On September 11, 2001, I was sitting in front of the computer in my office at the Central Kentucky Jewish Federation in Lexington, KY. I was checking my email. Running comes in my secretary and tells me "a plane crushed into the World Trade Center in New York". My initial reaction was confusion, I couldn't quite register what she said, but seconds later I exclaimed: "It's a terrorist attack!", to which she responded "what do you think, that this is Israel? why does it have to always be terrorism?" - minutes later, a second crash would unfortunately prove my gut reaction to be correct. Almost immediately, the phone rang and it would continue to do so for about 20 minutes with people asking if I knew what was going on. I would like to use my own personal experience to gain some perspective on the ten years that have passed since that day.
Terrorism is obviously most effective when it is sudden and unexpected. One moment you're checking your email, the next you're trying to figure out how to control your emotions. But when terrorism becomes a daily occurrence, you get to expect it, and as you try to continue with your daily routine you don't get surprised when the hammer falls again on the nail. I learned some of it growing up in Argentina during the years before the military coup, when terrorism in Argentina was running rampart. But Israelis have learned a far harsher lesson. If you live in Sderot, you grow to get to the point of unconsciously making always sure you're within running distance of a bomb shelter, and that your family is as well. When you get to that point, we are not talking about simply terrorism anymore but about an attempt to run you out of your home under threat of death. At that point terrorism lost any chance to define itself as "politically motivated" because it lost the basic ability of calling attention to your cause. How many of us see in the papers news about the missiles falling in Israel? It's not news anymore...I reserve my comments on what that says about the Media...
When we are first confronted with an attack on our own backyard- or worse even, against ourselves, it is natural to be confused. Unwaranted and sudden violence is not something we can easily understand. Not when it happens to others and even less when it visits us. The confusion comes as a consequence of conflicting emotions, including fear, anxiety and intellectual dislocation. And fear as well as anxiety lead to defensiveness, it is only natural - the "fight or flight" reflex. But it is difficult to fight back when planes crash into buildings, or in the case of Israelis when missiles rain from the skies. The response that comes after the confusion is to fight back in any way we can - for our lives. If anybody wonder why Israelis get more inflexible about security, they must recall their own feelings on September 11, 2001.
In the aftermath of the attacks, Americans "circled the wagons" and made common cause to console each other and allay each others fears - to reassure each other. Following right after came the need to identify a target and go after it, so we could turn the page. President Bush and his administration identified Al Qaeda in general and Osama Bin Laden in particular as those responsible, and they started the "War on Terror". Whatever misgivings some of us might have about what Bush did or did not under the cover of the War on Terror, it is clear that taking out Al Qaeda was necessary. When somebody blows up your house, you need to hit them back to make sure they don't hit you again. It is called the right of self-defense. Israelis, of course, are very familiar with this cycle. Terror-retaliation-terror again.
And ten years have passed. Osama Bin Laden is dead. The Islamist regime that provided him with a safe haven and training bases in Afghanistan is out. So we should feel safer and call it done, do we not?
Extremists in Muslim countries continue to rally after the cry of "death to the infidels", and islamist movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood are making a grab for control of the movement born of the Arab spring. Some Muslims clerics continue to preach "Death to America" and "Death to Israel". President Ahmadinejad of Iran continues to justify his quest for an "Islamic Nuclear Bomb" as Iranian right to self defense. Hezbollah calls the indictment of some of their members in the assasination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and insult. Cartoons published on a Danish newspaper have sparked continent wide riots. The legitimate protest of the Arab people against the tirany of their leaders is being drowned in the blood of the protesters by those same tyranical regimes.
Yet the United Nations is sponsoring another Conference on Racism and Discrimination focusing almost exclusively on what they call Human Rights abuses by Israel in the occupied territories. No mention of Darfur, or Damascus, or Hama, or Tibet, or so many other places. This in spite of the fact that the numbers of civilians who died on both sides during the Israeli Palestinian conflict in the last 60 years are dwarfed by those killed in other places in a single week. This Conference is dubbed "Durban III" and will take place in New York starting September 21st.
But there is hope. I was recently invited to a parallel conference that will take place in New York city in September, and it is called the NGO Summit. The speakers are victims of Human Right abuses in Iran, Egypt, Central Asia, China, Burma, Darfur, Uganda, and more. Those interested in checking out the full list of speakers and topics can go to http://www.ngosummit.org The meeting will give a voice to those who were silenced at the United Nations conference; will focus on the millions of deaths at the hands of Human Rights abusers ignored by the UN Commission on Human Rights.
The Rabbis said in the Talmud that God created only one original couple so that we would know that whoever kills one Human being is as if it has killed all of Humanity. And I add that whenever and wherever the rights of one individual are trampled, we all have the obligation to right the wrong. I'll attend the NGO summit...and I'll share my experiences on this blog...stay tuned.