London and Black March 2002

Reading about the horrific events in London last night, in which a gang of Islamic terrorists murdered six seven civilians and wounded many more, and with these events coming so soon after the atrocious slaughter of innocents in Manchester less than a fortnight ago, I could not help but remember the month of March  2002, and what life was like in Israel at the time.

I fear that soon, perhaps very soon, such a month might befall various countries in Western Europe and that their societies will be irrevocably changed as a result.

March 2002 proved to be the deadliest month in the terror campaign initiated by the Palestinians against Israel in September 2000, following the rejection of the peace deal made by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

In almost daily shooting and bombings attacks, 125 Israelis died and hundreds more were injured. By this time, Israelis were used to the wails of ambulances in the distance and the somber notices in the media that yet another bus, restaurant, or random congregation of civilians had been struck by a suicide bomber.

In addition to the loss of life and the physical and mental wounds sustained by the thousands of injured, the effects of such a prolonged era of terror were wide-ranging.

Guards were stationed at the entrance to each shopping mall, supermarket, and restaurant. Bags and vehicles were checked before patrons could gain admittance to the cinema, theater, or coffeehouse. An alert that a suicide bomber may be on the way to his destination would cause the police to stop traffic on freeways, causing congestion of titanic proportions.

And there was the fear.

People dreaded using the bus. Some bought an extra car for their children, whether they could afford it or not. I chose walking over riding the bus whenever I could. I cannot imagine how many miles I walked in Tel Aviv during the months leading to March 2002, and for a time after.

Restaurants and cafes stood empty or nearly so. People were afraid to venture out, for no place felt safe. Any man wearing a heavy coat made you feel nervous. Could he have an explosive vest hidden beneath his coat? Was this Death coming to claim you? The economy took a nosedive. Morale was at a nadir. The government and army seemed at a loss.

Above all, there was the sense that death lurked behind every corner, that you were playing Russian roulette whenever you went to a nightclub, a concert, or even walked the sidewalk of a busy street. And there was also the certainty that this was how it was going to be from now on, perhaps forever.

This may be what the future holds for Britain now. This may be what Germany, France, Sweden, and other countries will face in the near future. Unless a solution is found, unless terrorism is eradicated, unless the governments of these countries are seen to be taking decisive and effective action — instead of offering platitudes, prayers, and appeals to a unity which seems to be nonexistent — the future in these countries may be bleak. Not just because more people will die, but also because of how fear will lead the population of these countries to change their behavior and lifestyle.

Guards with guns will become ubiquitous. Bags will be rummaged through before you’re allowed onto into a Tube station or a Metro or onto a train. People will refrain from going to crowded places. They will shy away from any place that may attract the next attacker. Tourism will plummet. Businesses will suffer. Foreign companies will reconsider their decision of opening an office in this or that major city. Musicians and artists will cancel their appearances.

Appeals for people to Keep Calm and Carry On will not suffice. People will strive to protect their children and themselves. They will make decisions based on their justifiable fear. Nothing this or that politician will say will change that. Only action will.

Following the Park Hotel bombing on March 27, 2002, in which thirty Israelis were killed, the IDF launched Operation Defensive Shield, a major operation against Islamic terrorism. Israeli forces dismantled terrorist networks in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) and brought an end to suicide bombings. But things had not returned to normal. In 2017, there are still guards at supermarkets in Israel. Your bag is still checked at the entrance to shopping malls. Israelis have not forgotten March 2002. I doubt we ever will.

A military operation of the sort carried out by the IDF in 2002 is impossible in Europe. But some form of action — the sort that is potentially effective — will need to be taken. Otherwise, Western Europe might be forever changed.