We’d just come back to Jerusalem after a few days away—battling the Thursday afternoon traffic that accompanies the start of the Israeli weekend—and were sitting with cousins chatting in the late afternoon sunshine. Suddenly, the Jerusalem calm was shattered by an enormous boom. We all froze and looked at each other.
“Don’t worry, Mommy,” my daughter reassured me. “Our cousins told me it’s not a terror attack if you don’t hear screaming afterwards.” It seems that on her first visit to Israel, my daughter’s already learned some tragic life lessons about life under constant threat of terror.
A few hours later, as I checked the news headlines, I realized that while my family was lucky enough to let out a sigh of relief that the noise we heard was harmless, at the same time several thousand miles away, military personnel, support staff, and police were coming under terrorist attack in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
On July 16, 2015, Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, a 26-year-old Kuwait-American with no known terrorist links, shot at a military recruitment center in the city; then, after driving several miles to a Navy and Marine Reserve Center, opened fire, murdering marines Tom Sullivan, David Wyatt, Carson Holmquist, and Skip Wells as well as sailor Randall Smith. Chattanooga Police officer Dennis Pedigo was wounded in the ensuing gunfight.
While many former friends remember Abdulazeez as mild-mannered and pleasant, others report that he seemed increasingly angry about a range of issues—including Israel’s self-defensive war in Gaza in Summer 2014—and hostile to America. Hours before the attacks, he texted a friend a verse from the Koran that declared “war” on perceived enemies of Islam.
As Chattanooga and the entire United States grappled with the reality that one of its own—a man who grew up Americanized, who was popular, upbeat, and seemingly normal—had turned on his fellow citizens, Chattanooga Mayor Andy Burke summed up the mood in his city and the nation at large: “Today was a nightmare in the city of Chattanooga.”
Reading these words in Jerusalem seemed to give them added urgency. I’ve always loved Israel, and I couldn’t wait to introduce my children to the country. When my daughter announced years ago that what she most wanted for her bat mitzvah was to visit the Jewish homeland, we started saving and planning. What I didn’t realize was that in showing our kids Israel, we would acquaint them with the constant fear of violence and terror that Israelis live with every day, as well.
“Why are words carved into that wall?” my son asked as we walked down a quiet Jerusalem street one day. I glanced at the 10 names engraved in the wall of a restaurant and vividly remembered eating there once 20 years ago—and then my horror at hearing the venue had been bombed in a massive suicide attack. For a moment, I debated not telling my kids the truth, but then sighed, defeated: “They’re the names of people who died here in a terror attack,” I whispered as we stood, gazing at the people around us, realizing how vulnerable they suddenly all seemed.
After that, my kids started noticing the memorial signs everywhere, signaling sites that were once destroyed by terror: reading the names of those murdered seemingly everywhere we walked. “We live in fear,” a middle-aged friend explained to my kids, mentioning terror attacks she’d witnessed and a friend she’d lost. Reluctantly, I told my older kids about a near escape I once had in Jerusalem years before, at the height of the intifada, deciding at the last minute not to visit a site that later was utterly destroyed by a massive suicide bomb.
Perhaps the biggest shock, though, was the fact that throughout our Israel visit, terror attacks occurred every week, sometimes every day—and that these assaults almost never made the news outside of Israel.
“We just visited there!” my daughter exclaimed after hearing that an Israeli soldier had been stabbed at the popular pilgrimage site of Rachel’s Tomb on the outskirts of Jerusalem.
Our visit to the holy site had felt wonderfully meaningful, and my daughter was overwhelmed: As Israeli newspapers were full of the wounded soldier’s name so that people could pray for her recovery, my daughter reached out to friends and relatives in the US, too, only to find out that they hadn’t heard what happened.
At the beginning of our visit, I emailed friends back home asking if they’d heard of the almost constant litany of terror attacks: four young men shot (one, 25-year-old Danny Gonen, fatally) on June 19, 2015; missiles launched into Israel from both Gaza and Israel’s Sinai peninsula repeatedly; two police officers stabbed in Jerusalem on June 21; a 70-year-old Israeli farmer named David Bar Kapara beaten to death on June 23; a couple who narrowly escaped death when a huge boulder was heaved onto their car from an overpass on Israel’s central Highway 6 on July 13; the announcement by Hamas on July 9 that they are holding two Israeli citizens; and many others. Almost nobody I emailed had heard about any of them.
When Israel’s government finally engaged in the grim ritual of totalling the number of terrorist attacks by month, I stopped counting. June 2015 saw a considerable decrease in terror attacks, Israel announced: “only” 123 were recorded. In addition to the terror assaults, Israelis were profoundly shocked by the nuclear framework deal with Iran, coming amid calls by senior Iranian officials to “rain down 80,000” missiles on Israel, to “destroy Tel Aviv in 10 minutes,” and to “wipe Israel from the map.”
This is the “nightmare” that Israelis tragically take for granted: 123 attacks in a quiet month, and the threat of imminent destruction by Iran. Under nearconstant attacks, Israelis know too well the pain experienced by those in Chattanooga and elsewhere. As Americans and those elsewhere rally to honor those killed in Tennessee and to comfort the bereaved, perhaps they can spare a thought for their Israeli allies, as well, who know too well the pain experienced by their brethren today in Tennessee.