A sad anniversary

Keeping track of every blown-up bus, restaurant and mall had become a national pastime, a year into the second intifada

A poster of the World Trade Center hangs on a wall at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, Sunday, May 25, 2014 (photo credit: OFFICIAL WHITE HOUSE PHOTO BY PETE SOUZA)
A poster of the World Trade Center hangs on a wall at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, Sunday, May 25, 2014
I awoke on September 11, 2001, in an agitated state. I was going to have to tell my boss that I would be leaving work early to take my son to an appointment. That was uncomfortable enough. But I was also going to have to rush to pick up my child across town, drop him off at an extracurricular activity, do the grocery shopping while waiting for him to finish, dash back home to prepare dinner for the rest of the family, and then head back out for a parent-teacher conference at the school.
Halfway through my shuttling back and forth, trying to be punctual in spite of massive Jerusalem traffic, I turned on the radio to see if there had been any new suicide bombings.
Keeping track of every blown-up bus, restaurant and mall had become a national pastime at this point, a year into the second intifada. Chauffeuring our kids everywhere, to avoid placing them in potential peril on public transportation, was now the norm. (The more irreverent among my friends would quip that the Palestinians had finally figured out an effective way to destroy the Jewish state: forcing us parents to become even more enslaved to our offspring than we already were.) The top story on the 4 p.m. news broadcast was startling.
It was about New York for a change.
“Authorities are investigating whether the crash of a plane into the World Trade Center was accidental or deliberate,” the announcer said.
Buckled in the back seat, my 11-year-old asked the meaning of the gasp and guffaw I let loose.
“Never mind,” I said, jerking into a parking space so that I could quickly escort him into the adjacent building and focus on the events in lower Manhattan. I didn’t have time to explain Western political correctness in relation to Arab terror. And this possible “aviation accident” was taking place nowhere near Israel.
Instead of going to the supermarket as planned, I stepped into a nearby café. Patrons were beginning to gather around a large TV, tuned in to CNN. We all stood and stared, mouths open, watching the first tower, and then the second, collapse like giant sand castles. American reporters were still not using the “T” word.
But we Israelis instantly knew.
Like everyone around me, I grabbed my cell phone and began the familiar protocol. First locate your loved ones.
Then inform others that you and your family are in one piece, literally and figuratively. Or not.
Indeed, my personal ritual had been to e-mail my parents in New York after every bombing in my vicinity to assuage their fears. And now the tables were turned. I was the one in need of reassurance. It was to no avail, however. The phone lines to the United States were so jammed that it was impossible to get through. When I arrived home with my son, I sat channel surfing and dialing, stopping occasionally to check my computer for mail; imagining the worst. Would I ever see my mother, father, sisters and brother again? By now, a plane had crashed into the Pentagon, another had been downed by its passengers and rumor disguised as reportage had it that this was only the beginning – that other planes were on their way to strategic destinations across America.
It felt as though the world was coming to some kind of grandiose end, directed by Steven Spielberg. It was like witnessing life imitating art, on steroids. And the only concrete thing I could think to do was phone the school to find out if the PTA meeting had been canceled (it hadn’t!) and then announce that I wouldn’t be attending (you know, on account of the apocalypse and all).
It was not until the following day that I was able to reach my sister in Virginia. What I learned from her is that my father had been at the courthouse right near the towers when they fell (about to do jury duty); my mother had been on the runway at LaGuardia airport, on her way to Washington (passengers were evacuated to a hotel, where they had to stay until the bridges and tunnels to the city were reopened); and my brother-in-law had been in his office next to the White House. My other sister had been in DC, as well, and my brother in Manhattan.
The knowledge that each was safe and sound helped to lower my heart rate, though the “what ifs” continued to flash through my mind. Now I knew how they all felt about their Israeli family’s managing to escape death on a daily basis, with suicide terrorists in our midst.
I had been wrong that the end of the world was nigh. I had been correct to understand, however, that civilization as we knew it would never be the same.
Along with the shock, a familiar sensation crept into my consciousness. It was exactly the way I had felt on November 1, 1979, when the US Embassy in Teheran was taken over by loyalists of the Ayatollah Khomeini and dozens of American diplomats were taken hostage in the name of Allah.
I had only been living in Israel for two years at that time.
And yet, my first emotional response to that egregious violation of international law and convention was schadenfreude.
Good, I thought, maybe now the Carter administration will grasp the nature of Islamic hatred. Perhaps a light bulb will go off in the heads of the Israel-bashers.
Jimmy Carter’s reaction throughout the 444 days of the hostage crisis led to his losing of the 1980 election to Ronald Reagan. The September 11 attacks led to the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan by President George W. Bush, a well-wisher who believed that the Arab-Muslim world strives for freedom and democracy just like everybody else.
Short memories and political correctness ushered Barack Obama into the White House and kept him there for a second term, in spite of the spread of global jihad against Judeo-Christian democracy and modernity. And though he is now being forced to launch a precision strike against the Islamic State terrorists (whose preferred method of making a statement is decapitation), he stressed on Wednesday that they are “not Islamic.”
This is a sad anniversary indeed. Thirteen years after 9/11, the only thing left to commemorate is the slow death of the will on the part of the West to assert its superiority over the barbaric Islamic – yes, Islamic – forces bent on its annihilation.
And no amount of tanks and planes, let alone diplomatic initiatives, can serve as a substitute.
My children no longer ask me why I gasp and guffaw when listening to the news. They are too busy waiting and training for the next war they will have to fight against the Islamists determined to wipe Israel off the map.
The writer is the author of To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.