This Normal Life: A terrible confession

But when the whole world seems to be on the brink of war, and terrorism can strike anywhere at anytime, there’s probably no place I’d rather be than in Israel.

Rescue service personnel working outside a restaurant following shooting incidents in Paris, France, November 13, 2015 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Rescue service personnel working outside a restaurant following shooting incidents in Paris, France, November 13, 2015
(photo credit: REUTERS)
I have a terrible confession to make. I’m ashamed to even let the words pass my lips, but I suspect I’m not alone. Each time there’s a terrorist attack overseas, that is to say, one outside of Israel, I feel a tiny twinge of hope. Then I am instantly overcome with guilt and I berate myself for being an awful individual: insensitive, callous, cavalier. What kind of person feels anything but anguish at other people’s pain? I ask myself, while writing down a new al het for next year’s Yom Kippur.
It’s not that I want people to get hurt, has v’halila.
I’m in shock over what’s been happening in the world, in Paris in particular, and have no desire to see violence of any kind escalate. But here’s the thing: When terrorism strikes outside Israel, I harbor the slightest, undoubtedly misguided fancy that this time the world will “get” us. That the people of Brussels who were locked in their homes and hotels for three days straight will finally understand what we in Israel have to deal with on a daily basis. That US Secretary of State John Kerry will do more than issue even-handed warnings and denunciations.
I’m not expecting that the European Union or the Obama administration will change their respective approaches towards peace in the Middle East. I’m not even saying that they should. But it would be nice to hear, just for a moment, that maybe you Israelis aren’t “executing” innocent civilians, as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has accused us; that maybe we Europeans could learn a thing or two from you about fighting terrorism; that we’re all in the same boat when it comes to a shared enemy.
BUT ALAS, my hopes are repeatedly dashed. While the world poured out its sympathy for Paris – as well it should – no similar sentiment was expressed for the Israelis killed since that horrendous Friday the 13th in France. The American news programs I follow belatedly realized their omission... about Beirut and Turkey, that is, which suffered their own Islamic State attacks prior to Paris. But not a word about Ezra Schwartz, for example, the American teenager who was gunned down by a Palestinian terrorist in Gush Etzion on November 19.
Three days later, on November 22, US President Barack Obama gave a press conference in Malaysia where he paid tribute to two Americans who had been killed in the recent terrorist attacks – Nohemi Gonzalez who was in Paris and Anita Datar who died in the Mali hotel assault. But not Schwartz. Why was he left out? Was it because he was killed “in an attack in the politically complicated West Bank and not in one of the higher profile attacks that was rocking the world?” asked Haaretz’s Allison Kaplan-Sommer? When Obama finally called the Schwartz family – a full four days later – to offer his condolences, it was too little, too late for Israelis already infuriated by the double standards of language. Such as Marne Richardson, who posted on Facebook the official responses from the US State Department to Schwartz’s murder and the attacks in Paris.
About Paris: “These are heinous, evil, vile acts. Those of us who can, must do everything in our power to fight back against what can only be considered an assault on our common humanity.”
About Schwartz: We “continue to urge all sides to take affirmative steps to restore calm and prevent actions that would further escalate tensions.”
Why the different tone? Richardson asked. “Wasn’t Ezra’s murder [also] a heinous, evil, vile act?” To his credit, US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro did acknowledge Schwartz’s death quickly. But “the contrast with the way the world, officially and unofficially, has embraced France [compared to its approach to terrorism in Israel] has been impossible to ignore,” concluded Kaplan-Sommer. When it comes to Paris, the State Department seems “strikingly unconcerned about ‘restoring calm.’” FOR THE paranoid, the-world-hates-the-Jews personalities among us, the Paris-Gush Etzion divide confirms our worst fears.
Pro-Israel musician Peter Himmelman (Bob Dylan’s son-in-law) wrote on his blog: “Why aren’t the people who changed their Facebook photos to the French flag changing it today to the Israeli flag? Changing it to Ezra’s picture? But who am I kidding? Israel isn’t France is it? No, it’s just a bunch of Jews over there and maybe, just maybe... they deserve it, right?” Himmelman added emphatically, “Today, I am standing with Israel, plain and simple.”
Journalist, lawyer and former Jerusalem Post correspondent Jordana Horn, in a JTA op-ed, offered one answer to why terrorism in Israel elicits such a paucity of response. Maybe, she wrote, it’s “because Jews are murdered so frequently that it just isn’t as shocking as Parisians being murdered in a music hall.”
Or as Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström sputtered in an interview, the fact that the “Palestinians see that there is no future” must be the root cause for the attacks in Paris.
I don’t usually agree with most things Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says, but he was right when he declared on Facebook that “it’s time for the world to condemn terrorism against Israel in the same manner that it condemns terrorism in France and anywhere else in the world.”
The most depressing part of what happened in Paris – and what’s happening every day in Israel – is that it flies in the face of (and stands to potentially upend) data that show we are living in the least violent time in history. In his A Brief History of Humankind course, Yuval Noah Harari brings what should be a set of optimistic infographics: In the year 2002, 172,000 people died in wars between states while 569,000 died from violent crime (including terrorism), for a total of 741,000.
“That sounds like a lot of people, and it is – each of these victims is a world destroyed, a family ruined, friends and relatives scarred for life,” Harari says.
But from a macro-perspective, those violent deaths represent just 1.5 percent of the 57 million people who died from all causes in 2002, Harari explains. Looking at it a different way, in Japan, only one person per 100,000 will be the victim of “intentional homicide” (statistics speak for “murder”) in any given year. In New York, it’s seven out of 100,000; in Detroit, it spikes to 50 out of 100,000. For the US as a whole, it’s just under five, and for the entire world, including its most dangerous places, the grand total is just nine people out of every 100,000.
Israel’s intentional homicide rate in 2012, according to the World Bank, was just two people per 100,000. (Going forward, that number would include knife attacks but not missiles from Gaza, which would be classified as “armed conflict.”)
By contrast, in ancient societies, comprised of simple farmers, “with no political organization larger than the local community, about 400 people were violently killed each year out of every 100,000. That’s eight times more than in Detroit,” Harari says in his course.
BUT HAVE we reached a tipping point, where violence starts trending upward again? In November, the Institute for Economics and Peace released its latest report and found that in 2014, 32,685 people were killed in terrorist attacks, an 80% increase from the year before.
Most of the terrorism occurred not in the West (or in Israel for that matter) but in five countries: Iraq, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria. Boko Haram was the deadliest terrorist group, surpassing Islamic State, although most of the casualties in Syria were classified as “battlefield deaths.”
The numbers look grim, but the intentional homicide rate, the report points out, was still 13 times greater. But after Paris and whatever comes next, Islamic State appears to be winning the fear game if nothing else.
How else to explain what happened in Brussels, where for three days, citizens were told to stay indoors, mass transit was shut down, restaurants closed and cultural events canceled? Even though Israelis feel constantly under siege, such a total shut down has never happened here. No doubt downtown Jerusalem is hurting (my wife and I went out for sushi the other day and we were almost alone in the restaurant), but Israelis defiantly continue with their lives. How else to explain our remarkable score of 7.4 on the latest OECD happiness survey, compared with an average of just 6.6 for other developed countries?
Which leads me to the other reason I feel that odd twinge of hope when it seems that we’re not alone in the crosshairs of terrorism. It closes down the mental escape hatch, the niggling voice that speaks up, especially to immigrants, to say that it would be safer elsewhere and that by living here we’re endangering our families and ourselves unnecessarily. But when the whole world seems to be on the brink of war, and terrorism can strike anywhere at anytime, there’s probably no place I’d rather be than in Israel, with our own army, run by our own sons and daughters, here to protect us.
And that’s a confession I’m proud to make.
The author is a freelance writer who specializes in technology, start-ups and the entrepreneurs behind them. More at