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A wave of random and deadly attacks has raised tensions in Jerusalem

Alleys and roads are deserted: Jews have been targeted but Palestinians also feel threatened

Jerusalem CNN  — 

Idan Sharabi waits for his next customer. On a Monday afternoon in Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market, his pastry shop should be overflowing with tourists and locals, and, at this late hour, he should be running out of the day’s croissants.

Instead, he stands in his shop, knowing the crowds aren’t coming today. They didn’t come yesterday, and, he worries, they probably aren’t coming tomorrow.

“Empty,” Sharabi says, not quite depressed or desperate, but resigned to the pervasive sense of being alone that has spread across the streets of Jerusalem. “Completely empty.”

Idan Sharabi waits for customers at his pastry shop in Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda market.

The streets of the market, which normally require a fair amount of elbowing and jostling to navigate, are nearly deserted, and you can walk from one end of the market to the other without bumping into another person.

“For two weeks, it’s been empty to a point where you could play backgammon on the street,” muses Sharabi.

It’s also quiet in a café nearby. “The tourists are still there, but the Israelis aren’t out anymore,” says Jeremy Loulou, the cafe owner who moved to Israel from France in 2008. “I hope that it will be full soon, but I’m not sure.”

A united city, divided by fear

Jerusalem is one municipality, governed by a single city hall. In many ways, the unity ends there. Nowhere is this more evident now than a cab ride from largely Palestinian East Jerusalem to mostly Jewish West Jerusalem.

“You want to go to an Arab neighborhood, you get an Arab driver,” quips an Israeli taxi driver in West Jerusalem, when asked to drop off one of my co-workers in East Jerusalem.

“I’m sorry. I can’t take you. I’m afraid to go there,” says a Palestinian taxi driver in East Jerusalem, when asked to do the opposite. These two cab rides are on entirely different days, and yet they speak as if in response to each other.

A growing sense of fear has worked its way into the tension of everyday living, as a wave of attacks on Israelis and violent clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli forces has kept people off the streets. Those who do wander out walk cautiously, perhaps even fearfully, keeping an eye out for anything or anyone unusual.

On my way to the market – a five-minute walk from the CNN office in Jerusalem – I see two young religious Jewish girls walking together. When they see a woman wearing a Muslim niqab, one girl grabs the other as if to run away. The second girl walks resolutely on, refusing to allow her friend’s fear to change her routine.

It’s not just the market. The Western Wall plaza – usually a beehive of religious activity – is similarly empty. The Old City’s alleys and roads feel deserted.

Most of the recent attacks appear to have been unplanned, uncoordinated and largely unpredictable, using knives or other sharp objects, making them difficult to prevent.

“Everyone says, ‘It won’t happen, it won’t happen,’” Sharabi says in his bakery, “and then it happens to them.”

This fear has triggered and, in some cases, exacerbated a mistrust between Palestinians and Israelis. In an IKEA in Kiryat Ata, a city in northern Israel that isn’t known for being a part of the conflict, police say one Israeli stabbed another Israeli, believing him to be an Arab.

How Israel responded before

In previous waves of attacks, Israel has found a way to deal with the threat. During the Second Intifada in the early 2000s, suicide bombers targeted Israeli buses and cafes, and many Israelis stopped using public transportation and avoided public areas. Israel then built a separation barrier between the West Bank and Israel and instituted checkpoints at the crossings. The barrier sparked fierce criticism against Israel from many in the international community – Palestinians call it the “Apartheid Wall” – but it dramatically reduced the number of suicide bombings.

In last summer’s Gaza war, rocket attacks threatened communities in southern Israel, sending many people running for bomb shelters every time sirens wailed. Israelis knew they had 15 seconds to find cover. Israel deployed the Iron Dome missile defense system to intercept incoming rockets, placing the system near communities within range of the rockets and nearly eliminating the threat.

Now Israel is working on a detection system to pinpoint tunnels dug under the Gaza border and into Israel. Hamas, the militant organization ruling Gaza, considered a terrorist organization by Israel and the United States, used the tunnels to attack communities in Israel during the war. In the past, Israel has developed technologies to find and neutralize threats