Responding to terror

Judging from afar here in Israel, the reaction in the US to the atrocious violence carried out this week during the Boston Marathon is exemplary.

April 18, 2013 23:15
3 minute read.
People comforting each other after Boston blast, April 15, 2013.

People comforting each other after Boston blast 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi)

Judging from afar here in Israel, the reaction in the US to the atrocious violence carried out this week during the Boston Marathon is exemplary.

While vowing, as President Barack Obama did, to “find out who did this” and make sure they “feel the full weight of justice,” Americans seem determined not to give in to fear and despair as the perpetrators of this heinous crime would have them do.

Even in the immediate aftermath of the bombings, the world was uplifted by stories of runners who stubbornly finished the race. Some continued running to hospitals to donate blood to the dozens seriously wounded by the two explosions.

Bostonians answered the call to help house runners who were unable to get to their hotels near the blasts. And it goes without saying that next year the 117-year-old marathon will take place, as planned, on Patriots’ Day, which commemorates the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the opening battles of the American Revolution.

Israelis are, regrettably, intimately familiar with the challenges faced right now by Americans of coping with the physical and psychological effects of terrorism. This time it was Israelis turn to be inspired by another people’s refusal to be intimidated by a cowardly act of terrorism. Even so, Israel had a small part to play in helping Americans cope.

Though American preparedness for attacks is part of the cultural legacy of September 11, Israel has contributed its share to helping Americans respond to such violence. During the waves of attacks by Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Fatah-affiliated al-Aksa Martyrs Brigades and other terrorist groups starting in the late 1990s, Israeli doctors gained unique experience dealing with the injuries caused by bombs packed with nails, ball bearing and scrap metal such as the ones that went off at the Boston Marathon on Monday. Israeli triage expertise, gained on the streets of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and elsewhere during the second intifada, has been shared with Massachusetts General Hospital, one of several medical centers that treated victims of the Boston bombings. And Israeli physicians helped to set up the hospital’s disaster team to better prepare it for responding to such attacks.

Americans’ and Israelis’ expertise at responding to terrorism is directly related to deep-seated beliefs. Both countries place a high value on life and value the sort of freedom that enables innovation and creativity needed for technological advances.

Unlike for most acts of terrorism, the perpetrators of the Boston bombings remain unknown – at least as of this writing. Not knowing toward whom to direct one’s outrage can be frustrating. But perhaps, as Commentary’s Jonathan Tobin has pointed out, there is a small blessing in a temporary state of ignorance: It checks our natural inclination to jump to conclusions about the political ramifications of the attack. We do not know whether it was a right-wing extremist, an Islamist or some other fanatic who planned and executed the bombings.

As a result, no one – neither on the Right nor on the Left – can exploit the tragedy to further a particular political agenda. Americans can, instead, focus on healing the pain caused by this crime.

Attacks such as the Boston Marathon bombings help us appreciate all the more lives free from terrorism and fear while emphasizing the fragility of our peaceful existence. At the same time, Americans’ refusal to cave in to fear and despair is truly inspirational.

Love of freedom is seen by terrorists as a weakness because fear of losing this freedom can be exploited. It is also much easier to carry out terrorist attacks in an open society. But terrorists fail to see that it is precisely this freedom which makes America – and Israel – so great and so resilient to the threat of terrorism.

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