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Last Updated: Friday, 29 August, 2003, 20:24 GMT 21:24 UK
Diary: Jerusalem's bus roulette
Martin Asser
By Martin Asser
BBC News Online, Jerusalem

On assignment in Jerusalem, our correspondent has been sending a daily diary on his experiences working at the heart of the Middle East conflict.

"Don't ride on any buses" was the advice that came from a number of friends and family before my trip - and even here people have looked at me strangely when I said I wanted to take one.

Jerusalem bus
'The ride was exciting, like Russian roulette, but with better odds'

This is because Palestinian suicide bombers attacking Israeli buses have been one of the most persistent and deadly events of this conflict.

Indeed, half the Israelis one meets cite the danger of travelling by bus as their top grievance against the Palestinians.

But I thought it a good thing to see things from the locals' perspective - though in defence of taxis, their drivers can be a rich vein of local knowledge too.

So I plucked up my courage to get on a bus.

Wrong thing to say

In fact, it was less a matter of courage than making the rational decision that you are probably more likely to be run over by a bus than blown up in one.

Just get off at that stop that was bombed last week... oh, err, sorry to mention that
BBC colleague

And what if the bus was blown up while it is driving past you - you cannot avoid buses altogether can you?

Having made my decision, my resolve was not strengthened by one of my colleagues at the BBC Jerusalem bureau from whom I sought advice on which bus to take.

"Well, you can turn right off Jaffa Street and any bus there will take you towards your hotel," he said. "Just get off at that stop that was bombed last week... oh, err, sorry to mention that."

It had been a truly horrific attack - 20 dead, many more injured and a heavy blow to peacemaking efforts.

Enjoyable ride

Indeed Jerusalem is still shaken by it.

As it turned out, my journey was not as hair-raising as I had expected.

I am still not sure I know how my Israeli fellow passengers felt - they were inscrutable - but I found the ride strangely exciting, like Russian roulette, but with much better odds.

In fact, once the journey had ended (nowhere near the scene of last week's atrocity, as it happened), I felt almost tempted to have another go.

Jerusalem bus stop
There are calls to ban ultra-Orthodox summer garb for security reasons
We passed through picturesque scenes - along the narrow streets of an area populated entirely by Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews, with their distinctive black and white garb and exotic grooming.

It made me think of correspondence in this week's Israeli press calling for rabbis to ban the wearing of Haredi clothing in the summer for security reasons.

Apparently last week's suicide bomber was in Haredi disguise to hide his explosives - not the first time this had happened, either.

"It's no surprise... only the Haredim wear coats in the summer," the letter writer said.

Wherever you turn here you find one division or another, whether its between the Israelis and the Palestinians - or as in this case between the secular Israelis and their religious brethren.




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