My Word: A routine emergency

Instead of running away from terror, we might as well send Hamas and its allies a message of our own: We’re here to stay.

By
March 26, 2011 23:14
Aftermath of terror attack near J'lem bus station

Jerusalem Terror Attack 311 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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Can you talk about why you chose to leave England for Jerusalem, a radio show host asked me recently.

I thought it would be easy. But the simple question got me thinking.

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I briefly considered the flippant answer that the weather’s better. The daughter of a neighbor who immigrated from New Caledonia a year ago jokes she moved to Israel because it was “too boring.” When pushed, however, she admits that anti-Semitism played a role. How much anti-Semitism can there be in a country with hardly any Jews? “Well, it’s more an anti-Israel sentiment,” she explains.

It made me think of another reason to make aliya: Israel is probably the only place in the world where, when someone calls you a “Zionist” it’s a compliment and not an insult.

What really brought me here, strangely enough, was terror.

It’s a story I’ve told before. The first time I shared it was in 1996, following the double bombing of the No. 18 bus – a bus on which I still regularly travel.

Then, too, it was close to Purim.

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Instead of mishloah manot (gifts of food for the holiday), people walked down the narrow streets of my neighborhood carrying meals to the mourners.

On the morning of February 25, 1996, a suicide bomber blew himself up on a No. 18 traveling down Jaffa Road near the Jerusalem Central Bus Station.

Twenty-six people were killed and 48 injured. A week later, on March 3, a bomber detonated an explosive belt on another No. 18 on Jaffa Road, killing 19 and wounding seven.

The following week, when I boarded the bus, a passenger asked the driver: “Does this go as far as the Central Bus Station?” eliciting the response: “With God’s help.”

It was the time the joke began to circulate among those waiting for the already notoriously unreliable line: “Why do the buses always come in pairs? Because they’re afraid to travel alone.”

You might have to be a Jerusalemite to appreciate it. It might not be funny.

The lethal attack on March 23 certainly raises questions about how the new light rail, when it finally starts operating, will handle security issues.

ULTIMATELY THE answer to what brought me from a comfortable London suburb to a place where pioneering spirit was an asset lies in Germany – no, not what you think: the Munich massacre at the 1972 Olympic Games.

I was 11, a competitive swimmer and in love with Mark Spitz. That was when I first understood one could die simply for being Jewish. Anywhere.

“Don’t worry,” my mother had tried to reassure me as I watched events unfold on TV. “Mark Spitz is safe.”

What about the British competitor from my own swimming club? She had not been in danger, my mother explained; she wasn’t a Jew.

My young mind grappled to work out why an American super swimmer was at risk when the medal-winning member of my own team was not.

Why just Israelis and Jews? And then suddenly I understood the connection.

Israel wasn’t just an abstract name in my prayer book. It really existed – and more than anything else, I wanted to go there.

Arab terror turned me into a Zionist – a peculiar victory, indeed. There is nothing rational behind my decision to move to Israel; it was an emotional pull.

My Zionism was strengthened by every subsequent pointless death, and unfortunately, there were many: the massacre of children during a school trip in Ma’alot; the murders in Kiryat Shmona; the Yom Kippur War.

Each one contributed to my desire to come to the Promised Land.

The blast of terror blew me across the sea, carrying me home.

For where else could I go? There’s no other country with which I have that blood bond.

Ironically, during a recent trip to London I felt far less safe than in Jerusalem. Perhaps it’s always like that when you’re away from home, and London is definitely not my home any more. I found it unnerving to travel on trains and enter a shopping mall with my suitcase on wheelswithout a single security check. If nobody had looked to see what was inside my case, then no one had examined what anyone else was carrying either.

It was only slightly more comforting to have my luggage pulled to pieces by security at Heathrow airport where I’d forgotten to declare a plastic bottle of moisturizing lotion.

I can’t vouch for the overall security at the terminal, but I can testify that no one is going to get the chance to blow up a plane with 150 ml. of Boots moisturizer.

It’s more politically correct than profiling, of course; I just hope it’s as effective.

THE BOMBING in Jerusalem was loud. It brought back all sorts of memories and instincts that I’d prefer to forget – the “turn on the radio and call the family” standard operating procedure that was second nature during the years of terror.

There was the sound of sirens, ongoing news reports, and finally that utterly Israeli response when a certain kind of song is played on the radio. Whenever you hear Chava Alberstein singing “we’re all a part of the living human tapestry,” it’s worth checking whether there’s been a tragedy.

You might have thought that 50 mortar shells and rockets make a lot of noise , but obviously it depends where they fall. The barrage on the Negev on March 19 did not really reverberate. The rest of the the country picked up its head at the sound, sighed and got back to the Purim revelries. The world didn’t hear even the missiles, which let alone the sigh.

The missiles came with a message: “Look at us! We’re still here!” hissed the projectiles launched byIslamic Jihad in Gaza.

While some commentators remarked that the terrorists were exploiting the turmoil elsewhere in the Arab world to attack Israel, it seems more likely that it was an effort to reclaim the spotlight. It almost failed. Apparently, most of the world doesn’t much care if missiles are lobbed at Israel at an everincreasing rate in ever-widening concentric circles.

What is more important is Israel’s response.

“Israel has a right to defend itself,” ambassadors and foreign ministers proclaim. Just don’t ask them how.

“Israel doesn’t just have the right to defend itself,” said Minister Limor Livnat in a radio interview. “It has an obligation.”

We’ll probably be damned if we do and damned if we don’t.

As Beersheba, Ashdod, Ashkelon and the Gaza border communities all came under fire, and Jerusalem licks its latest wound, a phrase I hadn’t heard for a long time bounced back into usage: “Shigrat herum.” It is a typically Israeli term: a “routine emergency.”

Life is going to continue as usual – for an emergency, that is.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat called for the planned international marathon to go ahead on March 25.

Instead of running away from terror, we might as well send Hamas and its allies a message of our own: We’re here to stay.

Or as Mayor Barkat put it at the scene of the attack: “Jerusalem will not stop running” – forward, that is.

The writer is editor of The International Jerusalem Post

liat@jpost.com

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