Together, apart and afraid: living in Jerusalem

Together, apart and afraid: living in Jerusalem
Arab-Israeli supporters of Bnei Sakhnin, the only Arab team in the Israeli Premier league, light flares as they cheer on their team during their football match against the predominantly Jewish Beitar Jerusalem club at the Doha Stadium in the northern Arab-Israeli town of Sakhnin on November 23, 2014.

JERUSALEM - The two young Jerusalem shop assistants wear similar clothes and makeup. Only their names tell them apart as Israeli and Palestinian. But they know that talking about events outside might test their friendship.

Avital and Iman spend their days chatting at a budget clothes shop in west Jerusalem. They look almost identical, dressed from the store's "winter collection" and wearing their dark, straightened hair the same way.

But months of violence in the Holy City, including a spate of deadly Palestinian attacks against Israelis, have ramped up tensions. It is a subject Avital and Iman avoid discussing.

Last week, two Palestinians armed with a gun and meat cleavers killed five people at a synagogue -- the culmination of months of tension, and after a series of apparent "lone-wolf" attacks, including hit-and-runs in which Palestinian drivers killed four people.

"We've been working together for a few months, and we've been getting along," said Iman, 21, from the Arab east Jerusalem neighbourhood of Beit Safafa.

"But we avoid talking about what's been happening because we both know that conversation could end badly."

Twenty-two-year-old Avital, who lives in the Jewish neighbourhood of Talpiot, agrees that it is best to avoid certain topics.

Burned alive

"We don't talk about the incidents. There's what happens in the shop and what happens outside. The two are separate."

The violence in Jerusalem began in earnest in July, when Jewish extremists burned alive a 16-year-old Palestinian boy in apparent revenge for the killing of three Jewish teenagers in the occupied West Bank.

A bloody July-August war in the Gaza Strip, which killed nearly 2,200 Palestinians and 73 on the Israeli side, exacerbated tensions and resulted in near daily clashes between police and east Jerusalem youths.

On the surface, a fragile coexistence exists in public parks, shopping centres and workplaces, with Palestinians crossing from east to west Jerusalem to work in often menial jobs.

But other than out of professional or economic necessity, Israelis and Palestinians do not tend to mix, increasingly avoiding each other for fear of random or revenge attacks.

"I'm scared of being assaulted," said Iman, who did not want to give her family name.

Raada, a Palestinian working at a Talpiot nursery, said Jewish parents now regard her with increasing suspicion.

"I learned that some parents demanded the Shin Bet (Israel's domestic security service) vet me," she said, also refusing to give her family name.

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