Sun, Jul 24, 2016 - Page 7 News List

Israelis share their experiences of living with terror

After decades of suicide bombings, stabbings and vehicular terrorism, Israelis have learned to live in a heightened state of security

By Isabel Kershner and James Glanz  /  NY Times News Service, JERUSALEM

Illustration: Kevin Sheu

For many Israelis, the horrifying images of a truck plowing through crowds for nearly 2km in the French resort town of Nice struck a macabre, familiar chord.

“We had tractors,” said Ami Zini, 49, who runs a boutique on the shopping street of the leafy German Colony neighborhood of Jerusalem. “One of them flipped over a bus with its bucket.”

He was referring to a 2014 attack by a Palestinian resident of the city that killed an Israeli pedestrian.

Nice was an even more direct, if far deadlier, echo of a 2011 rampage in which an Arab-Israeli man’s truck barreled down a Tel Aviv street for more than 1km, killing one and wounding 17.

Those attacks followed a spate of attacks with heavy construction vehicles and cars as weapons in 2008, and, according to the Israeli Security Agency, commonly known as Shin Bet, since October last year at least 32 Palestinians have rammed vehicles into people at bus stops, intersections and military checkpoints.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said after the Nice attack, the nation’s third mass killing in 18 months, that France “must live with terrorism.”

That is what Israelis have been doing for decades, through the airplane hijackings of the 1970s; the suicide bombers of the second intifada, or Palestinian uprising, which began in 2000; and the lone-wolf stabbings and shootings of the past 10 months.

In Israel, ordinary citizens, security officials and experts feel they have seen it all and say they have adapted to a perennial, if ever-changing, threat. They speak of constantly staying alert, exercising caution and growing accustomed to what some might find to be intrusive levels of security, but essentially carrying on.

“There were times when we were afraid to stop our cars at a red light next to a bus,” Zini, whose clothing store is named Rendezvous, to lend an air of French chic, said of the years in which buses were a frequent bombing target. “We live with terrorism, but we are not fearful. It is part of our daily routine.”

That routine includes opening bags for a check and passing through metal detectors at train or bus stations, shopping malls and movie complexes. At the height of the suicide bombings, customers paid a small surcharge at cafes and restaurants to subsidize the cost of a guard at the door.

Hundreds of armed civilian guards have been deployed to protect public transportation in Jerusalem in recent months amid the wave of attacks, which have been glorified by some Palestinians on social media. The guards stand at bus and light rail stops, and hop on and off buses along main routes, with the same powers to search and arrest as the police.

Israel has also invested hugely in intelligence, its tactics evolving as its enemies change theirs.

Several psychological studies in Israel have found that people habituate quickly to threats, making adjustments to daily life — for example, keeping children at home rather than sending them to summer camp — and adopting dark humor about the randomness of the threat.

“If I don’t get blown up, I will meet you at Dizengoff Center in about 45 minutes,” a Tel Aviv bus rider told a friend by telephone, in a conversation overheard by Israeli psychologists researching the aftermath of the second intifada.

The survey of 458 people, led by Yechiel Klar of Tel Aviv University, found that 55 percent had changed their behavior — for instance, spending less time outside the house or making fewer long trips by public transportation.

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