Why 10/7 Was Worse for Israel Than 9/11 Was for America

“In its scope, depravity, and national reach, the Hamas assault was a much greater shock to Israelis, and their response should be viewed through that lens.” ― Robert Satloff, Segal Executive Director of the Washington Institute

9/11 in America

I was at my home in America when terrorists flew jets into New York City’s World Trade Center and tried to attack the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. A man working on my house alerted me, so I turned on the television and witnessed the coverage. After I determined that my friends and family were safe, I was saddened by the attack on my beloved home city and on the buildings where I had worked years earlier. My initial reaction was shock and uncertainty about the potential for more attacks. All flights were banned and when nothing further occurred by the end of the day, it seemed like the three jets were the whole story.

Living in New Hampshire, 250 miles from New York, I felt little fear of remote terrorists. When my daughter came home from school, she said the principal had led a ceremony around the flagpole and simply told the children something bad had happened. I left the television off when she came home and told her about the situation. I agreed with her when she said, “Nobody will attack New Hampshire because it’s just a lot of trees.”

At Rosh Hashanah services the next week, people were grave and deeply moved. I was sorry that my country had been attacked, but not surprised; after the 1991 Gulf War, I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. I worried about America’s reaction to 9/11, which indeed played out in the long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq along with the growth of rabid, reactionary politics in the States that were a factor in my decision to make aliyah twenty years later.

10/7 in Israel

Living in Israel, the attack on October 7, 2023, was a very different experience. At first, we had no idea if missiles would rain down on us, as they were falling in Tel Aviv.  The border of Lebanon is only 27 miles to the north while Syria is 44 miles to the west, and Haifa’s industrial facilities could be a target.

I was very anxious until we set up our secure room (mamad) after which I breathed a little better. In fact, I was surprised to not be feeling the sadness, fear, and anxiety that are endemic in Israel, but my emotional dam broke three weeks later when I developed a series of health problems.

As it has in the past, Israel is again facing an existential crisis. My husband and I are proud citizens and are glad to be part of our country’s process. When a loved one is suffering, you want to be there helping them, not separated by an ocean. I’ve become a true Israeli, glued to the news.

The Factors That Make a Difference

  • Intensity: As terrible as 9/11 was, tens of millions of Americans woke up the following morning in that vast country not knowing any of the victims or their families. In Israel, a country whose width is less than the daily commute of many Americans, not a single family was untouched by the attack, either directly or through a neighbor, friend or classmate.
  • Terror rockets: On 9/11, millions of Americans gathered around televisions in the safety of their homes, schools and work sites in growing shock and anger as they watched the twin towers fall, one after the other. Many Israelis didn’t have that luxury, since Hamas complemented the butchery of communities in Israel’s south with the launching of thousands of rockets and missiles against Israel’s coastal mid-section, in an effort to terrorize the population and drive them to shelters.
  • Individual barbarity: As difficult as it is to say, 9/11 was — at its core — an example of mass killing, hundreds murdered in a series of single horrific acts, the smashing of airplanes into buildings, triggering their collapse. On 10/7, Hamas terrorists perpetrated hundreds of individual, purposeful acts of barbarism—executing babies, murdering parents protecting children, raping women as corpses of their friends lay beside them. The images of individualized inhumanity — face to face between the perpetrator and the victim, often recorded live on film or audio — will never fade.
  • Numbers: The attacks by Hamas killed more than 1,300 Israelis and third-country nationals, including at least 29 Americans, in a country whose population is less than 10 million. In America, that would be equivalent to killing nearly 40,000—13 times more than the number of Al Qaeda victims on 9/11.
  • Hostages: Never before in the history of the century-old Arab-Israel conflict has one side taken mass numbers of civilian hostages across borders, with the composition of the hostage group — children, women, elderly, mentally ill — especially outrageous. This will drag out the after-shocks of the original act of terror, perhaps ending in further tragedy. Americans sadly recall how the taking of a much smaller number of hostages — diplomatic personnel at the American embassy in Tehran — paralyzed the U.S. government and dominated daily life in the country for 444 days. Obviously, the hostage factor was never a component of 9/11.
Kedem family. One of the many families that were slaughtered by the Palestinian Hamas terrorists on 10/7.

All of this, taken together, is the backdrop to decisions the Israeli government is now taking regarding war against Hamas and defense against broader regional escalation. On its southern and northern borders, Israel faces radical, Islamist, extremist groups supported, financed, trained, supplied and, to a certain extent, commanded by the Islamic Republic of Iran.

“When we faraway Americans judge Israeli actions from the relative safety of a country with democracies on our northern and southern borders and broad oceans both east and west, we need to think back to the sense of outrage and mission that animated every American 22 years ago and multiply it by 10, 20 or more. That’s because Israelis suffered a catastrophe that was, for them, much worse than 9/11 — in all its horror, depravity and evil — was for us,” wrote Robert Satloff.

The Long View

Looking back, twenty years later, New York City was eventually cleaned up. The September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, though it took a long time, was successful. Lower Manhattan has new office buildings and commemorative sites. The country’s borders are not subject to violence and Americans are not threatened.

It is difficult to imagine Israel at peace in twenty years. For now, hostages are still held by Hamas. Soldiers continue to fall. Rockets rain down from Gaza where bodies are buried in mass graves. Thousands of evacuated Israelis are unable to resume their previous lives. Crops are rotting in the fields without hands to pick them. Unemployment claims have quadrupled. We hope that the situation will settle down but with the hate surrounding us, it is impossible to predict if Israel will ever be done fighting for safe borders.

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