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Just Another Normal Jerusalem Day?
by Judy Lash Balint
Israel National News Radio commentary
November 4, 2001

This is what passes for normal these days: A day that starts with newspaper headlines noting that Fatah claims responsibility for the murder of a 19 year old soldier on Friday, along with front page photos of the crowds gathered in Tel Aviv last night to commemorate the 6th anniversary of the murder of Yitzhak Rabin.

In the center of town, fresh signs offer official apologies for the inconvenience of roadworks due to the construction of a tunnel running the length of the north-south Route number 1. Kikar Tzion, the once- lively square at the bottom of the Ben Yehuda mall is completely torn up. Pedestrians tentatively pick their way through the sand and wooden planks littering the pathway in front of the street that once was a magnet for the tourist throngs.

Today, the only visitors around seem to be a small group of grey-haired non-Jewish Scandinavians who stand out in their pale leisure suits, cameras bobbing over their chests.

They’re accosted by a youngish Hasid weaving his way through the streets with a megaphone, loudly proclaiming his message in Hebrew and English: “Mashiach (Messiah) is coming, no one should worry, Mashiach is coming.”

At a sidewalk café where I stop for more extensive people-watching, a slender hip, young man is deep in conversation with his girlfriend at the next table. A tiny knitted kippa is clipped onto his thick wavy hair that’s pulled back in a neat pony-tail.

Across the street I notice that the Russian-speaking musician who could be seen and heard every day outside Sbarro’s Pizza shop just up Jaffa Rd, has migrated down to a new spot in front of the Village Green restaurant. His amplified mandolin renditions of old favorite Israeli and Hasidic melodies have a better audience here, where at least the restaurant has patrons. Sbarros, some two and a half months after the bomb blast that killed 15 people, is almost deserted.

As the traffic light changes in front of the café, I notice another familiar Jerusalem figure—albeit in an unfamiliar setting. Gershom Solomon, head of the Temple Faithful, is generally seen conducting business at demonstrations near the Temple Mount during the three pilgrimage festivals. Today he’s just a slight figure seated in the driver’s seat of a dark blue Buick sedan—a car not too commonly sighted on the streets of Jerusalem. An elderly Ethiopian priest passing by leans on his cane and ogles the vehicle.

I hop on a bus and head to an appointment in the vicinity of the recently opened Jerusalem bus station, stopping in at the new facility on my way. Some 20 people stand patiently in line to pass through the serious security check to gain entry to the building. Anyone could be forgiven for thinking they’re in an upscale shopping mall rather than a bus station. Espresso bars, fancy shoe stores, well-stocked bookstores and an expensive juice bar grace the first two floors. The ticket office and bus platforms are all on the top floors of the building, making a quick run for the bus a thing of the past.

As I board the local city bus for the ride home, the driver turns up the radio to allow us to hear the latest news. Just a mile away, riders who took the number 25 bus found themselves under fire from terrorists at the French Hill junction. For Shoshana Ben Yishai,16, from Beitar Ilit it was to be her last ride. Along with two other Israeli victims, as yet unnamed, Shoshana was murdered by a 34 year old M-16 bearing terrorist from Hebron. Three people risked their lives to kill the Islamic Jihad member and prevent further mayhem.

On my bus, a disgusted passenger in front of me throws down the newspaper she was reading that bears a picture of a smiling Foreign Minister Shimon Peres clasping hands with Palestinian terrorist leader Yasser Arafat at their meeting in Spain yesterday.

This is what passes for normal these days.
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