JERUSALEM – I moved from Manhattan to Israel in October 1987, just weeks before the start of the First Intifada.
Living in the Jewish-Arab neigbohorhood of Abu Tor, near the Old City of Jerusalem, I watched Palestinians clash with Israeli Border Police and burn the cars parked on my street. Suicide bombers were blowing themselves up in the streets and hijacking public buses.
Back then I was an unmarried journalist with no kids and covering the “conflict,” though often horrific, often got my adrenaline pumping. I rode the buses and traveled through the West Bank and Gaza because that’s what journalists do.
I was a lot more cautious during the Second Intifada, which began at the end of 2000. Suicide bombings were an almost weekly occurrence during my one-and-only pregnancy. In Jerusalem the situation was so dangerous that I ventured into the city center only when absolutely necessary: for work and doctors’ appointments. I was 43 and miraculously pregnant with twins so I conducted many an interview over the telephone.
There were times, though, that I had to venture into the field. In May 2002, just after the end of the siege of Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, I was standing at the checkpoint to the West Bank town when I felt my first mild contractions, three months too soon. I was six months pregnant but looked ready to pop. One of the soldiers at the checkpoint eye-balled my baby bump and said, “If you were my wife I’d tell you not to enter Bethlehem. What would happen if you gave birth there?” I took his advice and went home, where I was confined to my sofa for the duration of my pregnancy.
When my boys were born, premature but healthy, I silently vowed that I would never again expose them to the kind of terrorism that accompanied their early childhood. If a major war or another intifada broke out, I told myself, we’re out of here. As rooted as I am to Israel – where I’ve lived for 28 years – I didn’t want them growing up in a war zone.
My vow has been tested a couple of times since. In |2011 I had to tell my children that one of their classmates had lost an uncle, aunt and three cousins (the Fogel family) in a terrorist attack in their home – and assure my kids that our home is safe.
It was tested again the summer of 2014 during the war with Hamas. When air-raid sirens wailed in Jerusalem a handful of times we had less than 90 seconds to run down four flights of stairs, to our building’s bomb shelter.
A difficult as these times were, this terror wave feels far worse. My boys are older and I can no longer protect them from reality. They hear it at school and watch the news. It’s not surprising they feel vulnerable.
Until a few days ago my boys, who turned 13 in July, exuberantly ran out of the house to ride their bikes and skateboards through the streets of Jerusalem. I worried about cars, not terrorists. Now they come home from school and stay inside and play video games.
I’m suddenly relieved that the expensive mini-bus I once railed against is taking them to school, and that they don’t have to board a public bus. I’m even more relieved that they’re enrolled in the self-defense class I almost forbade them from taking because I thought it too violent. I’m even relieved that their homeroom teacher packs a weapon, even though I’m a big proponent of gun control.
Still, it tied my stomach up in knots when I asked my kids what they had learned in school one day and one of replied, “How to fight off a stabbing attack. Don’t worry mom, I know how to ‘crippalize’ a terrorist.”
I thought about my vow when, this week, I heard about the 13-year-old Jewish boy who was stabbed by a 13-year-old Palestinian boy. I realized that having just two children isn’t enough in a country where war and terror attacks take so many young lives.
While we could pack our bags and move to my parents house in New York, that’s not an option my husband and I are considering right now.
We live in Israel because Shabbat feels like Shabbat and because kids are welcome virtually anywhere and because if we and other frightened Israelis run away, there may not be a State of Israel in a decade or two. In five years my boys will be called on to defend their country and they take that responsibility seriously.
This weeks my kids attended three bar-mitzva parties. Because life goes on even during the tough times.
As terror rages in Jerusalem it’s tempting for me to keep my kids close, safe and protected. The challenge is not to suffocate them in the process.