And France found itself to be like Israel

The snow is falling on Jerusalem. All is still and white. There is a moment of complete silence right after the explosions, a scorn that lasts an instant before the screams of the wounded and the sirens of the ambulances and the police. Here in Israel we have seen it many times, with a victim count of roughly two thousand dead.

Now, while all is white here, the silence is friendly, people in their homes talk about the small things (electricity, heating systems), and the paradox looks enormous: people are staring at the TV because this time terror poured down on Paris. It is with a particular and participated apprehension that Israeli people look at those scenes, so unfortunately familiar even if they are taking place so far away. Israel is suffering together with Paris, live on every channel; Netanyahu asks if he can send help, while the Islamic extremism, which here is an unwelcome travelling companion, has now brought France on its knees with a satisfied sneer.

How could something like that happen to a city like Paris, protected by its infinite beauty and history, a city that, until today, had believed it could not be called into question? Unlike Paris, Jerusalem has always been aware of its many enemies: think about its police forces, the army, the annoying procedure for which every citizen must be searched every time he enters a public place, the compliance to the security norms, for which every unattended package is a potential bomb, or the personal heroism shown by bus drivers, waiters and clerks.

In other words, the defense shield of this country gave its citizens a certain grit; they do not doubt that they will defeat the enemy despite the new era of the “lone wolves”. Israel has said and repeated it, and now it is true: terror, if not fought, will multiply worldwide. Paris has been caught off guard: it did not know, and somewhat it did not want to know. There had been warnings and clues, but the terrorist war has bared its teeth even more than it already did with the yet tremendous London attacks.
The symbolism of the targets is huge: a newspaper that dared to speak out what it thought, and a kosher supermarket, with customers from the Jewish community, attacked on a Friday evening, when families use to go shopping for the holy day of Shabbat.

This symbolism tells the French people in the first place that, depending on the development of the Islamists’ deranged plan, anyone could become cannon fodder, another milestone on the path of the worldwide Caliphate.

In Paris people have locked themselves in their houses for hours: the police ordered the closure of the shops along Rue de Roisiers, heart of the Marais neighborhood, the historic Jewish district, to protect residents and tourists from further attacks.Around Porte de Vincennes, the area of the Hypercasher supermarket, there was not a soul in sight. The Parisians have kept their eyes glued to their TV screens for hours, just as Israelis do every time there is an attack or a kidnapping, hoping for a release of the hostages, which happened in the evening. The city let out a sigh of relief when it came the news that the prisoners had been released and the terrorists of both the attack killed.

But the result is still unconvincing, there is still fear about what will happen next time. Other four innocent victims after those twelve who died on Wednesday are a lot, and anyone shopping in a supermarket could actually become one.

How could it happen that such figures linked to Islamic Jihad, who knew each other, who had already killed people the day before, were able to hit again? How did they manage to hold a capital like Paris in their grasp? Reports started to come from all over the city about bomb threats at the Trocadero and the Eiffel Tower, the police set up barriers, various schools were closed, security was stepped up for all the Jewish institutions even though the government had mobilized those 88.000 police officers.

To no avail, considered that the day after Charlie Hebdo’s massacre other four innocents were slain. People repeat it to themselves, feeling that it could happen all over again, feeling the lack of weapons to fight a war that does not seem to have a solution in the short term. Churches, stations, synagogues, trains… Everything could be the next target, but Jews in particular are being attacked by extremist Muslims one by one. Just walking the streets in Paris, their own city, has long meant for them to be hit or insulted. The terrified Jewish community has been persecuted for years by the attacks carried out by extremist Muslims who hate “Zionists” and sentence them to death.

The first horrific case was the kidnapping of Ilan Halimi, a young French Jew who was abducted and tortured for days to the rhythm of verses from the Quran, then left to die in a junkyard. The police refused to explore the anti-Semitic trail, to which Halimi’s mother had positively pointed.

Thus, Halimi died, and the children killed by a French jihadist in a Toulouse Jewish school suffered the same fate. And now Paris is pondering on the famous poem by Martin Niemöller: “First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out because I was not a communist… Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Finally, they came for me and there was no one left to speak out”.


This article originally appeared in slightly different form in Italian in Il Giornale (January 10, 2015)

About the Author
Fiamma Nirenstein is a journalist, author, former Deputy President of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, and member of the Italian delegation at the Council of Europe.
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