I was blogging in the same cafe on Rehov Azza I’m at now when news of the March terrorist attack in Jerusalem – the powerful bomb which exploded next to two crowded buses at the Binyanei Ha’uma building in central Jerusalem killing Mary Jean Gardner and wounding 50 others – reached me, shortly followed by the calls, text messages, and emails from friends and family making sure I was okay.
Having been in Israel not quite two years the attack was an initiation of sorts, a sober reminder of the stakes and the reality of Israeli life.
No matter how much I empathized as a passionate Zionist in the diaspora there’s something profoundly different when the bomb laced with nails, bolts and additional shrapnel is aimed at you, your community, your loved ones – merely one incendiary device out of the thousands which have torn through bodies and torn apart lives in the Jewish state over the years.
The day also brought to mind my father, who, following the attack on Pearl Harbor, at age 18 and shortly after finishing high school, enlisted in the U.S. Army. Even at that young age, he knew exactly what the stakes were for his country and the values he cherished.
The path which brought me to Israel, to our land, was a long one and, in hindsight, required far too much reflection than was warranted, and stands in stark contrast to my father’s foresight, confidence and – our era’s increasingly uncommon – plain moral common sense.
It began on September 11, 2001 when news had arrived that a series of coordinated suicide attacks by al-Qaeda terrorists killed nearly 3000 innocent Americans in New York City, Washington DC, and Pennsylvania, and the sight of the commercial planes tearing into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
While the image of the twin towers collapsing is the most iconic image from that fateful day, what I most vividly remember are the horrific clips of some of the nearly 200 men and women forced by the raging fires on the top floors to leap to their deaths, landing on the streets and rooftops of adjacent buildings hundreds of feet below – and, equally disturbing, scenes of Palestinians celebrating the attacks on the streets of Ramallah and East Jerusalem.
Though I was one of the fortunate few who didn’t know anyone killed that day, the attack on my country by a terrorist group led by Osama Bin Laden was an awakening of sorts to the grim reality which the comfort and affluence of American life typically obscured: That malevolent, reactionary forces allied against the democratic world did not distinguish between civilian or combatant; men, women, or children; nor between citizens in New York City, London, and Madrid – or Jerusalem, where the terrorist onslaught of the 2nd Intifada had already raged for a year.
I had quickly become what would later would be known as a post-9/11 American, and indeed still filter the immediate response by Americans to the al-Qaeda attacks as something akin to a political Rorschach test: the division between those who responded with anger and outrage and understood fully the political and moral stakes versus those whose immediate instinct was self-flagellation – a Western masochism predicated on the belief that such an attack was evidence not of terrorist villainy but, rather, of American sin, guilt or hubris.
The political pathology of moral relativism which typically results in the failure of far too many in the affluent post-modern West – otherwise sensitive, sober and rational souls – to distinguish between democracy and tyranny, between friend and foe, represents an ideological threat which defies traditional strategic and military advantages, and serves as a very real danger to the future of a freedom, democracy, and pluralism – and indeed the very existence of my new nation.
The death of the al-Qaeda leader at the hands of U.S. soldiers is a military victory for sure, and a testament to the fact that there are still brave Americans who understand that there are some things in life worth fighting and dying for.
But the fight against the dangerous political currents which render too many mute in the face of Islamist inspired violence, this at times appalling moral abdication, continues unabated – the outcome of which will ultimately determine if the American victory in the highland town north of Islamabad was real and meaningful, or merely a chimera.