Israel Under Terrorism

The following article originally was published on March 31 by Grand Junction’s Free Press. See also Part I and Part II.

For Israelis, risk of terrorist attacks alters everyday life

by Linn and Ari Armstrong

This article, written from Linn’s perspective, is the third and final in a series based on Linn’s February trip to Israel as part of the Ultimate Counter Terrorism Mission. Additional notes and photographs from the trip will be published at within a week or two.

Security in Israel is tight. When we were entering a restaurant, a guard approached my group, searched our purses and bags, and asked us to open our coats so that he could make sure we weren’t wearing any extra belts.

Those not used to such measures might be surprised or uneasy to see guards carrying Uzi submachine guns, yet such guards and searches are the norm. Before any business can open its doors, it must have a business license. The license requires a security plan, which means many businesses will have an armed guard checking all bags and purses.

I had barely gotten past the guard when my cell phone rang. It was my wife Sharon, home in the States, with worry in her voice. She told me that a suicide bomber (known as a missile man to the locals) had detonated, killing two women. I assured her that the attack was many miles from where we were, and we were in no danger.

Everyone in Israel has a cell phone and the phones are always ringing. A general’s phone may ring while he’s giving a briefing; a bus driver will answer his phone while driving. Answering one’s cell phone is not a sign of disrespect or a lack of courtesy. It is a way to assure worried family members and loved ones. Nearly everyone in Israel is directly or indirectly involved with the police or military. Everyone in Israel is fighting terrorism.

The man in charge of Israel’s largest airport — Ben Gurion International Airport — had recently returned from the U.S. after reviewing the security of some of its airports, including Denver International. As gracious as our host was, he couldn’t help but grimace when I asked him to rate the security of DIA. He politely refused to answer this question for reasons of politics as well as security. Many of the law enforcement personnel in our travel group agreed with our host when he suggested that, in the U.S., we are better prepared for picking up the pieces than for prevention.

Hebrew University is located at Mount Scopus in the eastern part of Jerusalem, between the predominantly Jewish West Jerusalem and various Arab villages. On July 31, 2002, a Palestinian construction worker exploded a bomb in the university’s crowded cafeteria. A tree that was partially blown over by the blast is now part of a memorial for the students killed by the terrorist.

Today a sophisticated security fence surrounds the University. Everyone is required to enter the facility and pass through security, which includes metal detectors and bag checks similar to airport security. This is part of the idea in Israel of being proactive.

Entering the Jerusalem Central Bus Station is very much like entering any airport security system in the U.S. Security personnel profile the passengers as they do at airports. The major difference is that there are hundreds of bus stops in the inner city of Jerusalem. Both uniformed and undercover officers guard the busses and bus stops.

Some of the buses that travel dangerous routes are literally armored vehicles. These buses remind me of the old Clint Eastwood movie Gauntlet where the bus has to travel through sniper fire and bombs.

At least Eastwood did not have to worry about terrorists boarding the bus hoping to take it into Egypt to create an international incident. Such an event took place on Bus Line 300. Alon Stivi related this story because his father, a former paratrooper, was on board. Thinking quickly, the bus driver hit the brakes and opened the emergency doors, allowing Stivi’s father to escape. The intelligence that his father provided allowed an Israeli commando unit trained in bus assaults to take the bus back with no additional Israeli casualties. This is one reason why Stivi’s training of law enforcement in bus assaults has such an element of realism.

Healers also must prepare for terrorism. Prior to my trip, a terrorist, determined to detonate, was headed to the maternity ward of the Hadassa Hospital. Fortunately, he was intercepted before he reached his destination. Hadassa Hospital, which prides itself in providing services for Jews, Arabs, and Christians alike, stocks supplies to last for months, and it prepares for the potential of mass casualties.

In Israel, the struggle against terrorism affects everyone, every day. We would do well to remember the precarious situation of Israel, our ally, and the risk to ourselves if we continue to close our eyes to the state sponsors of terror in the Middle East.