(September 15, 2021 / JNS) As part of the remembrance of 9/11, there has been a lot of rehashing and rewriting of history, as well as a recantation of views people now believe they should not have taken at the time. I am not one of them. I believe my words then are as valid today as they were then.
One person for whom I have great respect, Gary Rosenblatt, the longtime brilliant editor of The New York Jewish Week, recently wrote an apology for the headline: “America: The New Israel.” While explaining the rationale for the accompanying article, his basic point, and it’s a valid one, is that the immediate aftermath of the attack was not the time to focus on Israel. “I should have been mourning the victims,” he wrote, “damning the perpetrators and praising the heroes—the firefighters who rushed into the chaos rather than escape it, and those brave souls on American Airlines Flight  whose struggle with the plane’s hijackers likely saved the U.S. Capitol from a direct hit.”
Of course, the heroes deserved praise and the victims sympathy, but there was no shortage of those expressions in the media. The Jewish press had good reason to raise awareness of Israel’s own fight against terrorism and the hypocrisy of the world’s attitude (including the United States) towards it.
In one column after the attack, I noted that as horrifying as the attacks were, the hijacking of four airplanes on one day was not the unprecedented act it was made out to be by the press. In fact, it happened almost exactly 41 years earlier on Sept. 6, 1970, when members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) hijacked three jets (Swissair, TWA and Pan Am) with more than 400 passengers on flights to New York. A fourth plane, an El Al flight, was also targeted; however, Israeli security agents foiled the hijacking in mid-air and killed one of the terrorists when they tried to storm the cockpit. On the ninth, however, a British BOAC jet was also hijacked by the PFLP.
The United Nations could not muster a condemnation of the hijackings. A U.N. Security Council Resolution only went so far as to express grave concern and did not even bring the issue to a vote.
This was in the days when ideological terrorism was more prominent than religious fanaticism, and the hijackers were not interested in dying for the cause. Instead of flying their planes into buildings, they landed them on airfields (three in Jordan, one in Cairo). All four hijacked planes were blown up on the ground—after the passengers were taken off the planes.
More than three dozen Americans were among the passengers who were then held hostage in Jordan as the terrorists attempted to blackmail the Western governments and Israel to swap the hostages for Palestinian terrorists held in their jails. On Sept. 14, after releasing all but 55 hostages, the terrorists said all American hostages would be treated as Israelis.
A tense standoff ensued. Seven terrorists were ultimately set free by Britain, Germany and Switzerland in exchange for the hostages. The turning point was when King Hussein of Jordan decided that this was the final insult in the Palestinian campaign to take over his country and waged an all-out war against Yasser Arafat and all the PLO factions, ultimately driving them out of Jordan and into Lebanon. It was later revealed that Hussein had appealed through Britain’s ambassador in Amman “for an airstrike by Israel” following the hijackings.
After the hijackings, shocked congressman called for immediate and forceful action by the United States and the international community. They insisted on quick adoption of measures aimed at preventing air piracy, punishing the perpetrators and recognizing the responsibility of nations that harbor them. Virtually nothing was done, and hijackings and other terrorist atrocities continued.
The PFLP is still around and part of the Palestinian Authority that will be receiving hundreds of millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars. One of the hijackers, Leila Khaled, who threw a grenade on the plane she hijacked, which miraculously didn’t explode, is living happily (ironically) in Amman. She never faced justice. Three weeks after the British took her into custody, President Richard Nixon pressured the British government to release her in exchange for the hostages.
Even more galling, Khaled has been gallivanting around the world giving speeches and was invited a year ago to speak as part of a Zoom conference at San Francisco State University (Zoom, YouTube and Facebook prevented the conference from using their video conferencing software). Disgustingly, the president of the university, Lynn Mahoney, defended the invitation to the terrorist and criticized Zoom for blocking her appearance. The university invited her again a few months later, as did several California State University and University of California entities, but she was again prevented from appearing via Zoom.
I also wrote after 9/11—and stand behind my words today—that what was particularly interesting were the statements that were not made that revealed the double standard in the response to the hijackers compared to the reaction to Israel’s fight against terrorism.
For example, we did not hear the State Department say the United States should negotiate with Al-Qaeda and look for ways to compromise to address their legitimate grievances. Spokespeople did not say that the rhetoric should be lowered and that we should all keep calm. No one said we should exercise restraint.
A lot of officials did say that we were now in a war and that we should wage an all-out fight against the enemy. They said we should retaliate, hard and fast, and demonstrate that we were not a paper tiger and would not allow such acts to go unpunished. None of these officials, however, worried that retaliating against the terrorists might prompt revenge and more terrorism, as well as perpetuate a cycle of violence.
After the United States was victimized, no one suggested following any of the advice American officials routinely give to Israel on how to respond to the terrorist threat it faces every day.
I also noted that the president’s statement was particularly illuminating when he said he would “make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.” This is akin to the Israeli policy of holding the Palestinian Authority responsible for the terrorists in its midst.
The American public also backed strong action. Like the Israelis who overwhelmingly support the retaliatory policy of their government, almost 90 percent of Americans in the Washington Post/ABC News poll supported taking military action against whoever was responsible for the attacks.
And if you ever wondered why Americans sympathize with Israel rather than the Palestinians, I observed, all you had to do was compare the reactions to the attack on the United States. Israel declared a day of mourning, Israelis lined up to give blood, and the government sent its search and rescue team to New York. The Palestinians held a party.
Unrealistically, I suggested that “American diplomats will have a tough time lecturing Israelis on how they should respond to terror,” but more presciently stated, “you can count on them returning to the same old arguments that they are currently ignoring in their own case.”
I knew life would change here, but at least one of my hopes was realized: Unlike Israel, we have not reached the point where an American kid seeing a backpack left behind on a school bus has to worry that it could be a bomb.
Mitchell Bard is a foreign-policy analyst and an authority on U.S.-Israel relations who has written and edited 22 books, including “The Arab Lobby, Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews” and “After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.”
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