“You must get on the air,” the producer of Razi Barkai’s radio show told me desperately. These producers change every two years, but the desperation remains. “Why?” I asked. “Because everyone thinks you’re dead,” she said.
On September 11, 2001 I was in Boston. The travel agent woke me up at the hotel. “Turn on the television,” she said. “Why? What happened?” I asked. “Just turn it on.”
I turned on the television and saw some kind of inferior disaster-themed movie with a plane hitting a building. “Well?” I asked. “You know how worried I was?” the travel agent said. “Worried about what?”
Only three hours later I remembered that I told her I may fly to New York. One of the airliners took off towards the Twin Towers from Boston’s Logan Airport. I wasn’t supposed to be on board the flight, but it’s the same as a Texas resident hearing about rockets hitting Sderot and calling his aunt in Haifa to see if she was hurt.
The rumor about my death started circulating almost immediately; perhaps because I couldn’t be reached. I came out of the hotel and walked the streets of Boston, joining groups of people holding candles and crying. Later I sat at a local bar and watched television. When I asked for the bill it turned out they forgot to charge me for the nachos and beer.
“Ok,” I told the desperate producer. “I’ll get on the air.”
I think Razi Barkai was happy to hear I was alive. He asked me how the Americans were reacting. It’s a classic question, but I only grasped the answer to it much later.
They just didn’t get it.
People always think that the justness of their cause is obvious. It happens even to us, Israelis. Even though we have more experience with terrorism, deep inside we feel that everyone, including Hamas, realizes that we are right; that they understand we are not the bad guys in this story, but are denying it for political or self-interested reasons, or just because they don’t feel like admitting they’re wrong.
In the weeks after the 9/11 attacks, Americans were mostly stunned. Up until that moment they were certain that every person in the world understands that they’re right, that their economy is better, that their constitution is fairer, and that their democracy is the only way to bring freedom to human beings. “Freedom itself was attacked,” their inarticulate president said.
They failed to grasp that not all people want freedom, that not all people want democracy, that not all people just want a nice car and a house to live in, and that not all people think that God is someone who invites you to a friendly meeting every Sunday before the barbeque.
It was so illogical, that I’m not sure they get it even today.