To this day, I find myself rattled at the sound of sirens. Then I count them off. Three sirens tell me everything I need to know. A quick glance at the news websites, the requisite call from Mom or my wife, the endless stream of Whatsapp messages – and then we’re back to normal, supposedly.
Inevitably, memories of the Second Intifada come to mind. They were never truly gone anyway; every Jerusalemite, myself included, carries them in his or her heart. Riding the bus, walking through city center or the market – our eyes still instinctively seek out the man with the oversized backpack, or the one wearing an overcoat in the midst of summer. Everything reminds us of that which we could never forget: the feeling of sheer terror, the youth we lost, the “routine” we’ve managed to impossibly get used to, this abnormality that became quite normal.
Not only did we lose our dearest: friends, acquaintances, relatives. We also lost ourselves in the fright and insecurity. There was no one who didn’t know someone, who knew someone, who joined the terrible circle of grief.
Jerusalem, home to some of the bloodiest attacks of the time, was scarred, more so than any other city in Israel. From the ashes of mental and financial duress, and through tenacity and hard work, we were able to slowly rebuild that which was shattered. Piece by piece, step by step, ten years later we were on our feet again.
Today, Jerusalem is vibrant and attractive, drawing thousands of newcomers to its top-notch higher education institutions. Two weeks ago, the academic year was inaugurated, and more than 40,000 new students took their first classes. The cultural sphere is blooming, with a variety of events taking place around the city on any given day. Millions of tourists flood the city every year.
Mahane Yehuda Market has become the number one site for culinary experience in Israel. The Jewish Quarter and the rest of the Old City, the renovated Jaffa and Mamila Streets, all of these are a perfect example of the trademark Jerusalem blend – progress and modernity living alongside history and heritage. Leena, featuring the very best hummus in the country; The 12,000-seat Jerusalem Arena, a world-class multipurpose stadium inaugurated just a couple of months ago; The Formula One Race and Road Show, held just last month. These are evidence that Jerusalem is now a player on the international sports scene.
Yet it is this very same Jerusalem that’s been on the news these past few months. Civilians deliberately run over, rock throwing, arson, Molotov cocktails, and other instances of physical and verbal confrontations between Jews and Arabs have been plaguing the city on a daily basis.
This escalation has also seeped into the public discourse, on social networks and on the city streets. Recent events have threatened to tear apart the delicate fabric of relations between East and West Jerusalem, and locals are struggling to maintain a sense of security.
As public representatives, we have called for peace and quiet to return wherever we’ve gone. We have tried to alert the authorities and the public to the growing threat and to the fear we now experience under this sordid reality. We have urged the government to step in and give additional authority to the police. We have demanded stronger enforcement, alongside real efforts to promote genuine dialogue among leaders and ordinary people.
We have cried out for sanity to return to Jerusalem.
But Jerusalem has an entirely different problem. The government of Israel is quite comfortable seeing Jerusalem as a symbol, a nearly metaphysical object. Our politicians can announce constructions and demolitions and tag along on tours or ceremonies. But they stop short of recognizing our Jerusalem, the Jerusalem of our daily lives, where we live, work, raise children and go out. Perhaps they’ve grown numb to the plight of ordinary Jerusalemites; perhaps it would take an outside perspective to convince them something needs to be done.
Yes, Jerusalem is and will remain the subject of much debate and friction on the national and international fronts; that which begins in Jerusalem does not stay confined within city limits for long. But if the entire world, Israel included, knows how to use our city for political purposes when it wants to, then it had better also know how to help it run its life. Statements about construction or demolition cannot suffice in developing our city; we need educational programs to teach our youth about how to grow up in a mixed city, significant improvements in infrastructure, stronger law enforcement and support for moderate, meaningful dialogue. This time, we don’t want to go at it alone.
The scars of the Second Intifada have barely healed, and we refuse to go back to those dark days. We want to be the last generation to have the word Intifada in its vocabulary, the last generation to experience hatred and violence on such a scale. We want a different reality, and we want our city to be treated as a real place, with all its complexities. We want our voice, and the voices of our friends all over the world, to be heard:
We want our Jerusalem back.
Hanan Rubin (32) is a member of Jerusalem city council & the holder of the portfolio for young adults, families & students