9-11 connect the dots
Nine months before the history-changing attack on the twin towers of the World Trade Center, I was standing at the Top of the World observation center on the North tower, just outside the Windows of the World restaurant, with two of my school-age daughters.
For almost an hour we studied the extraordinary views below while I struggled with a low-grade anxiety. It had been almost seven years since a truck bomb, ignited by Islamic extremists, blew out the basement of the same building. Standing there, I couldn’t help wondering if another attack could occur, even as we stood there, more than a thousand feet above the ground.
Less than a year later, 9-11 interrupted a California wedding, so two months after the towers came down I found myself back in Manhattan restaging the nuptials for the East Coasters who couldn’t travel west that September. During that visit I went for a run through Battery Park, past blocks of posters with the names and faces of the dead and missing, and over to the still-smoking remains that had come to be known as Ground Zero. Sucking in cold November air on the close periphery of the ruins, I found myself inhaling the thin, toxic plume that seemed to pulse out of the rubble, and I marveled at the people still toiling around the clock in that pit, digging out the tragic residue of the attack.
Almost exactly 10 years later I was traveling through the Middle East and into a series of paradoxes painfully hard to reconcile.
In a massive Beirut refugee camp, an 80-year-old Palestinian widow, whose kindly, wrinkled face reflected a lifetime of struggle, described the Israeli confiscation of her family farm and what she described as the “murder” of her husband. “I pray every day,” she said in a sweet, humble voice, “that God will kill all the Jews.”
Days later in Jerusalem, a cab driver who said he was an Armenian Jew, described the explosion of a suicide car bomb that killed several children and scattered body parts around his taxi. “That,” he said through clenched teeth, “is why we have the wall.”
Passing through a Bethlehem checkpoint in what the Palestinians call the “Apartheid Wall,” I watched a young, female IDF soldier, with her boots on the sill of a glass booth and an M16 in her lap, facing the stream of several hundred Palestinians obediently presenting their papers to her as they tried to reach their homes in the West Bank.
In Arab culture, showing the bottoms of ones shoes is a profound insult, communicating to others they are beneath contempt, nothing more than dirt. And that was the message sent by this young Israeli to hundreds of proud Arab men. I wondered how many future suicide bombers were being born in that line as I watched .
In the aftermath of another Sept. 11, and in the more immediate shadow of yet more rioting and deaths in the Middle East, it is almost impossible to reconcile these endlessly conflicting images. The dots don’t connect into a coherent solution, they just lead to more rage.
In an eerily Biblical sense, the challenge of world peace is distilled into the Middle East conflict. And the only clear message is that rage and the violence it breeds, will never be the solution.