Remembering the carnage a decade later

First responder that saw terror and bloodshed during 2002 attacks never shared his heartache.

Aftermath of terror attack at Park Hotel dining room 521 (photo credit: Reuters)
Aftermath of terror attack at Park Hotel dining room 521
(photo credit: Reuters)
If my story, through the eyes of the Israeli people and especially the first responders, has real themes over the last decade, it is surely one of silence, heroism, patience, pain and ongoing suffering, but most of all, one of resilience.
Unlike the United States, which on the 10th anniversary of 9/11honored the fallen and the heroes of that tragic day in a way that will forever be etched in my memory, officially no one in Israel has revisited the people who were first responders in the attacks 10 years ago. No one has stepped forward to acknowledge my dedicated fellow professionals and simply thank them for giving up so much.
I will share my reflection on10 years of carnage, chaos and hell while providing testimony of the 131 terror attacks that took place in Israel in 2002.
There were almost 500 innocent lives lost, and thousands more who were injured and never again able to enjoy some of the simple things in life. Shock and trauma set in like a cancer and destroyed so many people — in some cases only to be discovered 10 years later. Survivors and families of those murdered or injured suffered excruciating pain because of suicide bombers’ ruthless, cowardly acts. Where the survivors of these inhumane terrorist attacks jump at the sound of a siren or a car backfire, all I can offer to inspire my fellow first responders is a simple memory and a simple hug of affection.
The heroic first responders of Ground Zero defined what it means to meet adversity and then overcome it. In Israel, our first responders relentlessly meet the same adversity again and again, and we have to overcome it each time.
A very ordinary, human approach permeates my account of extraordinary and highly unsettling events but hidden deep within is agony stored like a massive archive of data, and it needs to be unearthed. There are the struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder that we as first responders all stubbornly refused to accept. There is the silent battle we all wage to ultimately rid ourselves of a tormenting life changing condition.
We as first responders served on the frontlines against carnage and terrorism for many years.
As an Israeli policeman in one of the more volatile regions in the world, where the media are ever present, I am bound by an unwritten code of silence forbidding even a hint of self-expression.
I start and finish my day by scanning the global news to see where another deadly terror attack has occurred. I deplore hearing of these events, no matter where they may be, but still I seek the news, just like in 2002, when I incessantly listened to the police radio, not wanting to miss a suspect or a suspicious object, trying to thwart the next blast, the next attack and more terror, more blood.
I refuse to give in or give up.
I spent almost seven years on the front line of a war of terror, witnessing Palestinian suicide bombers launch one bloody attack after another. Witnessing the horrors of these attacks over and over again certainly takes its toll. My own family became secondary and I became sleep deprived, as the battle to prevent another attack was constant.
I have been physically present and active at 16 terrorist attacks. I have responded to over 50. I have spent many hours blocking roads so that terror could be contained and thwarted.
I have faced my own mortality more times than I care to remember, yet I didn't talk about it with anyone. I never dared to speak. In every such attack, I saw blood and carnage in ways that are hard to imagine and describe. I left these scenes with a heavy load on my chest. For 10 long years I kept this all sealed inside of me, not daring to mention anything for fear of being seen as weak.
As the bombing continued, I spent up to 20 hours a day at work. I'd come home, take my shoes off, lie on the couch for three to four hours and leave the police radio blaring next to my ear, on alert for the next blast.
Gradually, nothing else seemed to matter. I missed bringing up my kids. I missed out on the best years. Once upon a time I was an avid red meat eater – a relic of my South African origins. I stopped eating meat for months after the attacks in2002. It reminded me of the bombing scenes. It still does at times. The smell lingers, as does the taste in my mouth.
As March 30 passes, our simple right to exist and live in peace is again being challenged, this time by a provocation that could spark a grave unrest anew. This year, this Pesah, pause for just a short minute and remember not only the freedom we gained from the Egyptians, but the victims of terror in Israel.
The writer, born in Johannesburg, South Africa, is a former Israel Police officer who commanded the Tourist Police in Netanya during the epicenter of the Palestinian terror campaign against Israel in 2002. He was present at sixteen fatal terror attacks as a first responder and responded to scores more. He was also an English language spokesman for the Israel National Police during Israel's disengagement from Gaza in 2005.