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Jogging in Jerusalem

I live in an international student housing complex in the Jewish French Hill neighborhood on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem. When I go out jogging, I try to stay on paved roads and take whichever jogging paths I can find in the neighborhood. Back towards my dorm, the jogging route ends into the sidewalk next to a major highway. It probably ends here because this is also the only Arab part of the all-Jewish French Hill. This part of the route is very dirty with garbage strewn about the ground. Last time I was here, I remembered that it had a left turn right before the highway.

So today I went jogging, I went left mainly because I did not want to jog on the sidewalk next to noisy speeding cars. As I turned the corner, I saw that it appeared to be an unkept access road (with a dead end however) behind a large complex of some sort (possibly a school). About three hundred feet in front of me was a group of kids, maybe six or seven total. I was listening to music on my iPod and didn't think much of the kids until I got closer.

Guns.

One kid was holding an Uzi in the air. Another kid had a small pistol in his hand. The kid holding the Uzi looked to be the oldest - probably around fourteen. The other kids were likely between the ages of nine and thirteen. I'm not sure if there were more guns, but those are the ones I for sure saw.

And I was jogging straight towards them.

I had a decision to make. They would most assuredly see me in a few seconds. Every possibility flashed through my mind. Should I turn around? If I did, they would know that I was scared. Would letting my fear show prove to be a dangerous move? Perhaps they would shoot at me since my back would be turned? Perhaps the shock of some one jogging right past them face-to-face without showing fear would actually make them less likely to attack me? Maybe I should talk to them? But that's stupid, I don't know Arabic and I wouldn't dare speak Hebrew to them. Could I be sure that they were real guns? Kids in America don't have guns except those that make the headlines. But this isn't America. This is Jerusalem. Specifically, this is less than a mile from the West Bank, divided Jerusalem. Even if they weren't guns, I've already experienced rock throwing from Arab youths. And as close as I would have to get to pass them jogging, the rocks could possibly knock me unconscious. Could I take that risk?

But now it was too late to make a decision. I was already too close. The die was cast.

Every head turned to me. The road was wide enough for two cars, but the kids were taking up the entire width. My jogging path was directed straight at the kid with the Uzi and so I adjusted to the left side of the road to pass them.

The entire scene unfolded in slow motion for me. The kids seemed somewhat stunned that a non-Arab jogger would be in this alley (as I began to realize it was). Closer. Ten feet. Five.

I passed them.

And nothing happened.

The kid with the pistol seemed to be hurriedly putting it in his back pocket as I passed. The Uzi went from the air to waist level to where, I couldn't see. Maybe pointed at me?

Immediately, my mind flashed with possibilities. What if they shot me from behind? Or chased me? Or if the guns were fake, perhaps they would throw rocks at me from behind like my experience with the Arab kids in Issawiya (a neighborhood near my university)? I determined that I would not turn around to look. Come what may, I would keep jogging forward. There was nothing I could do about it now.

I jogged back to my dorm - a mere football field away - bewildered by the turn of events. But still, nothing substantial had happened. I had seen a group of Arab kids possibly with real guns. Nothing substantial, right? Though in America, at least in my hometown, those kids would be immediately reported by everyone looking out their window. But again, this isn't America.

And isn't this all very prejudiced on my part against Arabs? I'm on a back alley and I see a group of Arab teenagers with what looks like guns and I automatically assume I'm in danger. How prejudiced, right? If I wasn't prejudiced, I wouldn't be afraid at all, right? But wait, that is silly, because anyone in that situation regardless of the ethnicity of the kids would feel endangered.

I don't want to be prejudiced against Arabs. But as an American, I find it difficult not to be since we tend to think of Arabs as one giant terrorist bloc. Surely they aren't though, for I have met many wonderful Arabs here who have treated me very kindly and equally. Yet, this doesn't assuage my fears. I feel safer walking through the Jewish parts of town than the Arab parts. I don't know how politically correct that is and I'm not ashamed to admit it because it is the truth. That doesn't mean that I am happy or proud of that. But I cannot deny how I feel.

The longer I am here, the deeper I dig into the conflict here and the more personal it becomes.

Credits - WorldwideRunning.com would like to thank the website ArticlesBase (www.articlesbase.com) for the authorization to reprint the article "Jogging in Jerusalem: a Dangerous Encounter" by W. H. Smethers. Will is currently a graduate student in Religious Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel. Will holds a B.A. in History and Christian Studies from Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas.


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