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9/11 -- Ten Years On..
Last uploaded : Saturday 3rd Sep 2011 at 15:33
Contributed by : Carol Gould

 


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The following article was written for the Yom Kippur Service Anthology for the Liberal Jewish Synagogue, St John's Wood, London, September 2001.
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I only got down to reading my September synagogue newsletter on Tuesday, 11 September. Noticing with some alarm that Rabbi Middleton?s deadline for an essay about a significant moment in one?s life was the following day, 12 September, I sat down at my computer at 1:45PM after watching the BBC News. My intention was to write about the 1995 assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, an event that had irrevocably altered my life.

Just before 2PM I received a telephone call from a Canadian friend, a fellow expat in London. From her voice I knew something terrible had happened. She told me to ?turn on Sky News.?

When the initial image of the smouldering World Trade Centre Tower began to be broadcast at 2:00, my immediate reaction was that a George Orwell-War of the Worlds event had taken place. I assumed a crackpot had decided to fly his aeroplane into the building ? a nerdy, web-fixated crackpot whom we would subsequently hear had left a note behind declaring his extraterrestrial origins.

My instinct was to call my sister in Philadelphia. It was just going on 9:00 AM there. I felt remorseful that she sounded a bit groggy, and gently told her to go turn on the TV.

Then I screamed. On my screen another aircraft came out of nowhere. My sister, still on the line, must have thought I had taken leave of my senses as I babbled incoherently. Little did I realise that after that discombobulated conversation , we would not be able to speak again for the rest of the day, because shortly after Britain had been live witness to an unprecedented atrocity the telephone lines between the rest of the world and the USA would go down for the first time in postwar history. It was the loneliest afternoon of my life.

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On November 4th, 1995, in the hour after the Israeli Prime Minister and peacemaker Yitzhak Rabin was shot, Boris Yeltsin said, ?Because of this event, the Middle East will be bathed in rivers of blood.? Yeltsin?s words, at the time perceived as the rantings of a chronically inebriated eccentric, are becoming reality, and I am not surprised.

In January 1996 I travelled to Israel. The nation was still in deep shock from the trauma of the act of the Jewish extremist, Yigal Amir, the assassin of Rabin. What struck me was the attitude of the ?non-mourners:? the Israeli post office employees who joked to me that the new Rabin commemorative stamp was to be ?spat on at the front and not on the back;? the taxi driver who threatened to shoot me because I had a ?Peace Now? sticker on my carryall and the seething Palestinians who felt Rabin/no Rabin made little difference to their plight.

I spent nearly a year in Israel, producing a documentary, ?Long Night?s Journey Into Day,? about the upheavals that convulse that tiny nation more frequently than some countries endure in a century. November 4th 1995 had changed my life because from that point on I decided to devote the rest of my life to the study of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

In the months I spent in Israel, suicide bombers wreaked havoc and carnage in Jerusalem, Ashkelon and Tel Aviv. Hezbollah rained 500 Katyusha rockets into Northern Israel. On 4th March, 1996, Sylvia Bernstein and Gail Belkin, two olim I had only just met, were killed in the Dizengoff bomb. What the Robert Fisks, Brian Sewells and AN Wilsons of this world do not seem to comprehend is that Israel must be the only high-tech democracy in the world where you can see a person for breakfast and be attending their funeral by sundown. At one point in April 1996, the population of the North, including businesspeople, teachers, children and the elderly, had to be evacuated to hotels in Netanya and other coastal cities.

Prime Minister Peres was compelled to respond to the assault on his citizenry, only to be condemned by the world when Israel attacked Cana Refugee camp, killing 100 civilians. Hezbollah had abandoned the camp, leaving women and children behind to be sitting targets for an atrocity. One Lebanese man had left behind his wife and eight children, all of whom perished.

Israel was gripped by riots and bloodshed after the opening in Arab East Jerusalem of a new exit from the Hasmonean Tunnel. The ?ceremony,? performed by the new Prime Minister, Bibi Netanyahu, provoked the same level of rage as would Ariel Sharon?s visit to the Temple Mount four years later. When I visited East Jerusalem and Hebron after the riots, the menace of the Arab population was palpable and I was told by incredulous Israeli friends that I was ?lucky not to have been hacked to death.?

During the past eleven months of the new Intifadah, I have moved from Left to Right in my view of Israel; the daily vitriol in the British press, some of which beggars belief, enraging my Jewish soul to the very depths of my being. On 3rd January 2001, The Guardian , heralding the New Year, published an article by Faisal Bodi entitled ?Israel Simply Has No Right to Exist.? Robert Fisk?s 'frightening bile, bordering on an anti-Israeli fixation,' as an American radio commentator recently put it, is unparalleled anywhere in the world.

Notwithstanding my ?neo Zionism,? I believe that had Yitzhak Rabin been allowed to continue on his relentless path towards peace -- including an accommodation with Syria ? followed by the establishment of a Palestinian state living alongside Israel, the events of Tuesday 11 September might never have taken place. The volatile situation in the Middle East has been a festering sore on the conscience of the world for decades, and had a Jewish fanatic not snuffed out the life of the General-turned peacemaker, who knows where we would be today. Rabin was not assassinated by Jihad or Hamas; the act of Yigal Amir changed Israeli society ? and Israel?s image abroad ? forever.

Out of the satanic, black cloud of 11 September, the United States must take a caring, passionate and determined lead, like that so lovingly navigated by Bill Clinton, and steer the tragic players in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict onto a path of peace and hope.

Rosh Hashanah
5762


     

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