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Life in this country sometimes feels like a roller-coaster ride.
With breakneck speed and twists and turns, it’s an effort and a challenge to concentrate on anything that is stable, anything to center you, when everything is going by in a blur. You wait for the moment when the ride is over – when you can let out that breath you’ve been holding and take stock, find perspective.
Yet here, the roller coaster never seems to stop. One can’t ever catch one’s breath before being sent careening and twisting into another tragedy, another breaking news story. With all that, how can a magazine be published every Friday that is timely, thoughtful and compelling? It was the morning of Wednesday, January 7 – press day for the Magazine for our Friday publication. Our cover story that week was a report from a whirlwind trip taken by my colleague, Seth J. Frantzman, and myself in Turkey.
We had been guests on the eccentric, unorthodox Islamic preacher Adnan Oktar’s show. It was only a few short months after the assassination attempt on right-wing Jewish activist Yehudah Glick, whom Oktar admired.
Frantzman and I interviewed Turkish Jews, political officials from both the ruling AK party and the opposition CHP party, and came away with the sense that Turkey’s power and influence was at a dangerous precipice – and could sway in the direction of freedom and democracy, or descend into a paranoid police state.
But by that weekend, no one would be talking about Turkey – all eyes moved to Paris, where the Islamist attack on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo shocked the world. It was three days of terrorism in the French capital, culminating with the murder of four Jews in a kosher supermarket on Friday afternoon.
France – and the world – rallied in its defense of free speech, liberty and religious freedom.
I obsessively followed the developments as they happened, corresponding with Eva Tapiero, a good friend and journalist in Paris, on how we could work together to publish a story in the weekend Magazine. She was interviewing heads of religious organizations – both the Muslim and Jewish communities condemned the attacks and asked for unity and tolerance in the face of violence, and protection of free speech.
Tapiero and I stayed in constant connection throughout that week – discussing the different angles for the story, but also our own personal fears.
“How does it feel from your end?” I asked her. “When this stuff [terrorism] happens in Jerusalem, as close as it is, it always feels far.”
“It feels close, but yes, far in a way, because it’s surreal,” she responded.
“At the same time, you still feel that the vast majority of people stand together.
I just had a call from my grandmother, who said, ‘You know I’m a bit scared.
Well, I’ve seen war, but still, it’s not a nice feeling I have now.’” On top of how we would publish the story, how would we illustrate it? While many news outlets were reprinting the Charlie Hebdo cover in solidarity – of a forlorn Muhammad holding a sign reading “Je suis Charlie” under the words “All is forgiven” against a green background – we couldn’t use it without the proper agreements. There was also the issue of safety: would we be attacked for printing a depiction of the prophet Muhammad? Then I found a photo on the Reuters news agency of the million-strong solidarity march in Paris with the focus on the hand of a woman, holding up three paint brushes in the colors of the French flag. It was such a beautiful and moving photo validating everything we were trying to do – that the pen was indeed mightier than the sword.
When our graphic artist Orit Hazon Mendel saw the photo, she imagined it against a black background, simple and clean, the way she usually likes her designs, powerful in its simplicity.
I don’t think anyone imagined that within that same year, we would be back in Paris, incredulous that an attack on the scale of what happened on November 13 – which left 130 people dead in coordinated attacks – could happen.
BUT BEFORE then, January moved into February and surprisingly, Israel was experiencing relative calm. The country was still reeling from Operation Protective Edge the summer before and for the Magazine, I wanted to focus on tales of inspiration – and to step out of Israel with stories from around the globe.
Stories this year have come in from Argentina, India, Russia, Afghanistan and Ukraine, among others. Personal profiles have included director of the Israel Museum James Snyder; human rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali; Holocaust educator, and grandson of the commander of Auschwitz, Rainer Höss; the American- Orthodox Jewish couple who defeated Big Tobacco; and the marking of 20 years since the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.
Yet 2015 has proven a year heavy on internal security and defense.
Frantzman – a personal friend – has been an indispensable contributor to the Magazine. He shares my vision of reporting important newsworthy stories from the perspective of the people who are living them.
Together we traveled to Kurdistan in June to understand this ethnic people, their quickly emerging autonomous state and their discipline and mission to defend and fight against Islamic State.
Frantzman has also walked in Europe with the refugees fleeing the Middle East; interviewed former heads of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) about the threat of Jewish terrorism; ridden with Jerusalem police during the height of the current wave of terrorism in Jerusalem – including getting caught up in an attack on Ammunition Hill; accompanied me to Hebron to report on the increase of stabbings of Israelis there and the reality of the Jewish and Palestinian residents in the area; and done countless stories on IDF units – all of this in addition to his weekly column and other responsibilities, as well as various special writing assignments he takes on.
Therefore, I knew I could count on him when, less than a year after Charlie Hebdo, Islamic terrorists attacked the French capital, with the Islamic State claiming responsibility.
WE SEARCH for a sense of control in an uncontrollable situation. We try to find stability on this roller-coaster.
On the Sunday following the November Paris attacks, I faced a decision.
Does the Magazine write about Paris again? Or is there something else I can publish, a story that might give us light in this darkness, give us hope when it seems hopeless? On November 12, a large-scale offensive led by the Kurdish Peshmerga in coordination with coalition air strikes handed Islamic State a decisive defeat.
The Kurds had retaken Mount Sinjar – cutting off a crucial supply line between the Islamic State’s capital in Raqqa, Syria, and its base in Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city. This was the story of inspiration and hope I had been looking for.
While Islamic extremists were lashing out not only in Paris, but in attacks in Beirut, Baghdad and the Sinai Peninsula, the disciplined Kurdish forces were fighting back and winning. It was Frantzman who was able to tackle such a story, interviewing a local journalist who had been on the ground during the liberation and summarizing the events leading up to the battle.
A few weeks later, Frantzman visited Mount Sinjar, bringing back harrowing photos of mass graves of slaughtered Yazidis, their sun-bleached bones next to the blindfolds they wore when Islamic State members executed them.
ON SATURDAY, November 14, when I learned of the scope of horrifying terrorist attacks in Paris the night before, I immediately thought of Tapiero.
“Eva are you safe?!” I texted her. She was okay; the attacks were close, but not in her district.
“Now we’re waiting, hope it’s going to be a quiet day,” she wrote to me.
My heart broke when I read that message – I had said relatively the same thing to friends and family who checked in on me when the wave of terrorism was cresting in October in Jerusalem.
With a horrifying feeling, I came to the realization that nowhere in the world is safe anymore.
With the attacks in Paris, the mass shootings and terrorism in the US, the whole world was under attack. What can we do? I asked Tapiero if she wanted to contribute to the Magazine again, but she was too busy working for other news outlets.
“I’m very proud of you,” I wrote her.
“Do you feel good, in contributing?” A thought was forming in my head, an answer to why we journalists do what we do, constantly concerning ourselves with terrorism, horror and grief.
“Thanks, yes, I feel good indeed,” she wrote back. “And actually I didn’t expect it. Also, this way I don’t think about it all the time and don’t get scared, because I’m active.”
The year 2015 has been a difficult time in the world’s battle against radical Islamist extremism. In the final issue of the Magazine closing out the year, we paid tribute to the brave Kurdish fighters and volunteers – men and women – who in the face of such threats have no other option but to fight for their survival.
Looking forward to 2016, one can hope the international community will take notice as much as the Magazine has in the potential of these people in contributing to a more stable Middle East, with democracy and human rights at the forefront and in line with the values of the State of Israel and its people.