“Let’s take a walk,” my husband suggested. And I agreed. It was not yet dark and the air was crisp and cold. Something was happening on Emek Refaim Street, some kind of festival for children. There was a Punch and Judy show, a man dressed like a dinosaur. The kids were crowding the streets, laughing.
We smiled at them as we passed them by.
When we got to the end of the street we decided to turn left and walk past Liberty Bell Park, and then onward towards the lively shopping street of Mamilla. The stretch of sidewalk past the park is long and deserted but next to a busy road. I had my newly acquired super-powerful pepper spray that turns red on contact in my purse (I got it in a gun store in Santa Fe, New Mexico; in Israel they’d run out last time I checked). I turned around every once in a while to check behind me. But no one was there.
Mamilla was alight with Chanukah decorations – strings of fairy lights, menorahs. People were bustling along, going in and out of shops.
“Let’s go in and get a tea,” my husband offered.
We sat down in a coffee house by the window. The tea was steaming in front of us.
“He looks suspicious,” I told my husband, pointing to a man outside in a leather jacket leaning against a light post directly opposite us.
Then someone walked in. Something was bulging in his pocket. I looked at him anxiously, sorry now that I’d suggested Mamilla, which is adjacent to the Old City, a place filled with Palestinian Arabs, who often come to Mamilla to shop and browse.
The man was looking at his watch. The man outside was also looking at his watch. Was this a coordinated activity between them? Or just waiting for someone?
“To you, everybody looks suspicious,” my husband chided, in no hurry to drink his tea.
I exhaled. That was true. I leaned back. Whatever was going to happen, was going to happen.
I forgot about the man outside, who eventually came inside. Up close, he didn’t look at all suspicious, the good lighting outlining his nice brown leather jacket, making his face so normal and unthreatening, quite the opposite of how he’d seemed to me in the dark.
He too simply ordered something to eat, then waited in line to pick it up.
I finally relaxed, sipping my tea, reading snippets in the paper.
“You know that terrorist at the Promenade in Tel Aviv? He said at his trial that he expected, wanted, to die. To be a martyr.”
Then I read about the terrible massacre in San Bernardino. “Work place violence, right,” I scoffed. “Everybody just happens to have camouflage suits, assault rifles, pipe bombs, and thousands of rounds of ammunition handy in case anyone ticks them off at work.”
We walked home slowly, hand in hand. But before we left Mamilla, police sirens began to blare, along with ambulances and the sound of a helicopter overhead. We checked our phones.
A terrorist had attacked a border guard at Damascus Gate. The guard was lightly injured. The terrorist was “neutralized.”
It’s a new word. It means dead, or disabled, or out of the picture, no longer a threat of any kind.
We continued our walk. To my surprise, I felt less nervous now, not more. It had happened. To someone else. And the terrorist was “neutralized.” It was over, I thought irrationally, as if that meant it wouldn’t be repeated, at least not tonight.
“You know, they keep attacking soldiers, border guards, people with guns. They want to die. They want their 72 virgins. That’s why they keep doing it. Not because they think they’ll win. Or even because they are angry. It’s their religious duty. It’s a way out of a life made disgusting by the immoral demands of their ‘faith.’ That’s why they are dying like lemmings. They’ve created lives not worth living.”
When we got back to Emek Refaim, the dinosaur man was sitting down in a chair taking a rest. But the Punch and Judy show was still going strong, the crowd of children even larger, their laughter filling the now well-lit streets, as Israelis went about living their lives, lives worth living.