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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

9/11/2001: When - for a brief moment - the Americans got it

I started looking for a column by Deborah Sontag in the New York Times in the aftermath of September 11. Sontag had just returned from a stint as the Times' bureau chief in Jerusalem during the intifadeh, during which she was less than understanding of Israeli actions. I discovered that I excerpted the article in last year's post on 9/11. And so, I decided to run it again:

One of the immediate reactions to 9/11 here in Israel - crass though it might have been - was "now the Americans will finally understand what we've been going through." In the year leading up to 9/11, Israel had suffered dozens of terror attacks. Parents looked to avoid putting their children on public buses (in fact, we have raised a generation where many of the kids no longer know how to use the buses before they are in high school). And yet, we were pushed by Clinton and by Tenet and even by Bush for the first few months, to make more concessions to the 'Palestinians' every time they murdered a few Jews.

For me, one of the most memorable pieces to come out of 9/11 was this one by Deborah Sontag. Sontag was the New York Times' bureau chief here from 1998-2001, and was a constant nemesis. She returned to New York shortly before 9/11. Here's some of what she wrote in the Sunday Times Magazine ten days after the attack.
That terrible Tuesday was the first day of American school for Emma, who was entering third grade, and Adam, who was starting kindergarten. It was a glorious morning as they skipped through downtown Brooklyn. They wore new sneakers (Stride Rite won out) and backpacks that were essentially empty but nonetheless an essential part of the American school uniform. I left Emma designing a name tag to hang above her cubby. In Adam's class, where he was seated at a table designated ''Femur'' in anticipation of a unit on the human body, I patted his blond head and inadvertently said aloud what I was thinking, ''You'll be safe here.''

Then a parent barged into the room and told a few of us that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. We walked, because there really was no other choice, straight to the Brooklyn promenade on the East River overlooking Lower Manhattan. The second airplane had just crashed into the twin towers, and flames were devouring the tops of the buildings. It was a perfect view of the horror, and there was nothing we could do but stare.

This was terrorism of a different magnitude. In Israel, such attacks were chillingly intimate. Within hours, everyone in the country knew who had been killed and knew someone connected to the victims. Bombings were also anticipated and routine. With grim efficiency, daily life was restored to the bombed area. But this was so vast that it could not be personalized or swept up. We were struck by the fact that no victims were named on the news that first day. We were breathing the acrid, dusty air that wafted across the river. The attack was palpable. Yet, it was beyond our grasp.

Adam was clueless when we picked him up at the kindergarten annex. In the school's main high-rise building, Emma's class waited in the overheated basement where the elementary students had been herded to stop them from watching the whole thing from their classroom windows. We pushed through the thronged halls to get outside. Passersby were wearing paper masks. ''Aliens!'' Adam said. A woman snapped at us, ''Cover your children's mouths!'' Emma burst into tears. ''My first day of school wasn't fun at all,'' she said. ''You promised. You promised it would be better here.''

In Israel, we could keep our children, who were foreigners, in a relatively secure cocoon, although that meant greatly limiting their universe. We could even isolate them from much of the news. But here, waiting for our apartment to be ready, we were staying in a hotel that was designated an emergency relief center. People were streaming over the Brooklyn Bridge covered in ash and seeking first aid in the Brooklyn Marriott. Security was tight. School for the next day was canceled. A father of one of Emma's classmates was missing. We had to start explaining. At first, I used a silly, gingerly phrase, telling Adam that a plane had ''bumped into'' the twin towers. ''By accident?'' he asked. There was no avoiding the ugly truth.

We turned on the television news. ''It looks like Israel,'' Adam said. He asked if we were going to start seeing soldiers in Brooklyn. I told him no, but then we descended to the lobby and happened on several National Guardsmen in their camouflage uniforms and army boots. We stepped outside. Sirens wailed. We were home?
Although ordinary Americans began to appreciate our plight on 9/11, except for the period between June 2002 (when Bush called for a new 'Palestinian' leadership) and Arafat's death just after the 2004 election, American leadership has largely not recognized that we and you are fighting the same battle. The first indications that would be the case came within a few days of 9/11, and the point was driven home strongly by President Bush's reaction to then-Prime Minister Sharon's Czechoslovakia speech on October 4, 2001.

The discovery of the Karine A weapons ship in January 2002 started to turn the tide with Bush in our favor, and we enjoyed two brief romances with him that have colored perceptions of his Presidency here: From June 2002 until November 2004 and during the final months of his term. Between late 2004 and early 2008, the people who pushed Bush to be more pro-Israel (the neo-cons - Rumsfeld, Cheney, Feith et al) had left the White House and those who came in their place (people like Robert Gates and Condoleeza Rice) were far less favorable to Israel.

Ten years ago today, it looked like the American leadership would understand why you cannot make peace with terrorism. Unfortunately, they no longer do. And the fact that America elected Obama three years ago has to make you wonder how many of the American people get it now either.

Postscript: If Obama is reelected in November - and the fact that it is possible that he will be - it will show that Americans really have forgotten 9/11 (the next post will show just how much the meaning of 9/11 has faded). Unfortunately, the next 9/11-like event in the US could be worse. A lot worse.

Every time I travel to the US, I shudder at the lack of security in malls, theaters, ballparks etc. Yes, you have to go through 'security' at Fenway Park (I was there two weeks ago), but they seem much more concerned with bottles and cans than with guns and plastic explosives. You can walk into and out of the most crowded shopping malls without anyone seeing you or checking your bags. Even airport security is a joke, with the backscatter machine taking the place of human intelligence. The big news on that front is that if you're over 75-years old, you no longer have to take your shoes off!

We're in a war against terrorism. And the saddest thing is that most of the West doesn't even realize it.

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At 7:45 PM, Blogger BH in Iowa said...

To emphasize this point look how The One chooses to remember 9/11:


This is how far "Forward" we've come.

At 7:49 PM, Blogger Empress Trudy said...

Within a few days one of the biggest sports radio shows in the country "Mike and Mike in the Morning" went on antisemitic rant on the air demanding that Jews and Israelis be expelled from the US because according to them this was all a Jew/Israeli false flag plot etc and they own the US government etc etc.

At 8:45 AM, Blogger Carl in Jerusalem said...

So Chayma's a 9/11 troofer.... What a surprise....

At 11:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Carl, do you believe that ANYONE can bring down the Twin Towers without inside help? Not even Mossad could do that. That is not my being a 'troofer', that is the opinion of military personnel who have served in the US military. Risked their lives for their country. One sits up and takes notice when the Head of Space Developments says the official version is a lie and that "all that all routes lead through Bush/Dick Cheney"

Remember, both are oil men, and Dick Cheney is one of the few people who benefitted from the subsequent Iraq war, he moved his oil company to Dubai.


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