On Tuesday mornings, I wake up earlier than usual to catch the 8:05 am express bus to Beer Sheva. Ideally, I would be up by 7:00, eat a proper breakfast and even make lunch. Most of the time, though, by the time I hear my alarm clock, I barely have enough time to remember to put my shoes on. Luckily, my apartment is about an 11 minute walk from the Jerusalem Central Bus Station. I usually just make the bus to classes at Ben Gurion University in Beer Sheva.
Tuesday, Nov 18th was different than most Tuesdays. On that Tuesday, it wasn’t the pretty alarm clock ringtone that subtly suggested I get out of bed. That Tuesday, the sounds of sirens were my alarm clock. Aside from being close to the bus station, my apartment is also very near an emergency room at Shaare Tzedek Hospital. Sirens are almost background noise. On that Tuesday, the sirens were different in that for close to an hour, they didn’t stop sounding. I sensed, however, that something wasn’t right. I dressed and went down to catch my bus.
On Tuesday mornings, I commute to Ben Gurion University with two other students who regularly share my bus: a Jewish woman and a young Arab Israeli male nurse, “Ibrahim.” On the bus, I usually look for a row with two empty seats; it’s easier to fall asleep that way. That morning, however, I had no such luck. So I sat down next to my Arab classmate Ibrahim. We exchanged a friendly good morning and sat in silence. And then, just a few hundred feet from the station, our bus came to a halt along with hundreds of other cars. We were not moving. Ibrahim thought it might have been a traffic accident that caused the highway closure. The sirens, however, were coming from the west, and we traveling north. I pulled out my phone and saw the news.
I turned to Ibrahim and said, “Haya piguah” (there was a terror attack).
Ibrahim shook his head. He then told me that the attack had occurred because the police had not done a sufficiently thorough enough inquiry into the circumstances of the examination of the Arab bus driver who had been found hanged a few days earlier. He said many in the Arab community believed the bus driver had been murdered, even though the official autopsy indicated it had been suicide. My internal first reaction (which I did not act upon) was to consider slapping him and how he could possibly equate the two: four worshipers butchered in a synagogue on the one hand and, at best, inconclusive results of the apparent suicide of a bus driver. Ibrahim must have sensed my outrage because he quickly remarked that there was no excuse for the murders that Tuesday morning.
Ibrahim and I continued to talk about what happened that morning — and about everything that had been happening recently in the country. He was genuinely surprised that I had chosen to come to this country alone. He wanted to know if I was scared. He told me that lately he had been seeing too many people rushed to the hospital and that no religion would allow what the men the Arab attackers had done that morning in the name of religion. He said that 99% of Arabs in Israel just want to coexist. Although part of me wanted to believe that statistic, another part had trouble believing the statistic was that high.
Ibrahim is a successful nurse in the geriatric ward at Hadassah hospital. He takes care of Jews, Muslims and others. According to Israeli law, everyone, (yes, even a terrorist) who arrives at a hospital must be given medical care. Ibrahim’s Arab and Jewish counterparts in the ER treat all patients equally. If anyone would like further proof of Israeli democracy, you will find it in the hospitals. On that Tuesday morning, Yerushalayim’s already fragile situation was shattered. The images of men wrapped in prayer shawls and drenched in blood overwhelmed our newsfeeds. We were left angry, scared and helpless as 26 children instantaneously became orphans.
On Tuesday morning, as two Muslim men murdered my people, I (admittedly nervously) sat next to an Arab Muslim nurse as we traveled to Beer Sheva to our graduate program in gerontology to learn about caring for the elderly. There are evil people out there who will ruin the lives of others for the sake of their warped ideologies. And then there are people like Ibrahim who is respected and respectful and although he feels discrimination at times as an Arab citizen of Israel, also finds it unfair that I have to be fearful for my life in Israel because I am a Jew. As of yet, although I think Ibrahim’s statistic that 99% of Arabs in Israel just want to live in peace, is overly optimistic, I continue to hope that there are more Ibrahims out there who choose in whatever capacity, to save lives, and not destroy them.
The picture that I have I included in this article is a view from my apartment window. There is a blessing from Psalms (128:5) that we often bestow upon others: May G-d bless you from Zion and may you see the good of Jerusalem all the days of your life. And may your children see peace for Israel. I believe that what makes Jerusalem so beautiful is: that no matter how much suffering the Jewish people have gone through simply to live peacefully in Jerusalem, we have always strived to see the good in this city. Whether it’s a sunset, gathering for prayer in a synagogue that moments before saw so much death or a candid conversation between an Arab and a Jew on a bus, there is no city in the world where so much beauty and so much pain exist side-by-side than in Jerusalem. May we always see its goodness.