The French have a word for it. Or a phrase, to be precise. L’esprit de l’escalier. Sometimes translated as “staircase wit,” it is the term for thinking too late of the perfect retort. The phrase comes from philosopher Denis Diderot’s Paradoxe sur le comédien where he describes being overwhelmed and speechless while dining at the home of statesman Jacques Necker “and can only think clearly again” after he’s left the room “at the bottom of the stairs.”
We all suffer from it.
It happened to me last week following a brief live radio broadcast on June 9, the day after the terrorist attack in Tel Aviv’s Sarona Market in which four people were killed.
The London-based LBC interviewer, while sounding sympathetic, surprised me with his first question as to whether the location of Sarona, across the road from the Defense Ministry and IDF headquarters, was significant.
I swiftly pointed out that Sarona is the hip, yuppie, trendy place-to-be in Tel Aviv and that the victims were not young soldiers but ordinary civilians sitting in a coffee shop for an evening out. (The victims were Ben-Gurion University sociologist Dr. Michael Feige, 58; Coca-Cola executive Ido Ben Ari, 42; Ilana Naveh, reportedly dining out to celebrate her 40th birthday the night she died; and Mila Mishaev, 32, waiting to meet up with her fiancé.) I didn’t immediately think to compare Sarona to London’s Covent Garden complex, although the similarity came to mind almost the moment the conversation had ended.
It was chosen not because of its proximity to a military site, but because it symbolizes the Tel Aviv culture, I noted. Adding that, in typical Tel Aviv and Israeli spirit, people purposely dined out at the site the next day in a display of our famed national resilience (and our equally famous contrariness – being davka – to defy the terrorists.) I didn’t have time to note that an attack on Sarona had more in common with the November 13, 2015, terrorist atrocity in Paris in which some 130 people were killed, including restaurant-goers in a neighborhood frequented by what the French call “Bobos” – bourgeois-bohèmes.
It was only later, at the bottom of the staircase as it were, that I realized how outrageous it is to assume that targeting soldiers would be more acceptable.
Three Jordanian intelligence officers and two civilians working with them were killed last week in an attack at the Baqa’a Palestinian refugee camp (more a sprawling city after nearly five decades). That was not okay.
It wasn’t all right when Mohammed Merah killed French soldiers a few days before killing three children and the father of two of them outside a Jewish school in Toulouse in March 2012. Or when a jihadist killed a French police officer the day before the Hyper Cacher supermarket massacre in January last year.
The murder of British Army Fusilier Lee Rigby, killed by two Islamists on a London street in May 2013, should not be dismissed because he was in uniform. When US Army psychiatrist Nidal Hasan opened fire on soldiers at Fort Hood in Texas in November 2009, killing 13, it should have served as a wake-up call, not been yawned off.
That the more than 130 Pakistani children killed in a Taliban-affiliated attack in Peshawar in December 2014 were studying in a military academy should make the massacre no less shocking. And the regular attacks on Egyptian and Turkish soldiers should not be excused.
By the time ISIS took credit for the particularly brutal stabbings of French police officer Jean-Baptiste Salvaing and his wife, killed in their home near Paris on June 13, it should have been particularly clear what the world is dealing with. The terrorist, Larossi Abballa, 25, who deliberated real-time on the social media about also killing the couple’s three-year-old son, was reportedly jailed in 2013 for helping Islamists go to Pakistan.
According to a several reports, Paris prosecutor François Molins said he had been under security service surveillance, including wiretaps, at the time of the attack. (The orphaned toddler was rescued, traumatized but physically unharmed.) What does the fact that he was known to have terrorist affiliations but was still able to carry out the attack remind you of? Orlando.
As most people are now painfully aware – even those readers who were not exposed to the news during the Shavuot festival at the beginning of the week – Omar Mateen, pledging allegiance to Islamic State, in the early hours of June 12 opened fire on the gay Pulse club in Orlando, Florida, killing at least 49 people and wounding a similar number.
The monstrous attack launched, apart from anything else, vehement discussions on whether an attack should be defined by the perpetrator or the victims (or perhaps a combination of both).
Israelis, so frequently targeted by terrorists, are particularly sensitive to the double standards that abound: the refusal to see that Israel is in the front line of the Islamist onslaught and under attack not because of “settlements” but because our enemies don’t want to see us enjoying normal lives, going out for a coffee.
The attackers in Tel Aviv, Orlando and Paris (and elsewhere) chose different targets but acted out of the same convictions. But only Israel is urged to exercise restraint when trying to tackle the problem.
At least, for a change, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon denounced the attack in Tel Aviv and the Hamas response to it, issuing a statement saying: “The secretary-general is shocked that the leaders of Hamas have chosen to welcome this attack and some have chosen to celebrate it. He calls upon the Palestinian leadership to live up to their responsibility to stand firmly against violence and the incitement that fuels it.”
Most of my friends were shocked that he was shocked.
What does he think has been happening until now? THERE ARE three things related to the Tel Aviv terror attack that I could have told the radio station in London, but I doubt they’d have believed me.
The first is that the terrorist wounded during the attack was treated in a Tel Aviv hospital, alongside his victims – which is the difficult but moral thing to do.
The second: That the terrorist who originally abandoned the scene was found wandering around in a state of shock by a policeman. The good cop gave him water and took him upstairs to his apartment, leaving the terrorist alone with his wife and in-laws while he raced off to help in the aftermath of the attack. The policeman soon noticed that the captured terrorist was wearing the same shiny suit as the man he’d left with his family and rushed back home wondering if they were dead or alive.
Friends and I speculated on how that will continue to haunt and taunt him in future family arguments.
The final item is even more unbelievable. According to a Channel 2 news report, the nephew of Hamas leader in Gaza Ismail Haniyeh was hospitalized last weekend in an Israeli hospital. His daughter and granddaughter have previously also received medical treatment in Israel (pro-boycotters, please note).
I stand by my conviction that the purveyors of terrorism should not be benefiting from medical tourism.
The relatives of Hamas leaders should not be given Israeli hospital beds while the organization carries out terrorist attacks and distributes candies to celebrate its “victories”; continues to build terrorist tunnels; and holds two Israeli citizens and two Israeli soldiers (or their bodies) captive. The status of St.-Sgt. Oron Shaul and Lt. Hadar Goldin, both presumed killed during Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014, was just last week updated to “missing in action and in captivity,” in an effort to keep their case open.
Hosting the relatives of their captors suggests that those who authorized the Israeli hospitalization fell down the proverbial stairs while looking for the correct response and landed on their firstname.lastname@example.org