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Jerusalem: It’s Tense, Crowded and Can Feel Like a Jail

December 10, 2017

Suddenly a stampede: Three Israeli border police officers in riot helmets sprint by, chasing someone. A moment later the chase is ended. As the officers catch their breath, a woman curses them in Arabic; one of the officers returns the slur, adding, “Move along.”


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But strife does not exist only between Jews and Arabs in Jerusalem.

Back on the light rail, Rina Pure, who grew up in Acre, on the Israeli coast, said she bought her apartment in the French Hill neighborhood of Jerusalem years ago, “but now half the people are religious,” and it was getting to be too much for her to stay. She plans to join her daughter in Tel Aviv — one more in an exodus of secular Jews from the Holy City since the 1980s.

Ms. Pure said she still loved the city, speaking of it in the feminine, as in the sacred Jewish texts: “She’s beautiful. I love the atmosphere, the inspiration, the architecture. She’s unique. She’s the only one. She’s interesting. The people are good,” she said. “But I’m tired of it.”

It is well into the afternoon now, and the trains have stopped running in advance of the Sabbath. A taxi will have to suffice for the return trip.

“I’ve been driving for 18 years,” says Muhammad Ziada, 39. He says he has many Jewish friends, goes to their weddings, attends their relatives’ funerals, as they do for his.

“But there’s a big religion problem in Jerusalem,” he said. “It’s a city of racism. Once there’s a little bit of balagan” — chaos — “between Jews and Arabs, Jews won’t go in my taxi, and Arabs won’t go to the mall. And if I go into a religious neighborhood and they find out I’m Arab, they’ll stone my car.”