On the night of September 11, 2001, I sat on the stoop of my apartment building in Greenwich Village and drank some abominable wine coolers with my neighbors. I’d bought them from a nearby store that had already started wild profiteering and was charging three times the normal price. We were two miles north of the site of the World Trade Center; the neighborhood smelled of acrid smoke, which turned out to be preferable to the stench of burnt, rotting bodies that would develop later that week.
Now, according to a plethora of voices, with the vicious recent attacks by Hamas, Israel has experienced its own 9/11. “This is our 9/11,” says the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations. “This is our 9/11,” says the Israeli military’s spokesperson. “This is the equivalent for Israel of probably what happened in the United States in September 11th,” says Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. “Israeli Faces Its 9/11,” says the Wall Street Journal op-ed page. If you’d like to see 37,000 more examples, have at it.
The point of all these comparisons is obvious. Former Rep. Joe Walsh expressed it here:
In other words, Israel, like the U.S., had been innocently walking through the world when SUDDENLY, OUT OF NOWHERE, it was inexplicably attacked by inhuman barbarians. Therefore Israel, like the U.S. was, is entitled to do anything whatsoever in response. A recent estimate found that the U.S. war on terror has directly and indirectly caused over 4.5 million deaths.
I don’t agree with Walsh’s conclusion. But certainly everyone here is starting from the correct premise — that this is Israel’s 9/11 — even if they don’t understand why.
First of all, something like Hamas’s attack on Israel, as with something like 9/11, was going to happen eventually. Israel and the U.S. constantly deal out ultraviolence on a smaller scale (Israel) and a huge scale (the U.S.). Anyone in either country who believed this would never come home was living in a vain fantasy.
Likewise, the establishments of both Israel and the U.S. were well aware of this: that their policies would inevitably lead to the deaths of their own citizens. Richard Shultz, a longtime national security state intellectual, wrote in 2004 that “a very senior [Special Operations Forces] officer who had served on the Joint Staff in the 1990s told me that more than once he heard terrorist strikes characterized as ‘a small price to pay for being a superpower.’” Eran Etzion, onetime member of Israel’s national security council, just explained that from the government’s perspective, “the relatively small price that Israel paid every so often” for its policy toward Gaza was the deaths of dozens of Israelis.
What stunned both the U.S. and Israel was that anyone managed to briefly deal out damage on a scale they’re used to delivering. Israel killed over 10,000 Palestinians from 2000 through last month. God only knows how many hundreds of thousands the U.S. killed in the Middle East in the lead-up to 9/11.
Then, as now, anyone pointing out these obvious facts was smeared as “supporting” or “justifying” the vicious blowback. It’s frustrating and suggests that it’s impossible for human beings to be rational about this subject. If you tell someone that pouring gas on a pile of shredded newspaper and then throwing a match on it will probably make the newspaper catch on fire, you are not “supporting fire” or “justifying fire.” On the contrary, you’re trying to reduce the amount of fire in the world by describing reality.
Another similarity is that both Israel and the U.S. generated their own enemies. The U.S. famously nurtured fundamentalist Islamic opposition to the Soviet Union in Afghanistan during the 1980s. Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, said in a 1998 interview that this had been “an excellent idea” and he had no regrets about these “stirred-up Muslims.” Israel did essentially the same thing in miniature in the occupied territories, encouraging the growth of Hamas to damage the secular Fatah. “Hamas, to my great regret, is Israel’s creation,” according to one of the Israelis who worked on this clever project.
As with 9/11, the attacks on Israel could only have succeeded on the scale they did because of the monstrous incompetence of the relevant leaders. “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.,” the CIA told George W. Bush in August 2001. Bush ignored this. Dick Cheney actually pushed back at the intelligence world’s many warnings because he believed Al Qaeda was merely feinting and trying to get the U.S. to expend resources preventing something that would never happen. Likewise, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was apparently warned by Egypt that something bad was coming but ignored it. We’ll inevitably learn shocking details soon about Netanyahu’s general indifference to what was on the horizon.
This is all of a piece with the irrelevance of citizens’ lives to leaders like Netanyahu and Bush. They gnash their teeth and rend their garments about how enraged they are by attacks by foreigners, yet in their hearts they don’t care about us at all. Immediately after 9/11, the Bush administration falsely told New Yorkers that the city air was perfectly safe to breathe.
Finally, the revenge that Israel will now exact will be hideous, as was that taken by the U.S. There is nothing on earth like the fury of the powerful when they believe they have been defied by their inferiors.
This is something my neighbors and I agreed on as we drank those awful wine coolers on 9/11. We were frightened deep in our guts by what had happened that morning. For anyone who wasn’t in New York then, let me tell you — Al Qaeda truly put the terror back in terrorism. But what we were most scared of was what our own government was about to do next. Ever since that moment, my dream has been that someday the regular people of the world — all of us, on every “side” — will form an alliance against our grotesque leaders.