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Saturday, September 09, 2006

Life goes on: The unlearned lessons of 9/11

Ruthie Bloom is definitely not a political columnist, but I recall having many of the same thoughts that she had on 9/11. I remember sitting in an office tower in Ramat Gan (near Tel Aviv for your non-Israelis) in the middle of a negotiation for the sale of a company, when a young lawyer ran in and said, "a plane crashed into the World Trade Center." We ran to his computer to watch it, and then turned on the TV just in time to see the second plane hit - confirming that the first one was no accident. This column really hits home:
Funny what little difference half a decade makes. On the first anniversary of 9/11, I was asked by The Dallas Morning News to submit a short, personal piece on "living under the threat of terrorism" - from an Israeli perspective. Still smarting from what had seemed at the time to be the End of Days, I was glad to be given the opportunity to do a little public lashing out, particularly in the American press.

The following is a reprint of that article, titled "Life goes on."

"What can you do?" the principal sighs when I phone to question the wisdom of not cancelling this evening's parent-teacher meeting. That civilization as we know it is on the brink of disaster does not faze her. "Life goes on."

"Actually, it's death that's going on," I say, announcing my intention to be absent, due to other plans. These include reaching my own parents and siblings in New York and Washington by phone to make sure they are indeed alive, and returning to my perch in front of the TV.

Tears of horror and rage at the sight of lower Manhattan crumbling are accompanied by bilious thoughts of "I told you so."

Now they'll finally get it, I say to myself, as I watch the footage, over and over, of the planes crashing into the World Trade Center. Now they'll understand what we go through every day.

Now they'll see what it feels like to submit to ID card checks, road blocks and metal detectors.

Now they'll get a taste of having strangers rummage through their bags cluttered with tampons and lipsticks, cellphones and gum wrappers in search of explosives.

Now they'll get a whiff of what it's like to make decisions about when it's all right to ride public transportation, and when the bus their children is on might possibly blow up.

Now they'll see what it's like to be suspicious of every unattended bag of groceries in the supermarket, every stray backpack in the school yard, and every person with a peculiar expression on his face or bulge under his jacket.

Now they'll be greeted daily, as we are, with an endless roll-call of casualties, people killed or maimed in their prime, for no reason other than their very existence.

Now they'll no longer be able to sit in judgment at our feeble attempts at self-preservation in the face of the evils of Arab terrorism.

"How come you're the only mommy who ever makes trouble?" my son whines, disappointed with my playing hooky to watch the news instead of going to meet his new teacher. Like his sister and brothers, he cannot grasp what all the fuss is about. He - who celebrated his first birthday in a gas mask in a sealed room while Saddam's Scuds were landing on Tel Aviv in 1991 - cannot understand why a terrorist attack should have any bearing on the flow of the family's activities. For him, suicide bombings are as routine as watching MTV and fighting with me about doing his homework.

For him, armed guards at the entrance to every movie theater, ice-cream parlor and bowling ally is as natural as having his older brother come home on the weekend in army fatigues, lean his rifle against the bookcase, and bicker with him over the use of the Internet.

As for me, in spite of his accusations, I am not "the only mommy who ever makes trouble."

And in spite of my missing the parent-teacher conference on what came to be known as 9/11, I usually adhere to the "life goes on" principle - though at times I feel like committing murder.


THIS MONDAY marks five years since the World Trade Center and Pentagon bombings. To pay tribute to the thousands of innocent people who were slaughtered on September 11, 2001, I would like to put a caveat on my contribution to the "resilience" camp in which I have taken an active role. As someone who observes and writes about the "other" Israel - that which coexists peacefully alongside daily doses of death and destruction - I would like to weigh in on the dangers lurking in the "life goes on" school of thought and behavior.

It is one thing to embrace and assert the life force that keeps us going against all odds. It is quite another to do so as a substitute for a fight to the death to reverse those odds.

After all, life doesn 't go on after annihilation, no matter which way you whitewash it.
Read it all.


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