Thursday, February 23, 2006

Terrorism - A Daily Fact of Life

"People forget about the past too easily, and the effects terrorism has in all its forms." Gary Thompson

Americans think we know what it means to live with terrorism. We haven't got a clue.

Yes, 9/11 taught us a hard lesson about our vulnerability to sudden atrocious attack. But no matter how horrible, it was a one-off. It hasn't happened again. We go through the business of our daily lives more concerned about tax hikes than terrorism.

In the end, the most lasting reminder of 9/11 for the majority of Americans is this: it's harder to travel through airports. We have to stand in long security lines and wait while our luggage is scanned. Poor us. What an inconvenience.

We are such innocents.

Right now I'm in the Motherland of terrorism -- Israel. Here, every time you get on a bus, sit in a cafe, walk down a street, you're literally risking your life. Danger from fanatical bombers is real and imminent all the time.

You see signs everywhere, "Report Unattended Packages to Police." Army vehicles are as commonplace as taxis on the streets. It's impossible to walk around without seeing the signs of violence, whether craters in sidewalks and buildings ... or the empty sleeves and pant legs of its victims.

All Israeli citizens must join the army when they turn 18. But even that is unique. The country is so small, most soldiers go home at the end of a day fighting insurgents and terrorism. The ones who aren't killed, that is.

Forget duct tape, every home in Israel has a bomb shelter, if only one specially reinforced room. And yet Israelis too--at least on the surface--worry more about taxes than terrorism.

That kind of pressure takes its toll. Israelis have some of the highest rates of hypertension, heart attacks and ulcers in the world. Everybody smokes. Oddly, alcoholism isn't a big issue, but reckless, aggressive driving is. Divorce rates are high too. But so is hope.

I'm staying with members of our family who live in a town in the middle of the country, not near the West Bank or other hotly contested danger zones. It's also a religious enclave.

But ultimately nothing and nowhere here offers any guarantee of safety. Throughout Israel risk management is a necessary daily fact of life.

Yesterday I went shopping at the local super market. And did what all shoppers do at every store, movie theater, restaurant, health club or public building in the country. I opened my pocketbook for inspection and passed through a metal detector. Imagine doing that at your neighborhood deli or dry cleaner.

The truth is Americans are more at risk from our own leaders than from foreign fanatics. There's more dangerous, despicable behavior going on at the highest levels of American government in the name of protection from terrorism than in actual reality.

In America and most of the Western world, terrorism is a political issue. Not in the Middle East. Here it's a cold, hard daily fact of life.

It's been quiet in Israel recently. But as every Israeli knows, that can most often mean the calm before the storm. And quiet is relative here.

Rockets were lobbed into the North last week. Fortunately they missed their targets. No one was killed. But every single day, terrorists with bombs strapped to their bodies are stopped and disarmed at checkpoints around the country.

I wonder, if that were true on American soil, how much more effective would Homeland Security become?

Around the world, controversy rages over the Hamas election victory, and who's going to supply or cut off aid to attempt to control Hamas's power. But that's theoretical. A job for the politicians and diplomats. Who aren't doing their jobs very well.

Israeli elections are coming at the end of March. No matter the outcome, all hell is sure to break loose. Nothing theoretical about that. It's just another daily fact of life in the Middle East.

And if you still think we live with terrorism in America, think about this: Every time your kids get on a school bus, go to a mall or dance at a nightclub, you don't have to worry they might be blown to bits.

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Blogger Cynthia Johnston said...

You can't imagine how timely your articles are, Sal. I'm working on a book that calls for the very perspective you have described in your last two posts. Once again, and as always, you have enlighte ned and inspired me. I hope things stay quiet in Israel and that somehow peace can come to the Middle East, even with the recent Palestinian elections. Dare I hope that by virtue of being elected, Hamas can tone down its rhetoric and accept the existence of Israel? What are your thoughts on that? Thinking of you on your journey with much love, Cynthia

12:16 AM  
Blogger Cynthia Johnston said...

Amending the question in my previous comment. I'd forgotten about your piece on the Palestinian election until I clicked on Middle East in your Valentine's Day piece, which was lovely and also inspiring to me, by the way. Anyway, guess I was indulging in wishful thinking when I asked whether the democratic process might gentle down the Hamas position on Israel. I have another question but I think I'll go click on some more links first, in case you've already answered it. Stay well, keep safe and keep on blogging. I need your point of view more than you can imagine.

12:28 AM  

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