Livin’ in the Hood

0115israelsceneUntil I moved here, East Jerusalem had only meant border patrols, checkpoints, suspicion, hostility and danger. My new street boasted two synagogues, a ritual bath, three hairdressers and a branch of a large supermarket chain. My living room overlooks the Old City walls and the bus to the center of town takes a whopping 15 minutes. The only clear and present danger seemed, at first, to be the forty-year old pipes in the bathroom backing up on me without warning.

This isn’t to say that I was completely unaware that we lived in a ‘mixed’ area; in fact, the first Friday morning I shopped for Shabbat, I was surprised to find that I was among only a handful of Jews in the local market. The place was packed with Arab Muslims, Christian Missionaries and UN personnel, but among the Jews, I was the only ‘anglo.’ The others were Russians, French Moroccans and Ethiopians. Still, from the moment we moved to Armon HaNatziv, we felt we’d made a good choice. It was affordable, in walking distance to both the center of town and the Western Wall, is gaining popularity with young couples, and is a place where, after 20 years in Israel, I’d be forced to speak in Hebrew. Win-win.

But suddenly things aren’t feeling so Woodstock around here. The formerly bucolic Arab villages that encircle my road have turned ominous and a cloud of distrust hangs heavily over the streets, parks and promenades that pepper the local landscape. As always, Adnan at the meat counter greets me with a smile and asks after my family and health. I answer and ask about him and his. But something has changed, barely perceptible, but we both feel it in the way we hold our shoulders or try to control the tightness in our jaws. The murderers who butchered four rabbis at prayer the week before came from his village, Jabel Mukaber. I want to ask if he knew them? Did he approve? Does he feel the same loathing for me and the family he asks about even though he smiles and greets me so warmly? The army has destroyed the homes of the terrorists, deported the wife of one of the murderers, and restricts movement of the villagers over the Jewish sabbath so they can not walk freely among us on our day of rest.  At the bottom of the hill, police sit in cruisers both day and night at the entrance to Zur Bahar, hotbed of the latest riots. I do not ask Adnan what he is thinking nor does he ask me. I imagine that he wants to know if I approve of home demolition or collective punishment. Knowing that my answers would not please him, I still wonder if he could kill me without remorse. After all, the Har Nof killers knew their victims and had worked among them for years.

There is a pall in the ‘hood; streets empty now of Arab and Jewish women enjoying power walks or lazily pushing strollers on a beautiful, sunny morning.  Life continues. In the distance, I hear a siren blare.  Α

New York-born Andrea Simantov is a mother of six who moved to Jerusalem in 1995. She frequently lectures on the complexity and magic of life in Jerusalem and can be contacted at andreasimantov@gmail.com.

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