'There is great anger and great fear in East Jerusalem'

Safety can depend on small choices such as the route taken. Tanya Habjouqa reports from East Jerusalem


I woke yesterday morning with a sense of dread and the buzzing of a hovering helicopter close to my home in East Jerusalem.

Since the revelation almost three weeks that three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped there has been a sense of foreboding, that they would not survive and that resulting violence would suck in far more victims.

This morning I found out that a 17-year-old who lived less than half a mile away was abducted and murdered a few hours before I woke. Although it is so close, only the intensity of the helicopters signalled the proximity of violence which was taking place so clearly on the television screens.

The previous day there was an attempt to snatch a nine-year old from nearby streets so I left the house to take my three-year old daughter to nursery school  in West Jerusalem with some trepidation.

There are two ways to get to West Jerusalem from Beit Hanina: either I turn left to take the most direct route or right to the longer but sometimes faster route.

Tanya Habjouqa: ‘One friend has been crying for two days’ Tanya Habjouqa: ‘One friend has been crying for two days’

If I had taken a left, I would have been engulfed in the running battles between Palestinian youths and Israeli soldiers. My friend took the left and screamed to her seven-year-old to get down as she heard shots fired in the air. She hit a car as she navigated out of the violence.

I took a right which leads to a dual carriageway and the “bridge road” which flies over the Shuafat refugee camp and was able to drive without hindrance to the centre of Jerusalem.

This is half a mile from my house. But my friend took a left and I took a right which changed how my entire day was shaped.

Yet another friend, a German married to a Palestinian, took the Israeli bus with her three-year-old. On board, two women were talking about the death of the three Jewish boys. And then one woman said to the other: “All Arabs should be punished for that.”

Our children attend the Peace school at the YMCA in West Jerusalem which is attended by Jews, Christians and Muslims taught in Arabic and Hebrew. The Jewish director of the Jerusalem Youth Chorus at the YMCA approached the killings differently: “This is not the Jewish way. What can we do?”


He wanted to bring singers from East and West Jerusalem together to perform as a response to the rising tension but he did not know if he should ask the Palestinians considering how they were feeling, and did not know if they would be safe in West Jerusalem if they did come.

By the time I drove back east, there was smoke rising from Shuafat and the traffic was moving slowly.

One friend has been crying for two days, feeling sick until her two teenage sons return home safely each night from their studies and part-time work. Her daughter cannot take her eyes away from the TV images of the violence she can almost see from outside her window.

The parents I know in East Jerusalem insist their children stay at home and drive them even for just five minutes to go to the grocery store. But not all teenagers listen.

There is such great anger and great fear and East Jerusalem and in the end your safety often depends on whether you take a right or a left.

Tanya Habjouqa is a photographer who lives in East Jerusalem with her husband and two children

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