with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Three Weeks After the Terror of September 11, 2001

It has been interesting to watch how people are handling the tragedy of September 11, 2001. I’m not in the United States, so I can only assume what it is like for those there.

Here in Israel, it has been rather fascinating. From amid the horror and agony of watching the events of unnecessary terror unfold on our television, giggles resounded from Middle Eastern homes when the call for an Arab coalition against terrorism came from Arafat. What a joke.

While the pressure is on to get Arafat and his terrorist minions to consider reason and compassion to solve the Middle East “problem” once and for all, once again the recent peace and seize fire was shattered with devastating wild attacks, fueled by the one year anniversary of the start of the recent violence in the Palestinian Territories.

Media outside of the area is trying to connect the uprise in violence over the last couple of weeks to collude with those behind the September 11th attacks. Trust me, it’s a one year anniversary party for them, nothing to do with the recent attacks on New York and the Pentagon.

The only connection with the World Trade Center attacks is a change in semantics. Israeli news is calling all the acts of violence by the Palestinians “acts of terror” and terrorism in this ongoing Intifada (Uprising). Instead of suicide bombings, these are acts of terror and terrorist attacks.

We had such hope in those immediate days after September 11 as the world felt like it was holding hands, joining together, united against violence and terrorism. People in the former Yugoslavia, in Rwanda, Kenya, Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, Burma, Nigeria, Pakistan, India, and elsewhere held their collective breaths thinking that they would join with the powerful United States as a members of the exclusive terrorism club.

It’s been three weeks and I think that we are all starting to breath again. Unfortunately, with each passing breath, hope continues to fade that this could be the moment, the planet-wide moment that the world will change for the better.

Up With People had a song in the 1970s that included the lyric that states that out of thousands of years of human culture’s obsession with war, “only 200 years have known peace.” I have been singing the song over and over in my head these past few weeks with renewed hope that we may add to that number.

People told me that after September 11, Americans would sympathize with Israel. They now understood what Israelis had been going through for decades. Together, they shared a common enemy, terrorism.

This might have been true at the first, but the reality over these past three weeks has turned out different from what we all hoped.

As horrible as the September 11 terrorist acts were, there is no way Americans can sympathize with Israel unless they have actually lived under the constant threat of terror. Daily threats. Daily attacts. The terror here is continuous. The United States has suffered three terrorist acts in the past decade. This past year, Israel suffered 1,800 terrorist attacks.

With thoughts like that, I turn my attention back to Israel, our temporary residence, and the hope of peace recently shattered again.

Promises, Promises

Hope rose when two days of “semi-cease fire” passed and Arafat and Peres met to discuss plans for a longer cease fire. Arafat and his staff committed to the Mitchell Report with its plan for withdrawal on both sides. It called for Arafat to arrest terrorists he released from jail a year ago and to put an end Sign in Rabin Square, Tel Aviv, says Sept 11, three months after and we are still with you. Photo by Lorelle VanFossento the violent attacks.

While they were talking, Palestinians shot and killed more people, and now, days later, the violence continues with a crazy attack on an Israeli settlement near the Gaza Strip.

An English speaking resident recounted his horror when, while finishing their Sukkot holiday festivities in their home, a grenade was thrown into their living room. He threw himself over his children and protected them from the blast, shrapnel flying everywhere, wounding but not killing himself and the children. He gathered his bleeding family together and hid them in a back room while he waited in the destroyed living room for “death to walk in the door.” Luckily, the Palestinian attackers concentrated their efforts elsewhere, killing and destroying as they went. Two Israeli teens, a boyfriend and girlfriend, were killed in the attack.

A few days ago, according to the agreement Israel and the Palestinian Authority led by Arafat had just made, Israel had complied by pulling back their forces from the border and softened the restrictions on border access for Palestinians.

Every time Israel pulls back and eases their restrictions, the suicide bombings and attacks escalate. Israel moves back in and cracks down, and quiet comes. Israel pulls back, and the violence escalates. It is waves pounding the shore with the push and pull of control.

Arafat continues his policy of promising to arrest known terrorists to put an end to the violence on his side of the face – so he says. The evidence shows him doing nothing. Just placating gestures.

In retaliation for this terrorist invasion into their land, Israel’s might is being felt as they bomb and attack police stations and military sites in the Gaza Strip. On the international news, the reports are about the numbers of dead and the worries about cease fires and peace. Here, bloody faces fill the news again and again, on both sides of the battle.

Terror Statistics
Brent translated this from the Hebrew newspaper web site, Walla News! for February 10, 2002:

Chief of Police, Major Commander Shlomo Aharonishky, said today that last year was the worst in the history of the country, from the point of view of dealing with terror. In his words, during 2001, 208 citizens were killed by terrorism. In total, there were 1,800 attacks in the last year, 90 of them in Jerusalem.

Arabs developed the art of terrorism in response to the European Crusaders who raped, maimed and pillaged without care through much of southern Europe, Turkey, and the Middle East for the “right and just cause of the Christian God.” Let us not forget that most of the glory of the Crusades involved greed, power, and control. God had little to do with it.

Kent VanFossen inspects the bomb detonator near the entrance to the Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem. Photo by Lorelle VanFosssenFor the modern world, terrorism entered the vernacular in 1972 when Palestinian terrorists seized hostages and killed Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics. Palestine got its wish and its cause made front pages around the world. Now, one of the terrorist leaders is chairman of the Palestinian Authority, Arafat, a world-leader welcome in many diplomatic circles, though he doesn’t often visit them. Incredible how the world turns. The world would like to believe a leopard can change its spots, and that Arafat has seen the truth in the useless nature of terrorism, but recent terrorism by groups he founded and control are intent on terrorism as the only answer to whatever solution Arafat thinks he wants.

In the early 1990s, after many peace negotiation trials and tribulations, Israel and Palestine had formed a tenable peace, with Palestinians free to cross back and forth into Israel with little or no control, finding jobs and making a decent living on Israeli soil. Palestinian children were finally getting an education and access to universities not available to most of their parents and grandparents previously, especially under Jordanian rule.

It’s easy to blame Israel for atrocities. They are today’s “bad guys” in the Middle East. Those who claim heritage to these lands have long been persecuted and abused by other Arab countries as outcasts, even before World War II. The division of the Middle East into puzzle pieces after World War I was only a small step in the ongoing journey of ever changing rule and control of this tiny area of the planet. Turkey controlled much of the area as part of the Ottoman Empire for centuries, abusing its citizens, a mix of Jew, Muslin, and Christians. Go back further and find records of Greeks and Romans dictating the rules and regulations. Even Jesus had to deal with the occupiers of his native land.

I make jokes that Israel is a brothel. Everybody’s slept here. There is some truth there.

To keep the Palestine issue in the media, Arafat holds public announcements and threats to declare a Palestinian state and rattles a few swords. For the general population, life was finally good here. Business boomed and the economy stabilized and grew. When Arafat continued to not keep his commitment to declare a Palestinian state, working instead to turn Palestinian opinion back against the Israelis for a variety of reasons, some clear and some cloudy, tempers finally flared and a year ago a planned rebellion began again.

Once again, Israelis live with daily terror along their border communities that grew together without seams during the peace times. Every day bombs are found and dismantled or safely exploded, with only a rare few escaping attention and doing damage. Rockets are shot across the border reaching several kilometers into Israel, randomly killing and destroying whatever they land on. Car bombs and other disguised bombs are usually detected, but suicide bombers with heavy coats and bulky clothing can easily hide bombs attached to the body, and they make their way in regularly – and regularly get caught as well. It’s a percentage game. They rely upon the few that slip through to do the most damage.

Trying to Understand, Finding Compassion for Terrorism

In the early days after the September 11th attacks on New York and the Pentagon, film footage showed Palestinians dancing in the streets celebrating the terrorist humbling the great United States.

This was propaganda. Almost immediately, Israel news reported that this was film footage taken during a local celebration several years before and had nothing to do with the attacks, but the damage was already done. A few days later, people back home and even Israelis told me that we had to “do something” about those Palestinians celebrating the attacks.

Incredible how easily we are deluded.

When I came to Israel, I on the side of the Palestinians. After two years stuck in the middle of the road, wanting to be fair to each side, I am definitely shifting sides. I am not impressed with the Palestinian leaders and people for not stopping the violence and terror and for not finding a compromise somewhere in the middle of all of this. I understand that Palestinians are also subject to their leaders – their dictators.

I am finding a new appreciation for the Palestinian people and a lack of respect for their leaders. These people are living in fear of Arafat and his henchmen and the control they have over their lives.

I wonder if they even believe the twisted propaganda that comes out of the mouths of their officials. Brent and I stood in shock while we listened to a really astute television reporter from the BBC interview Arafat representative, Arakat, about a roadside bomb set off just as a school bus was passing over it, killing and seriously maiming little school children. When asked, “Why attack a bus load of children?” Arakat turned it right around to blaming Israel, twisting his words around. It was the fault of Israel that this school bus was not only blown up, but attacked by snipers when the children and teachers tried to escape the burning bus. “Israel made us do it.”

We were so convinced that Israel was to blame, Brent and I started to feel compassion for the horrible plight of the Palestinians and hatred towards Israel – then we snapped out of it and shouted at the television, “Why did you attack a bus load of children?!?”

He never gave a real answer, just spin.

I believe that if the Palestinians made peace with Israel, the first step would be to hold honest democratic elections and get rid of Arafat and his manipulating control. Then money like water would flow into their small areas in a flood to support and encourage the peace process, benefiting everyone with education, food, water, construction, and business would come their way willingly. When the river dries up, say a hundred years or so down the road, then they can create another ruckus and the leaders of that time will have to deal with it. But for now, let the waters flow, guys.

The brainwashing by militants of children and youth taught by their religious leaders that if they die in a suicide bombing, especially if they take Jews with them, they will be greeted by 70 virgins and be treated like royalty in the afterlife is a joke. Come on! Truth? Their families are paid thousands of dollars for the sacrifice of their children to the “Intifada,” the Uprising or Jehad (holy war), some of it coming from Sadam Hussein in Iraq and other monies from Saudi Arabia and other rich Arab tribes. This amount is more than the whole family working full-time would make in several years, so the loss of one young man is worth keeping the family flush, an easy sacrifice, some might say, to feed a family.

I don’t understand. In death, they are paraded and celebrated with great shows of honor and respect. I still don’t understand, but I try.

What is the Response to September 11?

Make a Difference
If you would like to make a difference in the world to a victim of terrorism, here are some places to make a donation. If you would like to make a more tangible donation such as providing friendship, education, or materials, contact them directly for more information.

Schneider Children’s Medical Center
Post Office Box 899
Petah Tikvah Israel
Call 972-9-774-9178

One Family Fund
Jerusalem, Israel
onefamilyfund.org

NATAL Center for Emotional Help and Support
In Israel: 1-800-363-363
PO Box 4170
Tel Aviv, 61041 Israel
972-3-510-1047
natal.org.il

The Koby Mandell Foundation
972-996-3694
kobymandell.org

SELA (Russian speaking victims of terror in Israel)
15 Havurot Shas Road, Neve Zedek
Tel Aviv 65456 Israel
972-3-410-7751

Is attacking with military might an appropriate response to suicide terrorists? I don’t know that either, but Israel isn’t getting their retaliation by mindless terrorism or suicide bombers of civilians. I’ve yet to hear of a single Israeli military attack against civilians (except those who got in the way of military action) for the purpose of killing only civilians.

The famous live television footage of a Palestinian father holding his dying son as they were caught in the crossfire proved to not be shot by Israelis but Palestinians. Israel forces were around the corner, and unless bullets can suddenly turn corners, Israel was blamed and held responsible by the international community as well as the Arab world for the boys public death.

In all of the killing, Israel doesn’t target civilians, but I have heard and seen plenty about the mutilation and murder of young men and women, adults and children, Jews and non-Jews, even foreigners and tourists, by Palestinian suicide bombers choosing restaurants and discotheques for their terror.

If this was a “war”, why aren’t the Palestinians targeting government agencies, military bases, security offices, electricity plants, industrial plants, things that can really cause damage and chaos within the country? No, they only target the innocent citizens.

This doesn’t mean that all sides are innocent or guilty. There is abuse everywhere. Just don’t trust what you see and hear in the news. Pay attention to retractions and corrections. They tell the real story.

Fake coffins fill Rabin Square in Tel Aviv recognizing all who have died in the Intifada and since the Olso Accords. Photo by Lorelle VanFossenHow can Americans empathize with this life and this Intifada? How do you negotiate with such people?

When the World Trade Center and Pentagon were hit, everyone, including me, was shocked; our sense of well-being shattered. The shock and fear has rippled throughout the American and world economy with airline travel down (out of fear), tourist down, buying down, investments down, everything down and dropping. Everyone is afraid. Waiting for the next shoe to drop.

In Israel, such attacks are not only expected, they are anticipated. Jews, in general, with their long history of suffering and persecution from others, came to Israel with hope for peace and a land of their own. Trust me, that long history is also their guide for the future. They know that the persecution for being Jewish will continue, a kind of never-ending suffering. They adjust to life with terrorist bombs, increasing and changing their security to adapt to the new terrorist techniques. Living with day to day terrorism here is much different than life in a country with three major terrorist actions in less than 10 years.

For a moment, Israel stood alongside the world in their shock and dismay, empathizing with America and hoping the empathy was returned. The United States got a mild sampling of what our daily life is like here in the Middle East.

It will be interesting to watch how this plays out and to see how the Israeli perspective changes towards the US and the rest of the world as the US plays its anti-terrorist hand. Will the US include Palestinian terrorists in their targets? We wonder…and worry.

Tel Aviv, Israel

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