September 12, 2001, NYC -- When the Unimaginable Happens, and
It's Right Outside Your Window
-- By CLYDE HABERMAN, New York Times
O you get it now? It is a question that many Israelis wanted to
ask yesterday of America and the rest of the finger-pointing world.
Not in a smart-alecky manner. Not to say, "We told you so." It was
simply a question for those who, at a safe remove from the terrorism
that Israelis face every day, have damned Israel for taking admittedly
harsh measures to keep its citizens alive.
"Suppose I had intelligence reports telling me that someone was
going to hijack a Boeing 757 and crash it into the World Trade Center,"
an Israeli official said yesterday. "And suppose I used an M-16
to kill him. According to the arguments being used against us, I'd
be an assassin, illegally using American weapons."
This official was referring to the international condemnation Israel
has endured for killing certain Palestinians, people accused of
not only masterminding anti-Israel terrorist acts in the past but
planning more in the near future. The American criticism of Israel
has been sotto voce. But it is there. And in this Black September,
after the worst act of terrorism in history, the question arises
from Israelis like this official:
Do you get it now?
"We are now going to see a very resolute, and possibly global,
approach to dealing with terrorism," Joseph Alpher, an Israeli strategic
analyst, said by phone from Tel Aviv. As for his own country, he
said, "People will understand with how much reserve we have responded
- and after this, criticism of the response will lower."
That question - do you get it? - came almost instantly to mind
yesterday to me, too, after having just spent two months reporting
from Israel. It was asked on more levels than merely how to deal
with those who kill Americans for having committed the unforgivable
sin of being Americans.
You can't avoid the question when, again, as on many occasions
while working in Israel in the first half of the 1990's, you have
seen the human wreckage caused by the suicide bombs that go off
with sickening frequency. You ask it because Jerusalem offers a
glimpse of what New York may become. Some likened the assault on
the trade center and the Pentagon to the attack on Pearl Harbor
in 1941. If the point was that we Americans may never be the same,
the analogy is apt. Jerusalem points the way.
JUST three days ago, I wrote about the fear that now grips Israelis,
how they listen for the sirens, how as the ambulances keep coming,
they reach for cell phones. Frantically, they call to make sure
that loved ones are all right. Often, they cannot get through because
so many people are phoning at the same time. They try to hold the
panic at bay.
All of that happened in New York yesterday.
Even without knowing who was behind this monstrous act, you could
not shake off the televised images of crowds of Palestinians - not
a handful of bloodthirsty extremists - chanting "God is great" and
joyously handing out candy in celebration on the streets of Nablus
in the West Bank. Same as when a bomb went off in Jerusalem and
killed children and their mothers in a restaurant.
The funerals for yesterday's victims will, you may be certain,
become national events and, for many, occasions for political statements.
Same as in Jerusalem.
In Israel, there is no such thing as six degrees of separation.
In a country that small, two degrees is more like it. If you don't
know a bombing victim personally, you almost surely know someone
who does. You may safely bet that an extraordinary number of New
Yorkers will have the same relationship to someone whose life was
cruelly extinguished yesterday in Lower Manhattan.
"It's all very personal there, and now it's all very personal here,"
said David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee.
More clearly than ever, Americans now understand that they may
not assume any public place is safe. Same as in Jerusalem.
Remember the suicide bomber who killed 15 innocent people at a
Sbarro's pizza outlet in downtown Jerusalem last month? As timing
would have it, that restaurant is supposed to reopen today. No doubt
an armed guard will be posted at the entrance, as one is these days
at almost every restaurant and outdoor cafe in central Jerusalem.
We certainly have no shortage of Sbarro outlets in New York.
Do you get it now?