How do you live with terrorism? For Israeli civilians, who have been coping with the fear of knifings, shootings and bombings for the entire half-century of their nation's existence, it's a bit like living in a village next to a river that floods in the spring. You adjust.
In the nine years I lived in Jerusalem, I was struck by how obsessively Israelis used their cell phones, relaying to spouses and friends their every move throughout the day. I came to realize that they were tenaciously holding on to the people in their lives, keeping track of precisely where everyone was, just in case. Living with terror on a full-time basis, you develop protocols. When an attack occurs, you call the people you love in the city where it happened and you ask quickly, Is everyone accounted for? The answers are economical too, so the phone lines don't jam. You avoid targets that appeal to bombers, like shopping malls and cinemas--especially if your kids are with you. Closed areas are more dangerous than open ones because they magnify the power of explosives. After public buses started blowing up, I steered clear of them in traffic. I drove with my doors locked after terrorists, escaping from a bus they had tried to hijack, commandeered a woman's car; Israeli soldiers shot them--and her--dead.
You become nosy and suspicious. There is no such thing in Israel as an unattended package. If someone leaves a bag behind, within minutes a citizen alerts the police, who clear the area until the bomb squad can send in a robot to blow it up. This is such a common scene in Israeli cities that it doesn't even draw a crowd. Israelis tend to be acutely aware of who is around them. They search faces and notice odd behavior--for instance, a man wearing a heavy jacket in summertime. That kind of vigilance has paid off on occasion, thwarting would-be attackers or panicking them into blowing themselves up prematurely.
You get used to the martial atmosphere. Like Americans, Israelis own lots of guns, and they pack them more openly. Israel may be the only country where, unless you look like a Palestinian, you can enter a bank with a machine gun. In Israeli cities, soldiers are everywhere. In recent weeks, New Yorkers were astonished to see F-16s flying overhead. In Israel, warplanes are no more unusual in the sky than hawks. Police cars in Israel keep their blue lights flashing at all times as a deterrent to would-be attackers. When I first arrived, it unnerved me. Soon it was just the way things were.
You practice ethnic profiling. After a wave of terrorist attacks, Israelis fire their Palestinian gardeners, they pressure the bus company to get rid of the Arab who drives their kids to school. They discriminate blatantly against Arabs in particular and non-Jews in general. Before boarding a private plane I had hired, I was asked by a pilot, "You are a Jew, right?"
All of which, of course, does very little to slow down the attackers, as the mounting casualties of terrorism in Israel attest. But the point is to reclaim a sense of control in a situation that is far beyond the control of individual citizens. And that is essential. Terrorists want to frighten us, and we are scared. But panic and paralysis--those we can deny them.
--By Lisa Beyer
Beyer, TIME Jerusalem bureau chief from 1991 to 2000, lives in New York