Pigua, or פגוע, is the Hebrew word for terror attack. We all hope we never have to use this word, but the reality of the past few weeks has resulted in its too-frequent usage. The word itself evokes a sense of dread, and then the attack itself must be contended with.
I remember reading stories of people who witnessed 9/11 from surrounding areas, as well as the testimonies of those in the thick of it. There’s a sense of awe – can this really be happening? – and then all you can do is weep, until the tears are spent and then you’re left with the thoughts of either people you know or the victims and their families.
Now I wasn’t here in Israel for the Second Intifada, and while I’m not sure that this is officially the Third Intifada, I do know that this is very, very bad, even by Israel’s standards. I have heard the word “pigua” volleyed back and forth most days of the week, I have seen the looks on fellow public transport passengers’ faces when Arabs board, I have felt the transformative effect of fear on all of us. We do not normally look at Arabs this way, and we do not normally check twice over our shoulders, but current circumstances necessitate it. There is a fear lingering in the atmosphere that cannot be so easily dismissed – people die everyday in car accidents, right? Is there really a difference, when you can lose your life in an instant?
The difference is that someone is forcibly trying to take your life from you. The difference is that you don’t spend every single day worrying about being in a car accident, but you do worry that the man who is walking behind you, looking angry, might pull out a knife and stab you. The difference is that you weep when you get home, with both relief that you successfully avoided death, and sorrow at the attacks.
Last week was disturbing and upsetting due to my proximity to several terror attacks; first, the attack at Ammunition Hill by a male and female Arab; second, the attack in Pisgat Ze’ev by 13 and 15 year old Arabs; third, the multiple attacks on Tuesday, October 13 in Armon Hanetziv and the City Center. The first and second terror attacks were closer to me than the third; I had been in Ammunition Hill and Pisgat Ze’ev within minutes of the attacks. Tuesday’s attacks were further away, but nothing in Jerusalem is very far. After Tuesday’s attacks, I had my first experience calling friends who lived in Armon Hanetziv to make sure they were alright (thank God, they were).
My normal schedule is as follows: wake up around 6 AM, leave around 7:30 for Jerusalem’s City Center, and have class from 8:30 AM to 12:45 PM. Most days I return directly home, usually arriving by 2 PM. Today, I just so happened to have an appointment, after which I ran some errands – all in all, not an extraordinary day, but an average one in an adult’s life.
My timing couldn’t have been more uncanny. After getting onto an uncomfortably crowded bus, we are stopped on the road right near my yishuv (Hebrew word for settlement) in the Shomron (“West Bank”). Suddenly I hear the word “pigua” over and over again. Really? Another attack? My mind is racing. Then the messages and calls start. “Are you okay?” “I heard there was an attack right near where you live.” I quickly check online to see the news: a female IDF soldier was stabbed in the neck by a terrorist who may be wearing a bomb vest. The bomb disposal unit is on its way. Meanwhile, the highway is blocked off and we are sitting on the roundabout with a growing number of cars and busses. The sound of honking, chattering, and yelling fill the air. My Hebrew is decent, but I can’t make sense of all the chaos.
We’ve become almost numb to the invasion of emotions which might normally rattle a person. Instead of crying, or screaming, or panicking, we do our best to fill the space with words. We all call or answer the calls of family members and friends, struggling to piece information together. Whatever known details of the story are repeated over and over. I put my thoughts on mute as I watch the policemen and soldiers hopping out of cars a few meters away. I sit. I wait.
Finally, we are moving – rerouted through a road that is normally blocked off. We drive uphill. Make a turn. Pass an Arab village. I see the yishuv to my right. A sigh of relief escapes me. The bus makes its stops as normal. It’s almost as if nothing happened – but we’re all looking at each other. Kids are huddling together as they walk to their houses. All I can think of is getting to the safety and comfort of my home.
As soon as the bus reaches my stop, I’m racing out the door and heading home. I reach my front door. Unlock it and open it. Everything is normal here, thank God. I unload my backpack and take this moment to sit down – and to process.
But can I really process this? I have too many different feelings. I am livid and full of sorrow, knowing that this took place right near my home. I am unsettled, disturbed, and yet at ease to be home, and thankful that I am alive. Any one of these attacks could have happened to me. And all of these attacks have been close to home – but this one was too close.
May we never hear the word pigua again.