There is commentary and there are facts. I’ll start with the facts:
At approximately 4:30 p.m. today, I was riding on the second car of the Jerusalem light rail train, heading towards Ammunition Hill (Givat HaTachmoshet). As it arrived at Damascus Gate, one of very few stops where guards are required to wear protection vests, passengers got off and on, and then suddenly there was a loud disturbance in the back of the rail car in which I was riding.
Everyone starting running forward, a few people were yelling. The doors at the front had already closed. As I looked to the rear, I saw a small cloud of smoke and heard noise coming from outside. Just to the side of the train station platform, I saw very little other than what looked like an attempt by several people to converge on something or someone while there was more yelling both outside and in the train.
The doors to the train closed. People were trying to understand what was happening. There was some panic until it became clear that the Arab that had sprayed the tear gas was not locked into the car with us, but had fled the rail car as the doors were closing.
As people asked what happened, those that had been in the back explained that an Arab had pulled out tear gas and started spraying it and then, as the doors were about to close and people were trying to get away, he ran out onto the platform and presumably beyond. When I looked back, the air looked dusty and there seemed to be a small cloud in the back of the rail car, which was, after the first few seconds, completely empty.
An Arab woman who had been sitting opposite me, managed to push her way passed everyone so that she was standing right next to the first doors, farthest away and shielded by everyone else.
People attempted to hail the driver, who it seems ignored all signals of distress. A slight amount of the tear gas drifted forward enough to give a slight feeling of it in the air. The train moved to the next stop where many people got out. Someone hailed security. They came into the train and made everyone go to the first car. I can only hope they checked the train before it began to move.
The next stop was the same, and then we arrived at Ammunition Hill where the train was checked again.
The reaction of the people on the train was a combination of anger and shock. My best guess is that there were about 40 – 50 people in the car at the time. A few people complained of burning eyes, with about 10 minutes, my throat was bothering me some, but not too seriously.
And now my commentary:
As terror attacks go, this was a minor event. It won’t make CNN or BBC, but it should make the Jerusalem Post, the Times of Israel, and other Israeli news media. It could have been so much worse – in fact, it is in and of itself a gift and a miracle that it wasn’t worse. It could have been a bomb – there was no security person on the train with us and we were, for all intents and purposes, prisoners within a rail car that was shut down with a threat inside the car until we reached the next stop.
No security person could have helped us if the Arab had run deeper into the car, rather than out of it. Shouting by the people in the car, attempts to push the emergency call buttons proved worthless.
Daily, Arabs ride the light rail – by the thousands. There is rarely an incident; even in the past few weeks, I have never seen any Arabs harassed on the trains that I ride almost daily. What anger we feel inside, we keep to ourselves. Today, for the first time, I heard great anger from the passengers and still no one made any attempt to say anything to the few Arabs who remained on the train after the incident (most jumped off at the same time that the Arab in the back jumped off) or got out immediately at the next stop.
No one was hurt, other than some burning eyes and some scratchy throats. But make no mistake – this was a terror attack. Perhaps the chosen weapon was a poor choice, but that doesn’t change those frightening moments of fear and confusion until we realized that everyone was okay, that the threat had fled.
Every missile attack is a crime against Israel and against civilized society. Today’s tear gas attack was also a crime. The fact that Gaza’s rockets are, for the most part, deflected by Iron Dome or hit open fields does not lessen in any way the crime being committed.
I am not angry at the Arab who did this; perhaps saddest of all is that I expect little better. And I know on the scale of what is happening in the rest of Israel, this was a minor and thankfully inept attempt to disrupt lives and cause terror.
But I also think it is wrong to ignore what was done today, just as it is wrong to become complacent because the rocket “only” hits the communities that surround Gaza, or Asheklon, Beersheva, or Ashdod.