Israeli teens must deal with constant fear

Students in Jerusalem adapt to deadly attacks as part of everyday life

October 22, 2002|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JERUSALEM - Because of the danger, many parents will not allow their teen-age children to go out to discos. Hence, every so often a DJ comes to Ort High School, sets up speakers in an empty room, allowing students to dance between classes.

The convenience store across the street from the school in North Jerusalem is off limits, so a food stand now sells snacks in the school entranceway. Every student has a cellular phone so worried parents can reach their children immediately. The Bible studies teacher keeps a pistol tucked in the waistband of his jeans.

In America, nervous residents are just learning to cope with the terror of a sniper on the loose in the Washington area. Students at this Jerusalem school have long since grown accustomed to living with such fear.

Since the Palestinian uprising began more than two years ago, people here have had to deal with the threat of attacks by militants targeting Israeli civilians - from shooting sprees in the streets to suicide bombers blowing up buses.

As such, they have altered their routines, and to a certain extent their lifestyles. In school, death has become a part of daily discourse in the crowded hallways and in nearly every classroom. A small group of teen-agers interviewed at Ort High School said they talk with a friend about dying at least once a day.

"We get used to it," said Miri Praisman, 16, who quit her summer job because the T-shirt store where she clerked was in the middle of downtown, a prime target area. "We don't stop our lives, but we become very, very careful."

There are, of course, vast differences between what is happening in Israel and in the Washington area. Palestinian militants use suicide bombings as a weapon of war, and claim responsibility for their attacks; the Washington-area sniper remains an elusive, shadowy figure, his motives unknown.

The Ort students argued among themselves which was more dangerous, a known militia group that the army can't seem to stop or an unknown gunman the police can't seem to find.

"We know who is after us, but if we catch them, there are always more," Praisman said. "This will never end. But in America, when they get the shooter, it will be all over."

The reasons for the attacks here and in America may be different, but the fear is similar. No one in Israel knows where the next bomb will go off, which bus is safe. Is it OK to sit in a cafe or go to a movie, eat at a restaurant or walk down Jerusalem's main street?

As around Washington, activities are gradually curtailed depending on where an attack has occurred. Mall parking lots become dangerous, then gas stations and schools. Gradually, everyday routine shrinks and nothing appears to be safe.

"Every time we get on a bus or walk to school, we think, `Will we die today or not?'" said Raya Prihodka, 16, a junior at the Ort school, which has about 1,000 students and serves several neighborhoods, including some in the West Bank.

Still, the school appears to be normal. Students crowd the halls, shouting excitedly, or huddle near lockers - girls whispering about boys, boys talking about girls. A student-run radio station blares during breaks, broadcasting gossip and birthday announcements.

But the school is near several Palestinian communities and is subject to frequent alerts. Two armed guards protect the entrance, and it is not uncommon for police to swarm the area and students to spend the day under lockdown. Some students arrive in bulletproof buses escorted by army jeeps.

A bulletin board near the front door has a photo and a tribute to Ronen Landau, 17, who was shot and killed by a Palestinian gunmen in July 2001 while riding in a car with his father. His mother teaches math at the school.

The year has been particularly difficult for Tom Shoshani, 16, whose friend, Adam Weinstein, 14, was killed along with nine other teens last December in a double-suicide bombing at the Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall downtown.

Weinstein had wanted to visit a safer, guarded, indoor mall. But Shoshani insisted the outdoor mall would be more fun. Shoshani paused to look at a CD in a store window and was saved from the blasts that killed his friend, who had kept walking up the street.

"For two months I was afraid of downtown," said Shoshani, who feels responsible for his friend's death. "But now I think that I have to go about my day. It could happen anywhere. You can't think about it all the time."

His school's counselor, Drora Karniel, has regular therapy sessions with students and has a routine for dealing with attacks. If one occurs nearby or involves a student, classes are suspended and the students are allowed to grieve. The daily lesson becomes a discussion on the incident.

Teachers hold safety drills constantly.

"We have to know what to do if someone comes and starts shooting in the middle of the school," Karniel said.

Part of the routine means always being ready for an attack. Avi Yifrach has taught about the Bible for nine years, and he lectures with a sidearm clearly visible. He has organized teachers and students into safety patrols, fire brigades and escorts. In the event of an attack, his young marshals take charge, helping students to safety or treating the wounded.

He got his gun from the Education Ministry.

"It is not a contradiction of my studies," Yifrach said. "The Bible teaches that if you are threatened, you have the right to defend yourself and to kill.

"If you want to stay alive in our country, you have to be strong and be prepared to attack."

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