Growing up post Holocaust, my generation has never experienced a war. And, growing up in England, my generation has also never experienced the horrors of terror. What went on in Israel, while incredibly painful, was also pretty distant. 9/11 was closer to home, but still far enough away. Yesterday, however, terror arrived on our doorstep.
I remember an article in the Sunday Times around 5 years ago. It was written as though a terror attack had occurred in London the day before. The writer’s aim was to warn graphically about what the future might hold. At that pre 9/11 time, it seemed to me to be an incredible fantasy. But the fantasy had been mine.
At about 9.30am I was sitting in my office in Hendon, around 6 miles from the attacks. I was looking at cnn.com and noticed a headline talking about explosions in the London Underground due to power surges. It sounded a little suspicious, so I moved on to the BBC. No news. Thisislondon.com – no news. (Looks like America knows what’s going on in the UK before we do!)
I kept my eye on things until I left the office at 10.00 to head to the hospital for a routine check up with my wife. Reports were coming in on the UK websites now about these ‘power surges’, but it still seemed rather strange. Aldgate and Liverpool Street might be close to each other, but Edgware Road is in a different part of town. As I got in my car, I switched on the radio. This didn’t sound like electrical problems to me.
As we were driving to the hospital, Radio 5 reported that a woman had just called in saying she had seen a bus explode in Russell Square. How do underground power surges blow up buses? But still no one seemed to want to believe what was by now blatantly obvious.
Maybe it was terror, possibly it was terror. No one seemed brave enough to say it for sure. Islamic terror just didn’t exist on our little island. It couldn’t be. Yes, there had been IRA terror in the past. But there were always advance warnings and it was mostly directed against army and political targets. This random targeting of innocents with its sole purpose to kill and maim as many as possible was, and is, something completely new.
We arrived at the hospital to find they were not letting cars in. Security men were blocking the road and only ambulances were allowed to enter. It wasn’t the main hospital for casualties, but many arrived while we were there. Surely this was a scene from Hadassah in Jerusalem or Tel Hashomer in Tel Aviv, not the Whittington Hospital in London.
The mood in the obstetrics waiting room was surreal. The television was on and you could hear a pin drop. People were in shock. Everyone was watching: patients, doctors, nurses, midwives all came in to see what was happening. The headline across the screen had been inconceivable to me only a few years ago: terror attacks in Central London.
It occurred to me that only two days before, I had been on the London Underground at exactly the same time and place at which one of the bombs had exploded. It also occurred to me that unlike 9/11, those who carried out this attack are still alive and surely planning more. Yes, terror has very much arrived on my doorstep. Like Israelis, I must also worry about getting on a train or my son taking a bus to school. Now I really do have a small inkling of how it feels.
I noticed an article this morning about a missing Israeli who had moved here because of the buses blowing up in Israel, who was safe in London……until she boarded a number 30 bus in Russell Square on Thursday. I was also thinking of the many parents who have been reluctant to allow their children to attend our programmes in Israel. Now what? Now where to? Move to Australia. And then? Antarctica maybe?
I am reminded of the story of the man who meets a surprised angel of death in Baghdad. He borrows the fastest horse he can find and rides through the night to Damascus to escape his clutches, only to meet him there the next morning. Before he is taken, he asks the angel of death why he was so surprised to meet him the night before in Baghdad. The angel responds that he knew he had an appointment with him the next morning in Damascus and he didn’t see how he could possibly get there on time.
There are so many messages we must take from what has happened and I am focusing on only one. As a Diaspora, we have not supported Israel enough by visiting, as we should have, through these difficult years. But we are now no safer here than we would be there. In fact, one could now easily argue that Israel is safer. There is no longer an excuse. If nothing else, let’s return to Israel and send our children to Israel. Terror has shown us that it is not something we can ultimately run away from. I, for one, would much rather face it in Israel than anywhere else.