Yesterday tragedy struck the capital. Jerusalem bus number 12 exploded, taking along with it an adjacent bus and private car. Over 20 people were injured.
I heard the news on my way home to Tel Aviv. I spent the day at the world’s largest sea water reverse osmosis (SWRO) desalination plant in Hadera, where Israeli technology is transforming sea water into clean water for drinking and farming. I was beaming with pride as I saw the water rush in from the coast and walked the length of the plant to taste the clean water at the end of its journey. Later I visited Nielson Innovate’s startup incubator in Caesarea and saw startups making the world a better place sitting together and learning from one another in an office where you can quite literally write on the walls and play in the grass. My high of pride and excitement was quickly interrupted by the news alert.
Processing tragedy is sadly becoming something to which us Israelis have grown accustomed. For those either far away or in the apartment next to me, I will share my perspective of the cycle of grief that this region necessitates.
The first thing I did was think of my friends in Jerusalem – could anyone close to me be in flames? What was the bus number? Where was the bus when the bomb went off? All of a sudden I’m hot; my body temperature rises and I feel faint from the rush of fear and suspense mingling together. I sit down. Frantically refreshing the news window on my phone, I am clinging to fragments of information. Soon they release basic details of the victims, their ages and genders: A woman 25-years-old –could it be my friend? I pause. I soon realize that none of my friends were hurt and my phone rings. Life sweeps me back into the hustle and bustle of the city.
As I weave through the masses of people on my way home from work, the justification game comes front and center in my mind. It’s Jerusalem, not my city –not my bubble of Tel Aviv.
One of the buses was empty, thank G-d. Initial reports were saying it could have been an engine malfunction, which would make this tragedy still a tragedy, but not a terrorist attack. Somehow that thought is comforting. An explosive device was in fact found on the bus. This was a terrorist attack, regardless of what the foreign media coverage will surely read.
Nevertheless, our instinct is to try to find reasons why it couldn’t happen to us or our loved ones. “I don’t take the bus that much,” “I work off-peak hours,” are some of the lines I’ve heard. Well I do take the bus and train twice a day at peak hours.
The list goes on of shallow facts and hypotheticals that somehow I believe will distance myself from the unexpected disaster of a bomb going off on those individuals’ ride home from work. The truth is, of course it could happen here.
It happened just a few months ago when a terrorist opened fire on a packed bar just down my street. Yet, this cycle of justification is what I need to go on, to pretend that I’m not taking a risk commuting to work or meeting friends for a drink around the corner.
As I approach my apartment, climbing the five flights of stairs, I can’t help but remember the many times during the last war with Hamas that my neighbors and I had to run into the stairwell during the air raid sirens. I picture all of my neighbors in their pajamas and towels and laugh a little to myself as we somehow found the laughter in the horrors of war. It is truly amazing what the human spirit can get used to.
The way Israelis carry on is simply an art. Our cycle of grief may be hard to understand, but the endless determination of our people to live and enjoy life is breathtaking. Just as that bar where bullets once flew is now packed with customers, the buses will still be full and no one will stop living their lives.
We can make drinkable water from the undrinkable waves of the sea, and yet it is nearly impossible to find one Israeli who does not know someone affected by terror. We have come so far: We have made the desert bloom and heat our boilers with the rays of the sun, but not everyone could make it home from work last night.
Israel is not perfect, but no country is. I don’t have the answers, but I do know that we have unbreakable spirits. Perhaps that is the most important thing I’ve learned from my three years of living in this profoundly beautiful and resilient country.