Violence doesn’t discriminate

An Israeli Jew in Jerusalem

“What’s with all the sirens I’m hearing?” asked a friend as her Facebook notification popped up on my phone.  My heart sank. In the middle of dinner preparations for the kids, my world stopped for a moment. I’d just gotten used to hearing sirens for “normal” emergencies without my heartbeat picking up pace while it felt like a fist was slowly closing around my heart.  

I mentally accounted for family members and rushed to the computer to look up the news.  Where was it happening?  The location was readily available on news sites, a massive fire from an explosion on a bus.  My husband was far away from the location, my children were a few feet away loudly requesting to eat, but I was glued to the screen.  My brother-in-law was supposed to be coming from that direction.  

I jumped from site to site looking for more information: What bus number? Were there casualties?  Was it an attack?  How many are injured?  Still, there wasn’t much information.  I called my mother-in-law.  “Have you heard from him yet?” I asked her.  “No, I’m just seeing this now,” she said, anxiety inflecting her voice into a strained pitch.  

The pictures coming from the scene were eerily familiar, a reminder of Jerusalem 15 years ago.  “Not this, not again,” I thought, shaking my head at the computer screen, wishing the images and occurrence away.

I Skyped my parents to let them know we’re fine, but we don’t know about my brother-in-law.  I heard the phone ringing in their home thousands of miles away as other family members called to ask if my parents had heard from me.  These remote connections and assurances could instantly be made, and anxious hearts could still, at least for them, as they knew we were safe.

Information coming from the site of the explosion trickled in slowly.  It was possibly a terror attack.  No, no, no, I continued to shake my head.  

It was just a fire, not an attack, they reported minutes later.  What a relief.  I took a deep breath, calming down slightly.  May these images stay in the past.  

My mother-in-law called to tell me my brother-in-law was fine.  

Shortly thereafter, it was confirmed that it was an attack.  No, not again.  It could have been any of us on or next to that empty bus.  

I stepped away from the computer, shuffling through my mixed feelings, and resumed dinner preparations.

An Israeli-Palestinian in Jerusalem

I was walking home with my friend who is studying here from abroad. The weather was too nice to spend the afternoon on the bus home.

A few minutes later, she decided she was too tired for the walk, so she got on the bus. “When you get home, start chopping the vegetables and I will buy the chicken on my way and then cook it when I get there,” I told her.

As I walked the continuous sound of sirens was not normal. As I walked bit farther a feeling of discomfort intensified because the sirens didn’t stop. It was too close. Then it hit me -- Did something happen on a bus? My friend just got on one!

I called her immediately, and sure enough, it was louder where she was. I told her to get off the bus and wait for me, and I would walk toward her. I could hear the anxiety in her voice and I rushed to meet her. The sirens didn’t stop and as I got to the main street, I came across people on their phones narrating their version of our shared experience, “I was just about to go this place when I heard the news. Where are you?”

I just knew something had happened even though I didn’t have access to the news. I saw my friend at a distance sitting at the bus stop, waiting for the ambulances and police cars to pass through the junction. I waved at her, and she got up and walked in my direction. We went to a quieter street, but the air was still thick with tension and our blood pumped with adrenaline. We looked behind us and saw a large cloud of brown smoke going up toward the sky. We started thinking back on the minutes we were apart, trying to  remember if there was a sudden explosion or anything that could indicate an attack.

“Did you experience this before?” my friend asked. The hype of people rushing around us, the adrenaline in my body, the fear in her voice, and my attempts to eavesdrop on the radio broadcast in one of the parked cars filled my senses. My friend tried to contact her loved ones to tell them she was fine. I knew that if I were to do the same, my family would worry. I needed to know more details about the attack before I said anything to them. Another friend called me to say that a bus exploded, but the circumstances are still unclear, and there are casualties.

We continued our walk home exchanging past similar experiences while conscious of the tension around us. I kept my attention alert to any suspicious movement just in case there would be another attack or a hate crime. Within a short time the streets around us became empty and quiet again. People seemed to seek shelter in their own homes to regain a sense of safety. I wished I too could do the same. I felt unsafe walking the streets as a Palestinian in Jewish neighborhoods. I felt relieved that my friend was an English speaker and we could converse in a foreign language instead of  Arabic. We rushed away from public places, and away from public transportation.

When we arrived at my house, we realized that we forgot to pick up the food, so we ordered pizza instead. In spite of these things, somehow life just goes on.

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