I recently went back to London for a cousin’s wedding, and the one question I was asked most was “How is it there in Israel now?” How was I feeling about the situation there, how was it before I left, how do I feel about going back.
I left Israel at the end of a particularly bad week, after Palestinians killed three Israelis in two attacks on the same day in Jerusalem, on a bus in Armon Hanetziv and in Makor Baruch, with a fourth victim dying of his wounds two weeks later. It seemed like the situation was only getting worse, every ambulance siren would make your stomach clench and your heart sink as you checked the news, knowing you didn’t want to see what had happened. We felt helpless and weren’t sure how to react, how to go on with routine. Should we just stay home, or be careful, but go out like everything’s normal? Should we go where there are more or less people? Should we carry something to use as self-defence, or not because it could be used against us? Should we check the news to keep updated, or not because it’s depressing and only makes the fear worse?
That evening I’d wanted to go to town for some errands and shopping, but wasn’t sure if that was considered dangerous and something to avoid. I wanted to avoid problem areas, but no one was sure what that meant anymore; I also just wanted to do what I needed, but not to make a point with it. (Nothing like: “I’m going to Jabel Mukaber and no one can stop me! Unless they do.”) So I went to town, even though I was so on edge after that day’s attacks and hearing ambulance sirens the whole morning. But I felt like I shouldn’t have gone. It was nearly empty, I have never seen it so quiet, it was eerie. I thought if even native Israelis were staying home, it was probably a bad idea. I was paranoid and freaked myself out, constantly checking who was around me, every person looked threatening, every rucksack looked suspicious, every hand in a pocket could be hiding a weapon.
I got home feeling like I’d overcome some huge battle of some sort. I think it was a battle with my fear. Or paranoia. I always say I don’t feel Israel is less safe than anywhere else, and that whatever is meant to happen will happen, wherever you are. What’s the point in worrying about attacks when people are hurt and killed by accidents and illnesses anyway. This time I was struggling to reassure myself, and I just wanted to hibernate until things calmed down. But what if they don’t. This is Israel. Terror attacks happen, but we’re resilient and brave and we just go on with things. Except I wasn’t feeling brave at all, I was scared, and I hated it.
Despite that, I didn’t want to leave Israel to go to London. This is my home, this is where I want to be, for good and bad.
In some ways, in London, I felt safer. I felt I could listen to music with earphones on and look at my phone as I walked. Thuggish youths appeared less intimidating. You think you look so threatening? Well, not compared to a psycho-terrorist with a knife. But I felt uncomfortable in other ways. Just being there as an Israeli Jew, I thought of our people being stabbed in the streets, while from here they blame the victims. Most days, I wear a map-of-Israel necklace, yet I often felt the need to hide it.
Dancing and singing at my cousin’s wedding to my favourite Mizrachi tunes, and to our Jewish and Israeli songs about fear and faith in G-d, and of course singing Hatikva, took me right back home.
How was I feeling about going back?
Although I don’t view London as my home, when I’m with my family it feels like I’m living there again, and it’s hard to imagine being away from them again for so long. But I know my real life is in Israel, and even though I was feeling scared when I left 10 days earlier, I wanted to be back because just being there feels like the least I can do, and it somehow strengthens me in a way too.
I left on the most beautiful, sunny London day (it had been grey my entire trip of course), and we landed in Israel in the middle of a storm, which was fitting. It’s not been easy since I’ve been back, but Israel is the place for me and there is no other option.
While I was in London, I got the impression from news and friends’ Facebook posts, that although the situation was mainly the same, people’s reactions had changed — they had got used to our new reality, and were not letting it dictate their lives. It took me a few days to get to the stage everyone else had reached while I was in London, to dial back the fear and paranoia and find a balance of vigilance and normality instead.
The truth is there isn’t always time for fear and paranoia. When you’ve got to get to the Iriya or a doctor’s appointment or whatever, what you actually end up thinking is “a terrorist had better not get in my way, because I’ll be really mad if I miss my appointment — I need to get this sorted out!”