Anxious and combative in Jerusalem

Jaffa Gate

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A friend once told me about a summer she spent as an au-pair to a New York family, vacationing in Israel.  While she chauffeured the children around the city, she got trapped in traffic jams all the time.  More often than not, it’s because there were reported bomb threats up ahead, and police had blocked the road.

After a while, she got over the bombs, and those traffic jams on hand became the ordeal she focused on.  Because the show must go on, and one must focus on the immediate.

So what is it like to live in a place where everyone’s forced to internalize this kind of anxiety on a daily basis?

According to John Lyons, an Australian correspondent stationed in Jerusalem, combativeness bubbles up at every opportunity it’s presented with: at the supermarket, French school, Old City, the traffic light, zebra crossing, car registry office, post office, parking lot.

The message?  In Jerusalem, you don’t want to play chicken.

A neighbour, from the European Commission, gave us some other driving advice: “In Israel never give anyone the finger when you’re driving.”

In Brussels, he said, he’d never hesitated to give other drivers the finger. But he’d done it once in Israel, and saw the recipient reach into her glovebox and pull out a gun. He didn’t wait around to see whether she was prepared to use it.

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