir and Dawlat Abu Nijmeh — say they are even more afraid of reprisals.

“There are a lot of knives being carried, and we’re scared people will take revenge,” Abir said, as the two shopped for clothes.

“The situation is bound to get worse, with attacks from both sides,” she said.

“We know not all Jews are like that,” said Dawlat, “but it can kick off very suddenly.”

In east Jerusalem, bookshop owner Imad Muna said he felt more of a target for both extremists and Israeli security forces.

“Tensions are higher. There’s much more venom between the Palestinians and Israelis at the moment.

“We’re trying not to go alone into Israeli areas, especially at night. We’ll go in groups if necessary, but we won’t let our children go.”

“Even in east Jerusalem we’re under pressure. Police stop and search cars more, it’s intimidating. They’re cracking down even on minor offences like parking.”