Any given Friday morning, a third or more of the people in my dorm rush around doing last-minute shopping before hopping on a bus or in a cab to spend the weekend elsewhere. Jerusalem is a popular target. This meant that a number of them had the additional fun today of deliberating whether or not it would be worth their time and trouble to attempt to make the journey.
Early this morning, someone, somewhere, received intelligence of a planned terrorist attack in Jerusalem. Suddenly, the country was on high alert. Roadblocks and checkpoints where thrown up along all the routes into Jerusalem; busses were searched and passengers screened. Traffic was evidently backed up for miles.
If that's what was going on here, I'd expect that the Territories were under complete lockdown. But that's not uncommon.
In the end, many of them wound up going, since they'd already made plans. Also, the alert was canceled around noon -- no explanation given, so far as I've heard. I just noticed that Ha'aretz has a fairly uninformative article up now that mentions the alert.
Just another weekend in Israel.
My roommate always rides public transportation in Jerusalem. He says that he has always felt extremely safe in the central bus station there, thanks to the heavy security. (This precipitated minor snark about how security there tends to treat yours truly, which is often a good barometer of the enthusiasm, if not efficacy, of a security checkpoint.) I also ride public transportation there, because I am cheap and have a firm grasp of statistics.
However, a great many Israelis go out of their way to avoid public transit, especially Jerusalem and Tel Aviv buses. It's just a comfort thing for them -- they don't want to always be scrutinizing everyone getting on for a suspiciously bulky coat or overtly Palestinian features. There's a phrase for this state of affairs Stateside. It's called the condition in which "the terrorists have already won."
Of course, that presupposes that the "evil terrorists" have no specific goals beyond inspiring a general state of mild alarm, just as popular opinion back home tends to conceive of them as having no identity more specific than the generic "terrorist." It's worth pointing out that Hamas and Islamic Jihad and the like have nothing against buses, though; they want Israel to stop oppressing the Palestinians (at least, that's the bit of their platform that all the various militants agree on). Just like Usamah bin Ladin has no interest in making Americans nervous, but he does very much want Western troops to leave the Mideast as a precursor to the creation of a pan-Arab Islamic super-state that will revive the Caliphate.
Yes, bin Ladin is crazy. It's just in a far more specific way than he is usually given credit for.
But I digress. I'm all for people riding mass transit, since there's far too many cars in this little country. But given all the people in the States who don't ride buses or trains or subways out of a general dislike of proximity to other people or not wanting to walk two blocks to the stop, it's hard to fault these people for having an actual, emotional reason to avoid it. Minnesotans: you get a pass on account of January; other snowed-in types may apply on a case-by-case basis.
So what about you? If you lived in Israel, your chances of dying in a bus bombing would be one in several hundred thousand last year. Would that be enough to keep you off of them?