Where were you on 9/11?

It’s the question of a generation, I think. In my parent’s generation, it was where were you when John F. Kennedy was killed in Dallas. Everyone remembered; everyone knew. Now, it is where were you on 9/11. We had just moved to Maale Adumim a few months before. The children had come home from school and had turned the television on (for some reason, I feel I have to explain that I no longer have a television, but back then, we did).

They called me, or perhaps I saw the news bulletin. I don’t remember. It was just moments after the first tower had been hit, before the Pentagon, before the second tower. In that split second, I knew it had been a terror attack and I was amazed to hear the broadcasters wondering. “How can you wonder about that?” I remember thinking. “How can you possibly doubt it?”

It seemed like minutes later when they announced the hit on the Pentagon and then watched live as the second plane hit. Gone was the hesitation, the confusion. It was now clear to all that this was a terror attack in the United States. On the World Trade Center. The tone of the broadcasters changed. Now they reported about grounding all planes, missing planes, and what the President was doing, where he was, what was happening.

There was an element of shock in their voices, but more, there was a determination to bear witness, to tell people what was happening. The hardening of their voices, the anger, was something that we in Israel had lived with for so long.

After the second tower was hit, after it was clear to everyone that this was terrorism, and before they fell, for a split second, I had a thought that I have regretted for all of the years since. “Good,” I thought. “Good, now the Americans will understand what we have lived with for so long.”

And then the flames, and the people jumping. And then, as the second tower fell, I thought, “Dear God, this isn’t what I meant. This isn’t what I wanted.” I sat there with tears in my eyes – no one could have wanted this. But of course, there were those who did want it; those who danced in the streets in Brooklyn, those who handed out candies and celebrated in Gaza and elsewhere.

The broadcasters talked of numbers of people that worked in the towers each day – 50,000. How many would have had time to escape? It was too early to know; the potential was terrifying. The television showed the faces – the shock. They showed the bravery of the first responders as they traveled past the terrified crowds, into hell and beyond to save lives.

And in the shock, already that day, was the thought – America will never get over this. America will change. I was happy for the change; so incredibly saddened by what had caused it. Perhaps “happy” is the wrong word – nothing was happy that day but I was sure that this was not something that would be forgotten or ignored.

America did change that day and in the days that followed. Lost was the innocence, but wisdom still didn’t come. Lost was the naive belief that this was a single world pulling for a common future, but a true recognition of who America’s friends really are still remains vague.

Americans, like Israelis, now live with a level of security that infringes on their daily lives. Certainly, if they want to travel, that security is something that they cannot ignore. And there is a huge dichotomy between the American government and Israel when it comes to taking that awareness of security and applying it to solutions on the ground.

I have always felt that what comes to Israel first, often spreads to the world. This was true of our religion and the belief in one God; this is true of much of Israeli innovation – the cellphone, the laptop, the flash drive, medical devices, etc. – and this is true of terrorism and the hate of our enemies.

Islam – radical Islam – is at war with the west. There is no tolerance for a belief other than their own. We are infidels – those who died on 9/11 were infidels. Their deaths – our deaths – are acceptable even anticipated. In their world, we are to be tolerated, at best. Believe it. That was the message of 9/11.

A former-Muslim woman spoke at a conference I attended a few months ago (One Woman’s Voice and Story). Her message was clear – we in Israel need to understand, and so do the Americans. From her birth and growing up in that society, she had identified three basic tenets. Fundamental, inseparable, non-negotiable.

1. Absolute authority – this is something we in the west do not understand. There is no democracy in the Arab world; no democracy in Islam. You will listen to your father; you will listen to your imam; you will listen to your government. Absolutely. Every time.

2. To compromise is to show weakness – there will be no compromise and so any negotiations we attempt will fail. If you believe this culture will accept Israel in its presence, you are horribly naive. “Even if you give them Jerusalem,” she said, “EVEN if you give them Jerusalem, there will not be peace.”

3. All that is right, is in the Koran – and by extension, all that is not there is wrong. Accepting any culture other than their own is not in the Koran. Making true peace is not there either, if the other party is not a Muslim society.

These are the beliefs of the people who attacked and destroyed the Twin Towers on 9/11. These are the people we face here in Israel every day. This is the message the US government does not understand and to a very large extent, this is also the message that even the Israeli government cannot fully accept.

Where were you on 9/11? I was sitting in a small room watching, listening, and though I had not yet heard the above philosophy, I already understood it was the message being delivered. Eleven years later, and the world still does not really understand what knocked down the World Trade Center.

May God bless the memories of those who died on 9/11, those in the buildings, those in the planes, those who tried to help them, and those who brought down a plane so that others would not die. And may God grant us the wisdom to understand, truly understand, the evil of a culture that would dance in the streets, as they did in Gaza and in Brooklyn, to celebrate the death of innocents.


About the Author
Paula R. Stern is CEO of WritePoint Ltd., a leading technical writing company in Israel. Her personal blog, A Soldier's Mother, has been running for more than 5 years. She lives in Maale Adumim with her husband and children, a dog, too many birds, and a desire to write her thoughts and dream of a trip to Italy, Scotland, and beyond.