Friday, October 18, 2002

Gilo, DC

The sniper in the greater Washington DC area, and people’s reactions to the danger posed by him (or her), is eerily reminiscent of our life here in Israel. In particular, it reminds me of when the sniping started at the Southern Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo, which overlooks Bet Jalla, not far from Bethlehem.

When our friends and family outside of Israel heard about the shooting, they immediately assumed that we were within firing range, that all of Jerusalem was in immediate and constant danger.

We countered with a joke that made its way around these parts it’s not all of Jerusalem, you see; it’s just a particular neighborhood of Jerusalem that’s in danger. Actually, it’s not the entire neighborhood, it’s just the part that borders on the Bet Jalla valley. Actually, it’s not all of that part of the neighborhood, it’s just this one street. Actually, it’s just Dudu Schwartz’s house next to the Feinberg’s and across from the makolet. Actually, it’s really only the window in the living room on the second floor that’s in danger, and then only if you’re sitting on the left side of the couch.

In both Gilo and DC, there is truth, and non-truth in the joke. Yes, you have to know where to stand, but terror is by its very nature indiscriminate. What allows you to live with it is your level of intimacy with a place.

I don’t have that kind of intimacy with the U.S. East Coast. So, despite my daily Israeli experience with terror, I still wouldn’t go anywhere near the great states of Maryland and Virginia or the District of Columbia right now. My knowledge of the DC area is like DC folks’ knowledge of Jerusalem topography, so as far as my feelings are concerned, the entire region as a whole is under siege.

Maybe this is a natural reaction to danger in far away and “foreign” places. To most Westerners, all of Bali is off-limits; every corner in Belfast is a risk to life and limb; the entire country of Serbia is a ticking time bomb. It’s not right, it’s not logical, but it’s the way we think.

Just as it’s natural to draw comparisons. Janine Zachariah is a correspondent for the Jerusalem Post. She lives in the DC danger zone, but also spent five years in Israel. In an article in Wednesday’s Post, she wrote: “Home Depot parking lots and gas stations in the DC suburbs are (now) the equivalent of unguarded outdoor cafes and buses in Jerusalem. You (just) don't go there.”

But there are also differences between Gilo and DC, important ones. Danny Gordis points out in his latest Israel Dispatch that eventually the DC sniper (or snipers) will be caught and life will return to “normal” in that part of the world. Here, there is no one sniper, there are thousands and there is always another waiting to take his or her place. Our nightmare will not end so soon.

My brother is visiting the Washington DC area right now. Logic says he’s more likely to be killed in a traffic accident on the way back to his hotel than by the sniper. But my gut hopes he’s not pumping gas next to a Home Depot.

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