Walking around Jerusalem this past week has brought these memories flooding back. The sight of civil and military personnel carrying automatic weapons around this city is not just an 'every day' occurrence, but an 'every few minutes' reality. This visibility is obviously deliberate, and hard to exaggerate. In short, there are lots and lots of young men and women with big guns everywhere.
For example, today I had a couple of hours by myself, so I rode the streetcar to north Jerusalem and back to get a better look at the outskirts. Every single station had armed forces present. (In a macabre moment, I even thought about a Rick Mercer skit based on the notion "guess what happens to people who don't buy a ticket in Jerusalem".) In less than an hour, I must have seen at least a hundred armed soldiers. At one point near the end of the line, there were only 7 or 8 people in the streetcar with me, and 4 were carrying machine guns.
I suspect that most tourists are jarred by the sight of all these security forces casually carrying automatic weapons. However, after the initial shock wears off, the sight of all these guns also offers some reassurance that, if something does go wrong, there are lots of "good guys" around with the training and equipment to do whatever's necessary (whatever that means).
This is not to say I agree with Americans who believe the best antidote to gun violence is for lots of people to be carrying visible and loaded guns all the time (as is the case here). Living in this kind of environment must be terribly stressful for everyone. For Israeli kids, I guess this is their "normal", as they have probably never seen anything different.
Believe me, no parent would ever wish this on their children unless they believe it is absolutely necessary, as most here must. I don't care how gun friendly you are, this is clearly not a desirable state of affairs. Having said that, I trust the Israeli authorities know what they're doing, so I don't question their policy or how they implement it.
In the final analysis, I'm still very glad we're here. If I was making our travel plans again, I would still include Israel. I recognize and accept there's risk here, but it's also a magical and memorable place. So, for those of you with a keen interest in Biblical history, I think Israel should still be on your bucket list. And, for all you heathens out there, I'd suggest somewhere cheaper and less stressful, like Paris or Brussels.