One month after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, U.S. President George W. Bush held a prime-time news conference to update the American people on his administration’s war on terror.
He said, “One month ago today, innocent citizens from more than 80 nations were attacked and killed, without warning or provocation, in an act that horrified not only every American, but every person of every faith, and every nation that values human life. The attack took place on American soil, but it was an attack on the heart and soul of the civilized world. And the world has come together to fight a new and different war, the first, and we hope the only one, of the 21st century. A war against all those who seek to export terror, and a war against those governments that support or shelter them.”
Bush wasn’t the first to recognize terrorism as an act against the civilized world. Three days after the 9/11 attacks, British Prime Minister Tony Blair declared, “By their acts, these terrorists and those behind them have made themselves the enemies of the civilized world.”
Terrorism is an act of premeditated evil. It aims to strike fear into the heart of an enemy by conducting violent attacks against unconventional targets like innocent men, women and children. While a smart bomb fired from an F-35 can cause more damage than a stabbing, the smart bomb will usually be fired at an enemy position. The stabbing is aimed at civilians who aren’t a strategic asset.
As gruesome as war is, the civilized world has come together to set rules for warfare. These rules are designed to ensure that innocent people are protected as much as possible so that warriors retain their humanity. Terrorism aims to achieve the exact opposite.
Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin explained the difference between his Irgun fighters and the PLO by saying, “There’s no comparison between the PLO or any group of murderers of theirs. Another issue is the method of battle. They kill every man, woman and child, whereas we did everything to avoid harming civilians. True, sometimes disasters happened and civilians were hurt, but this was not part of our battle tactics.”
Early Zionists dreamed of building a utopia in the Land of Israel. They were excited at the prospect of a nation that would serve humanity. Since its founding, Israel has revolutionized the fields of agriculture, water, defense and high-tech. It has helped nations around the world with some of their most challenging problems.
Zionists also imagined a nation at peace with its neighbors. They hoped for a Middle East in which Jews and Arabs worked together peacefully, building a region that would lead the developing world.
Israel was greatly disappointed when the Arab world rejected the United Nation’s 1947 partition plan and declared war instead. The world and Israel were shocked as the Arab nations initiated a decades-long terror spree. Innocent men, women and children were targeted and thousands died. The Middle East that Israelis dreamed of never materialized.
As Israelis began their Shabbat worried about rising tensions and having spent their day commemorating International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Palestinian terrorists were planning their next savage attack.
In its aftermath, President Joe Biden called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to offer support and sympathy. His words echoed those of Bush and Blair and gave voice to the shattered dreams of the utopian Zionists: “This was an attack against the civilized world.”
Biden’s spokeswoman said, “The attack tragically occurred on International Holocaust Remembrance Day when the memory of those lost in the Holocaust is commemorated around the world.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, “The notion of people being targeted as they leave a house of worship is abhorrent. It is particularly tragic that this attack occurred on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.”
Zionists still want to help build a better Middle East. They dream of a region that joins with the Jewish state to improve the lives of Jews and Arabs. After weekends of terrorism like the one we just experienced, that utopian dream seems further away than ever.
While Zionists can’t control their enemy’s methods, they can control their own. It’s important for Zionists to avoid falling into despair and giving up hope and the dream of a better Middle East. Recent regional cooperation pacts between Israelis and Arabs like the Abraham Accords should inspire Israelis more than Palestinian terror drives them to despair. As Netanyahu said in a 2013 address to the United Nations, “The Jewish people’s odyssey through time has taught us two things: Never give up hope, always remain vigilant. Hope charts the future.”
Rabbi Uri Pilichowski is a senior educator at numerous educational institutions. The author of three books, he teaches Torah, Zionism and Israel studies around the world.