Photo by Mark Philbrick
Tuesday, November 18
Tragic violent incidents continue to occur in Jerusalem and tensions remain very high. The latest is the attack Tuesday on a synagogue in the far western part of Jerusalem (near the west entrance to Jerusalem via Route 1 from Tel Aviv) by two Palestinian men from an area on the south side of East Jerusalem (near the border crossing between Jerusalem and Bethlehem). Four Israelis were killed (three with US as well as Israeli citizenship). The two attackers were killed by police. On Monday, a Palestinian bus driver employed by an Israeli public transportation authority (EGGED) was found hanged in his bus in West Jerusalem. Whether the hanging was suicide or murder is disputed and has contributed to the rising tensions. These are the latest in on-going incidents and while both are some distance from the Center, there are also tensions between Palestinians living in the areas around the Center and Israelis, particularly the Israeli police. As a consequence, Israeli police have used tear gas and other crowd suppression methods in the area immediately across the street from the lower entrance to the Center.
The Center put in place certain security precautions at the start of the semester and some additional security precautions at the start of the most recent round of sporadic violence several weeks ago. Those put in place at the beginning of the semester include: a dress code that sets the students apart some from others in the city – BYU/JC students are generally easy to identify; all travel outside of the Center must be in groups of at least 3 individuals; students must carry a Center-issued cell phone whenever they are away from the Center, which includes a speed-dial direct-contact to Center security personnel and a texting option that allows the Center to contact all students simultaneously with real-time security updates and directions to leave or avoid a specific area; and the Old City is off-limits on Fridays and after dark.
Additional precautions taken with the recent rise of tensions and sporadic violence include: the Temple Mount area of the Old City is off limits; the Old City is off limits after 4:30 p.m.; and public transportation is off limits. In addition, when there are known tensions or confrontations between Palestinians and Israel security forces in particular areas of the city, this area is put off limits. For example, the entire Old City was off limits yesterday from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and, as noted, the Temple Mount area is now off limits as well. Decisions to limit travel to specific areas at specific times are made on a day-by-day basis, generally in the morning before students leave the Center. And, as noted, the decisions are changed in real time as problems emerge.
The students leave for the Galilee, where the tensions are much lower, early Monday morning. They will be in the Galilee for 11 days.
It’s important to note that Palestinians have been quite clear that their opponents are Israelis; likewise, militant Israelis have been equally clear that their opponents are Palestinians. Put simply: there has been no targeting of tourists or foreign visitors who, while tourism is down, have come and gone without incident. Likewise, and importantly, there has been no targeting of the BYU/JC students or other Westerners or of Western institutions like the Center who are more permanent residents of Jerusalem. So the principal risk is being in the wrong place at the wrong time. With the precautions outlined above, we believe that this risk is small.