Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Report from Jerusalem

I just returned to my hotel after a day of touring in Jerusalem. Our group was at Yad Vashem--Israel's Holocaust museum--when we received news of the first bus bombing to take place in Jerusalem in seven years. We had spent the afternoon in West Jerusalem, the general area where the bombing occurred, but we did not hear the bomb go off. The news, however, spread very quickly via mobile phone, so we were aware of what had happened within a few minutes of the attack itself. The most immediate impact on our group was the rapid increase in security at Yad Vashem and on the streets...and the traffic jam in Jerusalem that resulted as the police searched for the bomber.

For family and friends, let me also add some additional details to help you look beyond the media coverage of this event to more accurately understand the current situation here in Israel. The bombing took place near the convention center at a public bus stop. It was specifically intended to target Israelis using public transportation.

As I write this post, the news being reported is that one person was killed and about thirty-five wounded. One preliminary report said the woman killed might be an American citizen. If this is true, it's possible she was a resident of Jerusalem since few tourists use public transportation. Police are still searching for the bomber who may have placed the bomb at the bus stop and then detonated it remotely, possibly with a cell phone. Reports are still sketchy since the event happened just a few hours ago.

Do I still feel safe here in Jerusalem with our group? Yes I do. The incident, as horrible as it is, was specifically designed to target Israelis. The bomb was detonated at a public bus stop used by local riders of the Egged bus system. Tourist sites--and tourist buses--were not the target.

Will this incident impact tours? It probably will...but not in ways you might expect. We have already changed the touring schedule for our current Moody trip for the next two days. The basic change is that we have dropped our planned visit to Bethlehem. I personally would have no problem traveling to Bethlehem, but as a tour leader I will always err on the side of caution. Until the current situation settles down, we will not be visiting Palestinian-controlled areas.

Will Israel respond? Almost certainly they will. There are already reports of Palestinians being arrested in East Jerusalem and in the West Bank. Israel will do everything possible to find and punish those responsible for this attack. Much like the U.S. response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Israel will do whatever is necessary to protect the safety and security of its citizens.

I'll report back as new details come available.

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