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Ira Sharkansky


On walking counter-clockwise to
Isaweea—is clockwise too dangerous?, October 6, 2006

By Ira Sharkansky
JERUSALEM—I recently exchanged letters with a friend who had been a visiting professor here during the past academic year. Among other things, he noted that he and his wife met me several times while we were walking around the neighborhood, but that we always walked in opposite directions. As a sociologist, he had to ask if there was a significance in the pattern.
French Hill is a largely Jewish neighborhood, close to the Hebrew University in one direction, and to a number of Arab neighborhoods in the same direction and other directions. One of them, Isaweea, is especially close, large, and with a record of unfriendly behavior. We have lived alongside Isaweea for close to 15 years, but never visited. During one period of calm, I asked an Arab student if it would be wise for me to enter the neighborhood. He thought for a second or two, and shook his head. Not worthwhile. Could be dangerous.
At various times we have seen police helicopters circling above Isaweea. Often there are personnel of the Border Police on the road to the neighborhood, who stop and check the documents of drivers and pedestrians. On a couple of occasions, the police posted a lookout on the roof of our building, and once on our balcony.
I enjoy my walks around the neighborhood. The terrain is almost entirely level, and without the noise or smells of heavy traffic. Except for midday, there is lots of shade. At one point the view is to the east across the Judean desert, with an Arab village nearby, and in the distant a patchwork of desert mountains and valleys, with clusters of Jewish and Arab towns. At another point, there is a view to the west, with the tomb of the prophet Samuel prominent on the horizon. I am likely to meet friends along the way. In most cases, I do not know their names, or they mine. Yet we have seen one another for years, say hello as we pass, and sometimes more than that. The circuit is about a mile. I do it two or three times a day.
Before this intafada, it was my practice to make my circuit of the neighborhood clockwise. This brought me to the road out of Isaweea, and up a slight grade to the main street of the neighborhood. When the violence began, it occurred to me that for several minutes I was walking with my back to the traffic coming out of Isaweea. I had seen enough Westerns to know that one's back to trouble is not a good idea. So I began walking counter clockwise. This had me doing a late part of my circuit with my face toward the traffic coming out of Isaweea. To be sure, the traffic going into Isaweea is at my back, but that seemed less of a threat.
There are no guarantees about life in the Holy City, the City of Peace, but one ponders the probabilities and takes one's chances. So far so good
During an earlier period of violence, it was fashionable for angry Palestinians to attack Jews with kitchen knives. At the time our children were in primary school. They walked there, to friends' homes, and elsewhere. We urged them to respect the dignity of all persons, Arabs included. But we also said that it was not wise to walk ahead of an Arab on the sidewalk. Better to stand aside for a moment, to let the Arab pass in front of them.
Recently there has been more violence among Palestinians than between Palestinians and Israelis. I doubt that this signals an early end to the mayhem. I have thought about a return to my clockwise walk. But not yet. I am used to what I do. Too old to change habits? Perhaps too old to add to the prospect of an unpleasant incident, no matter how remote.

Sharkansky is an emeritus member of the political science department at Hebrew University in Jerusalem