Robin Meyers.

Israel's 9/11

If Oct. 7 is Israel's Sept. 11, let's hope our history doesn't repeat itself there.

     In the unfolding horror of the last three weeks, many Israelis have called the horrific attack from Hamas “Israel’s 9/11.” If that’s true, let’s hope they handle it better than we did. Unfortunately, it looks like they will not. In fact, it looks like they are following our playbook of revenge, wanton destruction, and political grandstanding perfectly. We know how our post-9/11 misadventures turned out. Now it’s Israel’s turn to face the bitter truth about “wiping out terrorism” by leveling the places where the terrorists live. It doesn’t work. In fact, it makes even more terrorists, and guarantees even more death and destruction.

     George W. Bush was not enjoying great poll numbers before 9/11, and yet when he stood atop the smoldering pile of rubble with a bullhorn and vowed revenge, his poll number hit 90 percent, the highest for any American president. Even though the civilized world was behind us and promised international support to find and prosecute those responsible for 9/11, we chose instead to start dropping bombs on the mountains of Tora Bora in Afghanistan. Bush made perhaps the most fatal mistake of any American president when he declared an undefined “war on terror” and then made it clear that there would be no distinction made between the terrorists themselves or the “countries that harbored them.”

     The longest American war had begun, and 20 years after we arrived, we departed in chaos and humiliation. The Taliban simply waited us out, and now they rule the country again. Afghanistan is worse than it was before, a feudal state, with widespread starvation and no rights for woman and girls. Of course, this was not our worst post-9/11 mistake. We also decided to invade Iraq, to save the world from non-existent weapons of mass-destruction. Or was it really because Iraq sits on top of the second largest ocean of sweet-crude oil in the world? Americans were skeptical, so the Bush administration put the most admired soldier in America, Colin Powell, on the stand to lie to the United Nations and the world about mobile chemical weapons labs hidden in trucks. Those also did not exist. Truth is the first casualty of war.

     The invasion of Iraq under false pretenses was the worst American foreign policy decision of the modern age, and our military presence in a country whose culture we did not understand made us the “near enemy” to put it in lexicon of the Arab world. The war was such a strategic blunder that we created a lethal counterinsurgency, and countless soldiers came home missing arms and legs. For what? Iraq is also worse than it was before.

     Israel also conflates Hamas with ISIS to describe their horrific methods in the invasion of Oct. 7. But the irony here is even deeper. ISIS is the result of the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. It is the bastard-stepchild of our decision to guard the ministry of oil while letting the national museum be looted. It is the legacy of the torture and humiliation of Iraqi prisoners by their U.S. captors at Abu Ghraib which shocked the world, especially given the president’s rhetoric dividing the world into the good guys and the “evil doers.”

     Israel has every right to defend itself, and so do the Palestinians—thousands of whom have died from Israeli airstrikes, and are now starving to death as aid trucks are not allowed in. The press has acted as if the carnage of the Hamas attack occurred in a vacuum. But terrorists are not born. They are made. They are cooked in the crucible of occupation, violence, and hopelessness. There is nothing more dangerous than young men with nothing left to lose. To ask why this happened is not anti-Semitic, any more than asking why those terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 is anti-American.

     Let’s face it. The “two-state solution” was a cruel diplomatic ruse. It was never going to happen, and Netanyahu accelerated the building of illegal settlements to make sure it never happened. Using the largest amount of U.S. foreign aid given to any country in the world, Israel has the most advanced military in the region, while Palestinians still live in the equivalent of open-air prisons in the West Bank and Gaza. Military occupation under deplorable conditions is the essential recipe for terrorism. Bombing terrorism out of existence has never worked. Only changing the conditions under which terrorist organizations form and recruit can make progress against the endless cycle of violence.

     We can also hold two indisputable ideas in our minds at once—despite the culture warriors who want you to take sides, decide whether you are “pro-Israel” or “pro-Palestine.” Nobody excuses the carnage of the Hamas attack. But neither can any reasonable person excuse Israel’s deadly treatment of the Palestinian people for 75 years. What we do know is that Oct. 7 was bound to happen, and that attacks like it will happen again. If this war does not expand into the whole region, as it very well might, we will still be left with the never-ending horror of hostages held as human shields and children crushed to death under the rumble of their own homes. Summary executions of innocent Israeli civilians is depraved. So is bombing places that people cannot escape. It is nothing short of genocide.

     If Israel wants to call this their 9/11, then will they also have to admit that the U.S. response was a deadly and destabilizing failure. In fact, our “war on terror” increased world-wide terrorism ten-fold. So instead of making simple-minded claims about who is to blame for the never-ending violence in the Middle East, we should start by admitting this: You cannot bomb terrorism out of existence.  You cannot claim that God gave you land on which others are already living. Thinking that you can only feeds the monster of retributive violence until it consumes all of us. As a rabbi told the president recently: We need a ceasefire now!


The Rev. Dr. Robin Meyers is pastor of First Congregational Church UCC in Norman and retired senior minister of Mayflower Congregational UCC in Oklahoma City. He is currently Professor of Public Speaking, and Distinguished Professor of Social Justice Emeritus in the Philosophy Department at Oklahoma City University, and the author of eight books on religion and American culture, the most recent of which is, Saving God from Religion: A Minister’s Search for Faith in a Skeptical Age.


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