JERUSALEM — In the past week, I’ve seen more and more local buses with security turnstiles and bomb detectors. Following the recent suicide bombing in southern Israel and last week’s massacre in the Holy City, I’m not surprised.
When a bus approaches a stop, the driver will open the doors and push a button, then a turnstile will extend outwards and block the entrance into the bus. Once the driver is comfortable with the passenger, he will push another button that will allow the turnstile to move and let the person through. A bomb detector just inside the door scans the passenger as well.
I’ve felt more secure with these added safeguards, but for a split second, I feared the worst earlier today.
I was riding on a bus to work this afternoon, and at the second-last stop to mine, three young men tried to get on the bus. I admit that it is hard to distinguish Jews from Arabs in this city, but they looked like they may have been Arabs. I have nothing against Arabs in general, but one must be realistic in this city.
The men were in their twenties, they were carrying bags, and at least one was acting suspiciously. This man wore large sunglasses that blocked his eyes entirely, and as he approached the bus, he kept looking straight down. He never looked up. It seemed weird.
Since the second intifada’s suicide bombings of the 1990s, bus drivers have been trained to spot suspicious behavior. They will sometimes not let people on the bus if they do not present identification when asked, and they can refuse to allow people to board whenever they see fit. (Of course, this can lead to discrimination against innocent Arabs as well.) Well, this driver seemed to see fit.
After asking the first man a question that I could not understand, the driver and the men had a conversation. (I wish I had known more Hebrew.) At first I thought I was being paranoid, but then every passenger in the front of the bus rose and moved to the back of the bus once the driver started asking questions. Out of pure instinct, I joined them.
The driver refused to let them through the turnstile, he closed the doors, and then he drove on. Of course, I still don’t know what happened. I never will. Perhaps they were asking for directions. Perhaps they did not know which bus to take. Perhaps they were Israeli Arabs, and they forgot their IDs at home. Perhaps they were not even Arabs.
But the other Israelis on the bus have lived in this city for much longer than I have. If they move to the back of the bus, then so will I. Perhaps I was being paranoid. Perhaps I was being discriminatory against an ethnic group. After all, no bombings did occur in Israel today.
But I don’t feel guilty. In this city, lofty ideals usually yield to blunt realism.
Earlier: The Arab on the Bus