The Fading Blessing of September 11
At the average English news stand one can find available for purchase approximately fifteen national daily newspapers, in stark contrast to New York’s four. The papers can loosely be divided into three categories; ranging from the ‘serious’ newspapers like The Times, The Telegraph and The Observer, the tabloids, such as the Daily Mail, The Mirror and The Evening Standard, are the sleazy tabloids like The Sun, The Star and The Daily Sport.
I recall arising early on the morning of September 12th 2001 and heading over to the closest corner-shop in search for the latest news out of New York. Upon glancing at the headlines of the various publications, I received my starkest yet education on how divergent news coverage can be, as the predicted death toll ranged from ‘10,000 dead’ in the serious papers to ‘40,000 dead,’ in one alarmist daily.
Everyone has their 9/11 anecdote and that was mine, with many remembering where they were at the precise moment that the towers were struck. Ten years on, the United States remembers the victims and the heroes, and the opportunity is presented for collective reflection. Now the perpetrator has been delivered the strong arm of justice, and in place of the Twin Towers a glistening phoenix is arising in Manhattan’s skyline.
Seemingly less memorable but of great significance nevertheless was the international terror climate at the time of the September 11th attacks. Specifically Israel was in the throes of a deadly Intifada that claimed a total of over 1100 Israeli lives. Only one month prior to the attacks on US soil on August 9th Israel suffered a most brutal terror attack at the Sbarro pizzeria in Jerusalem, killing 15 people including 7 children. On June 1st a suicide bomber detonated himself in the Tel Aviv Dolphinarium club where twenty-one Israeli civilians, most of them high school students, lost their lives. On December 1st of that year 11 young people were murdered in a double suicide attack on the Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall in the center of Jerusalem.
I recall amongst the Anglo Jewish community that a strong feeling of solidarity with the American people was prevalent, a feeling of shared suffering, knowing the pain of sudden devastation that our people had experienced in the preceding months. Witnessing the scenes of celebration from Gaza we were sickened by the inhumanity, yet proud that our Jewish homeland stood alongside the United States in facing a common enemy as soldiers on freedom’s front lines.
When people asked what America had done to deserve this, we shared what we had learned from the Arab terror in Israel of the 20’s and 30’s, that Islamist barbarism is aspirational. That there is no rhyme or instigation for it, save from living as free Israelis or Americans in our respective homelands.
We also saw the collective devastation as a path to mutual salvation. We felt that having lived with terror for years, Israel would rise as a true friend in need, sharing resources, expertise, intelligence and experience where needed. Our feelings must have been similar to the British in WW2 after the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor, that through the pain and desolation the unity that was born would empower the collective forces of freedom to overcome a common foe.
Now ten years later, much has transpired. The theaters of war that set the enemy on the defensive are winding to a close. It seems that the prevalent mood in the United States has turned inward, and the climate of national concern is depleted. As a product of political consideration, the White House has pro-actively moved to divert national attention away from the threat of terror on American soil.
What distresses me most is that we may be losing the one positive inevitability that was born of that dark day; the sense of harmony, the cumulative resolve carried by the Israeli and American people across countries and continents that has significantly contributed to the relative calm that we have since enjoyed over the last decade.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Tuesday, following a somber visit to ground zero, “the potential for that kind of attack remains very real.” On Monday IDF Home Front Command Chief, Major General Eyal Eisenberg warned that recent revolutions in the Arab world and Israel’s deteriorating ties with Turkey are raising the likelihood of a regional war in the Middle East.
An anniversary is a time to remember but also an opportunity for reckoning and introspection, providing inspiration to take courage not to lapse and not to falter in our vigilance, unison and common purpose.