Australia: A shattered, but determined country

We may never be the same again. But we are not ready to give up on our oasis yet.

Security forces storm Sydney hostage siege cafe. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Security forces storm Sydney hostage siege cafe.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In one moment the innocence of Australia was taken away.
Some 202 people were murdered, including 88 Australians, when terrorists bombed a tourist district in Bali. Another 293 people were killed, including 27 Australians, when MH17 was brought down by terrorists in June. More recently, Australia police spoke about foiled terrorist plots and conducted raids across Sydney and Melbourne.
But it wasn’t until a terrorist attack in the middle of Sydney, in which two innocent people were gunned down, that the reality of terrorism really hit home for most.
It could have been my dad, who works only blocks away.
It could have been my uncle, who was in the cafe 10 minutes before the terrorist.
It could have been anyone just going about their regular business.
When the crisis started no one really believed it could be true.
Facebook was flooded with people posting about being evacuated or in lock-down. Rumors started swirling that there were bombs placed all over the city.
I had one friend who was several blocks away but she was scared. Some friends told her not to leave her office while others told her to get out of the city as soon as she could. It was a combination of fear and confusion.
And while all of this was happening in Sydney’s CBD there was a parallel story unfolding across the Australian Jewish community. The Community Security Group (CSG), which oversees the safety of Jewish institutions in Australia, issued a warning to all communal organizations to take extra precautions.
It was the first time, that I can remember, where the entire community has been put on such high alert as a direct result of a terror incident.
No one knew in the early hours if this was the act of a lone-wolf gunman or the start of a co-ordinated attack. Jewish schools canceled excursions and tightened security.
Other communal organizations wouldn’t let in visitors and some closed their doors and sent staff home.
At The Australian Jewish News Sydney office a security official told all staff to evacuate the premises. Some sections of the community have, on reflection, accused CSG of over-reacting.
But it was the first terrorist attack in Australia in decades and authorities wanted to avoid the unimaginable repercussions underestimating such a threat.
It was worth being inconvenienced for one day.
As the day turned into night and the hostage siege continued people stayed glued to their televisions. Some watched all night and saw the police enter the chocolate shop while others went to bed and woke up to the sad news that two innocent hostages had been killed. It was horrific and terrible news.
Australia woke up a shattered, but determined, country on Tuesday.
A friend sent me this message after she caught the bus to work in the city: “Bus was empty. Woolworths at Town Hall is empty. Town Hall Station is even emptier. This is so weird.”
We, in Australia, are not used to this and don’t know how to react. It happens ‘over there’ in America, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and London... but not here. This shouldn’t happen in Australia. Today, there is the feeling that we won’t let Australia become one of ‘those’ countries.
In the middle of the siege a woman on Twitter started #illridewithyou by offering to ride on public transport with an identifiably Muslim woman to make sure she felt safe.
By midnight the hashtag was trending because this wasn’t just about protecting Muslims, it was a gesture of solidarity.
We are the lucky country.
We may never be the same again. But we are not ready to give up on our oasis yet. For now, we can only hope there are no more attacks.
And on Tuesday night, on the first night of Hanukka, we lit two candles for the two innocent hostages who were killed simply going to work and buying a coffee.

The writer is National Associate Editor of the
Australian Jewish News.