I enjoy being described as a pundit, especially with the emphasis on the “pun,” but I was taken aback this week when I discovered I was considered an expert on terrorism. My humble career in the IDF didn’t prepare me for that job description. Apparently it was my experience as an ordinary Israeli citizen.
I was approached by London-based LBC Radio to appear in a brief live interview on an afternoon show dedicated to the question “Have you accepted that Islamistic terror is here for decades?” Interviewer Shelagh Fogarty wanted to hear how Israelis handle terrorism. Over the phone in my sunny Jerusalem office I heard the interview that preceded mine. An Australian policewoman who had been caught up as a tourist in the Barcelona attack was giving sensible advice such as making sure children have their parents’ names and phone numbers attached to the inside of their clothing (not in a bag that is likely to get lost in the event of an emergency).
Hearing an Australian discussing a terrorist attack in Spain with a British interviewer brought home just how widespread jihad is. Last week, Finland joined the not-so-exclusive club of countries hit by Islamic terrorism.
The main preventive measures include cyber warfare, a stronger response on the social media, a no-tolerance policy for imams preaching violence, placing physical barriers in pedestrian areas and having more and better trained security personnel.
My main advice related to how the ordinary person should respond to the terrorist scourge.
Israelis are, sadly, very aware of the threats. We automatically submit to having our bags checked at the entrance to shopping malls, hospitals, and bus and train stations. We are naturally alert. Warnings to be on the lookout for suspicious objects are the Israeli equivalent of London Underground’s “Mind the gap.”
The gap in mind-set is still there, but as the death toll rose following the combined ramming and stabbing attacks in the British capital in March and June and the bombing at a concert in Manchester in May, it is shrinking.
My suggestion, relevant anywhere in this small and dangerous world, is that as many people as possible are trained in first aid. During waves of terrorism, knowledge of first aid enables you to feel more in control, less a victim.
Some two years ago, I attended a free refresher session at Jerusalem’s First Station. The lesson was given to whoever wanted to attend, in between shopping and dining and other leisure activities. It was a Friday afternoon, that time that has its own peculiar pre-Shabbat feeling in Jerusalem – a far cry from London, Paris, Berlin, Nice or Barcelona, and other cities on global jihad’s map.
My son, well-trained in first aid and at nearly 16 the veteran of several wars and waves of terrorism, rolled his eyes when he read the headline in The Jerusalem Post
on Wednesday: “EU envoy: Israel can learn from Europe how to fight terrorism.”
EU Ambassador Lars Faaborg-Andersen, who is Danish, told reporters that Israel effectively uses its “strong security dimension,” but added: “In Europe we have adopted a holistic approach to fighting terrorism. I think Israel could have an interest in studying our experience in holistic approaches,” such as “de-radicalization,” working with social services, and education.
Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of the London radio interview was that Fogarty stated that she didn’t want to address the political issues between Israel and the Palestinians. I was relieved. Approaching Palestinian terrorism as a separate issue makes no more sense than pretending that Islamist terrorism is a social welfare concern. When a terrorist yelling “Allahu akbar” attacks a group of civilians, it is a clear sign of Islamist ideology wherever the crime is carried out. It doesn’t miraculously mean “Down with the settlements” when attacks are in Israel and “Allah is greater” every - where else in the world. And it certainly isn’t a code for “I’d like a different job and better housing, please.”
Like the EU, the UN has yet to truly respond to the spreading dangers. When Assistant Secretary-General Miroslav Jenca briefed the Security Council on “The Situation in the Middle East” on Tuesdays, as usual the speech focused on the Palestinian issue.
“Following the deadly 14 July attack in which two policemen were killed by three assailants in the Old City, three Israelis were stabbed to death in a terror attack and six Palestinians were killed during primarily peaceful protests, two as a result of live ammunition, which raises concerns about the use of force by Israeli security forces,” Jenca said, according to an official statement.
The briefing addressed other incidents, from the stabbing attack by a Palestinian of a Jewish man in Yavne to the incident on August 8 when “militants in Gaza fired a rocket, which landed in an open area in southern Israel. The following day, the Israeli Air Force retaliated with missile fire at two Hamas installations in Gaza, injuring three people.”
By last Thursday, however, the UN seems to have given up trying to make sense of it all and simply noted “an alleged suicide bombing killed one and injured five others in the Southern Gaza Strip.” Perhaps when a Salafist kills the Hamas officials trying to stop him from entering the Sinai Peninsula where ISIS is building a strong base, it’s easier not to mention the parties involved – particularly if Israel can’t be blamed.
Current affairs are not always black and white. When the Tel Aviv Municipality was illuminated in the colors of the Spanish flag last week in a now almost trite act of solidarity, I wasn’t the only one to wonder how the independence-inclined Catalonians felt about it. The fact that the iconic Barcelona Foot- ball Club was until June sponsored by Qatar Airways could also give pause for thought: Recently the social media were full of stories of the logo on the club’s shirts being blacked out in the United Arab Emirates, which is among the Gulf countries blockading their Qatari neighbor for supporting terrorism.
Barcelona’s chief rabbi, Meir Bar-Hen, this week clarified to The Jerusalem Post’s
Tamara Zieve that he hadn’t called on the Jewish community to flee the country. But I’m sure the thought of moving had occurred to some of them.
A report by the Campaign Against Antisemitism watchdog group published on Sunday revealed that during interviews with thousands of British Jews, almost a third said they have considered leaving the United Kingdom over the past two years due to antisemitism.
Personally, I found Britain to be a good place to leave and Israel a great place to live. Jews in Europe and elsewhere should come for Israel’s attractions, not to escape.
And to answer the question hanging around the air - waves: Yes, Islamist terrorism will be coming to a theater of war near all of us for years to come. The names of the perpetrators might change, the same way that al-Qaida morphed into ISIS, but the basic ideology is unlikely to disappear.
My advice is to take the best of both my British background and my Israeli lifestyle: Keep calm, keep alert and don’t give in to terrorism by giving up on the good things in life. And wherever you are, be among those willing and able to help save lives.