A moshav called Newtown
Terrorism is not defined by boundaries and nationalities, it is defined as a threat to our livelihood.
Mourners for Connecticut school shooting victims Photo: REUTERS/Michelle McLoughlin
The hair on the back of my neck stiffened as I listened in stunned shock to the initial radio reports of the mass-shooting in Newtown this past Friday. The media was at its full throttle best and I was being broadsided with information. The crescendo of information, the pictures; now the funerals, so overwhelming, and the news cycle continues, building on the previous day's insistent, rancorous stream. I was fully enraptured in grief.
How can it be? Newtown, Connecticut? Of all places, I mean, this does not just happen in a school building. It could have been my own hometown, or any-other idylic, well-to-do suburb. I, like most, was bewildered. Not just because of where the massacre had taken place, but because of the victims, the shear amount of victims and their ages. The place added to the disbelief.
It dawned on me, as Shabbat and Sunday passed, this was a massacre and the individual responsible was a terrorist. I tried to rationalize and internalize the horrors. No, this was not a first time event, like a passenger plane flying into buildings. No, this was not the first time there was a mass shooting. It was definitely not the first time it happened in a school. But why, with all the world’s media on site, was it simply being termed a mass-shooting? Why is the gunman being referred to as just a gunman, lauded as a well-educated and well-bred twenty-year-old to boot?
With the continued repetition of all the horrible information, I began to feel numb in the present and my heart and mind went back almost two years ago.
In the West Bank settlement of Itamar, a beautiful place I had never heard of until March 2011, five members of the Fogel family, including three children ages 11, 4 and 3 months, were murdered by two Palestinian youths. The tragedy was immediately deemed a "terrorist attack." I remembered how sad and helpless I felt, wondering, how can this be? How can this happen? This mustn’t happen again. But then I couldn't help drifting back a bit further to March of 2008. to In Mercaz Harav, a yeshiva in Jerusalem, eight students were slaughtered by a 20 year-old Palestinian man. The horrors of that night cannot be forgotten. Students, investing in their future, the very best society had to offer, obliterated by the very worst. We immediately knew it was a massacre, that is what it was called, and the man responsible was a terrorist, simply stated.
My first Purim while studying in Israel, in 1996, was marred as well. The Dizengoff Center Mall in Tel Aviv was bombed and Purim was saddened. We all were. I remember the somber attitude on the Jerusalem busses given to strange looking people with strange packages. No one hesitated to ask aloud “Chaveela shel mee (Who's package is this)?”
These acts necessitated the term of "terrorism" in the media and public discourse. But the American attitude, and the world’s media who communicate it so well, continue to label the massacre in Newtown as a "shooting" and don't even think to call the young gunman a terrorist. To do so would be unbelievable to the American public, that only happens elsewhere, to others. Not in America. In America, it is just a terrible crime. Is this phrasing of the massacre a psychological barrier of political necessity?
Had Newtown been a moshav somewhere near the West Bank, condemnation would come from all over the world. Somehow, the word terrorist and massacre would be played up with the implied politics that it is not a simple crime, it is complex; the terrorist had a motive- however twisted. The silent outcome would intone: Israel, make peace.
The US is not immune to terrorism. They must admit that extreme domestic violence are also acts of terror. An attack like Newtown, just as at Mercaz Harav, is an attack on humanity and terroristic in nature. Geographical distance does not create a gap of reasoning. To change the terms that identify the act does not distinguish what took place.
It has nothing to do with making peace with terrorists, nor giving land away to Mexico, or Canada, or Uganda. This massacre transpired because a sick person had access to a gun. Just because his reasoning is unknown, unable to check the boxes of religious extremism or anti-Western democratic values, it was still an act of terror. No reasoning, regardless of how well-bred or how well-educated the individual is can ever justify what took place. Not in Newtown, not in Itamar, and not in Mercaz Harav. Terror is terror is terror, and must be universally recognized for what it is, politics aside.
I pray for the people of Newtown. I wish them peace and happiness and hope that they can endure and grow beyond what took place. May God watch over all of us and protect us forever more from violence, terror and grief.