Shostack + Friends Blog Archive


An Israeli Friend in London Writes…

(This entire post is by my friend Shimrit, an Israeli living in London, and is posted with permission.)

I felt the need to write down my thoughts about today so I did. Seeing as
I have nowhere to publish them, I am sending them round instead.

Once again, it seems my terrorist attack luck has made me miss the whole
area by many many miles. The attacks in London were somewhat close to my
work (Old Street being relatively near) but I was working from home today.
Also, I don’t usually get on my bus till nine o’clock so would have been
stuck in traffic, rather than blown up anyway. I switched on the news
after a friend told me there was an “incident” at Liverpool street
station. Then I watched the whole thing on TV.
I couldn’t beat the feelings that these are familiar scenes to me. Sitting
at home, watching the media fill long minutes with idle banter, pointless
interviews and careful speculations, while the facts pour in slowly. Like
being in a dream, I realised I already knew all the signs, all the tricks
of the trade the media were using to deal with what we all knew was a
terrorist attack from the start. It was déja vu.

So I clicked into terrorist attack aftermath mode.

The first thing to do is to locate the best news channel. There is usually
one news channel that’s managed to get on top of the situation more than
any of the others. During the first Gulf War, when we were all sat in
sealed rooms in our houses in Israel, it was CNN who provided the best
footage. This time, CNN sort of sucked. Even the newsreaders sounded like
they’ve just been woken up. BBC News 24 were the last ones to say it was a
terrorist attack. They spent half the morning telling us we were dealing
with a “power surge”. I never liked them anyway. During the war in Iraq
they were always filming the CNN crews from behind. About a 100 metres

To my great surprise, it was Sky News who gave us the best news reporting
today. They were ahead of everyone else in the breaking news department,
even though they had far too many people who sounded like someone’s friend
who happened to live 3 blocks down from a blast site trying to give their
expert opinion about international terrorism.

I am accustomed to the way Israelis pull together in times of crisis such
as the Gulf War or the assassination of Rabin. The media likes to help
this whole process along.

I can spot the little sound bytes and the bits of information that the
audience demands and the media readily provides after a major attack.
There are certain phrases, iconic scenes and interviews favoured by
Israelis that are brought out time and time again. After 9/11 the
Americans got their own media iconography and now the UK, as well, is
building up its own.

Here, I was particularly interested in how the news reports kept including
comments made by religious figures and how they kept referring to matters
relating to the royal family. You don’t get that sort of stuff in Israel.
Messages flashed across the screen, telling us the flag at Buckingham
palace was at half-mast. The Queen was said to be “deeply shocked” and I
think I may have overheard Prince Harry being quoted as saying how
terrible it was that so many commuters will be inconvenienced by these
acts for a long time.

I wonder what part of the population finds these little titbits of
information heart-warming and reassuring.

In Israel after an attack, the media reassures the nation by complimenting
the great job done by the emergency services and by interviewing
politicians and experts who discuss retaliation plans. Apparently the
Israeli public need to know they are being avenged, as well as protected
and treated. As the population becomes more jaded, these sedatives become
less essential, occupying less airtime.

In Israel, we know our emergency services are doing their job properly and
we know our government is going to retaliate in some way. All we need is a
little reminder and we can turn over and go back to bed. In London, the
emergency services have been getting a constant and massive pat on the
back, not just for their benefit (although it sounds like they may
actually deserve it) but also for ours. The people need to know their
emergency services are ready to take care of them in situations like this
one; otherwise they’ll panic. After all, it was only a matter of time till
we got hit. As an Israeli, I shudder every time I go on the tube or a bus
and happen to think of how easy it would be to sneak a bomb onto it. I
suddenly find myself grateful for the fact that in Israel so many people
carry guns around and are military trained, grateful for the fact that
cops carry guns in Israel. It almost makes me feel homesick I don’t like
it when I think like that but I can’t help it. In London, the police are
not geared for this sort of terrorism. They are not ready for it in the
way that they should be: they cannot even begin to stop these things from

The thing that stood out for me the most in all of this was the fact that
everyone kept repeating the line “there were no warnings”. After years of
dealing with the IRA and then years of calmness, it seems the British are
as shocked about the lack of warnings at they are about the bombs
themselves. It’s almost as if they are offended by the fact that the
terrorists decided not to phone ahead. Here’s a newsflash — the Irish are
about as nice as terrorists could possibly be. Normal terrorists, like the
ones we get in Israel on a regular basis, don’t call ahead. They strap
explosives to themselves and go for a ride on buses full of children or to
shopping centres or to nightclubs. You can’t really hang around and wait
for them to call you up before they jump on the tube. You really want to
start making sure they don’t get on it in the first place.

It’ll be a laugh seeing the authorities here try and implement that kind
of security system in London. A laugh, that is, until they use this as a
boost for their hideous ID card plan and for the loss of just about every
possible civil liberty we still have in this country.

I really don’t want to hear this government discussing retaliation plans
and hearing people who should know better say that’s a good thing. That
would just be too much like home.

In between the phone network crashes, I reasserted the size of the network
of friends I have here. In Israel, making that round of calls is almost
like a popularity contest. Even when we were getting bombed, during the
first Gulf War, having people to phone and discuss the last round of scuds
made me feel excited. It was an adventure my friends and I all shared.
That was probably the last time I still had a network of local people to
ring when something bad happened in Israel. Today I was actually worried
about some people before clicking back into my Israeli self. It was a
weird feeling. I had people phoning and texting me from Israel to see how
I was. That was even weirder. It looks as if everyone I know is fine and
everyone they know is fine. In general, it could have been much much
worse for London. Somehow I don’t find that as reassuring as I probably


5 comments on "An Israeli Friend in London Writes…"

  • Justin Mason says:

    A very interesting take. Thanks for posting it!
    First off, an explanation of the Royal Family. They occupy a strong symbolic role as heads of state. In the US, the President combines both a symbolic head-of-state role, and political makes-the-decisions role; in many other countries, these tasks are divided into two, which helps differentiate bad political decisions from the figurehead. in my opinion, this is a good thing — you can see the dangers of combining the two during the Iraq war, when “not supporting the President” was considered un-American, because while he was making political and strategic decisions that many disagreed with, he was also the head of state and required to act as a rallying figure in that role.
    Secondly, ‘normal terrorists, like the ones we get in Israel on a regular basis’ — a very Israeli-centric viewpoint. Europe’s terrorists, especially the IRA who provided almost all of the UK’s experience to date, generally did phone ahead during the past 30 years of their fight against terrorism, so it’s a fair point to note. The attacks when they didn’t give sufficient warning, such as Omagh, are considered much worse atrocities, as they cause a much greater number of casualties.
    Bear in mind that the UK has had a *lot* of experience fighting terrorism — maybe nearly as much as Israel. So patronising them on this count really is not necessary.
    Thirdly, very interesting to note how revenge is considered the default govt priority in Israel — I never knew that context, and it’s very illuminating!

  • Izar says:

    Just a note to Justin: revenge != retaliation. Shimrit said retaliate, you understood revenge. This binds to my previous comments to Adam’s “Bring to Justice” post – the israeli approach seems to be showing that terrorism is not tolerated and there is a personal/family/village price to be paid. It is not revenge for revenge’s sake – the retaliation is “calculated” to achieve an objective, as much as that sounds like a stupid thing to say. I’d think that revenge would be dropping a bomb somewhere random.

  • Shimrit says:

    Oh wow, responses already.
    Ok, I’ll do one at the time.
    First of all, a reply to Justine with a few clarifications:
    I realise nobody on here apart from Adam knows me, but I’ve lived in the UK for around 10 years now and am familiar with the supposed role of the royal family here. It’s just that the majority of young, educated British people (the demographic from which I pick my friends) couldn’t really give a rat’s arse (as we say here) about what the Queen and the other royal inbreds say or think and would like for them to disappear and stop wasting our tax money. My reaction was more one of being entertained by how the mass media reminded me of the uneducated masses and the possibility that they would draw strength from such statements than by a confusion as to how the system works.
    Regarding “normal??? terrorists and the UK’s experience of fighting terrorism. I am a major left-wing, unpatriotic apologist and am usually the last one to wave the Israeli flag, but basically there are periods when every day or even every hour where there isn’t an attack in Israel is a massive victory of the security forces. Both Israelis and Palestinians pay a terrible price for the type of war Israel is waging against terrorism every day (mostly the Palestinians, but living in Israel as in Israeli is not that great either) but the bottom line is, the system works. I still maintain that on the whole, the IRA have nothing on the sort of threat posed by people who are willing to kill themselves for the cause on a daily basis.
    About the revenge vs retaliation thing, I did actually mean retaliation in the sense of revenge. A lot of it I see as straightforward revenge and I am sure some of the soldiers Israel sends out to do the business also see it that way. The other part is meant to be a show of force on behalf of the Israeli government to satisfy its own ends and also the public’s need to be shown that the government is doing “something???. In reality, this brutal form of punishment does very little to deter anyone from wanting to kill more people but it makes people feel vindicated. My personal opinion is that the need to extend the cycle of hate is a primitive, basic urge and to follow along that line just keeps the cycle of hate going and creates tomorrow’s suicide bombers. The Palestinians already have very little if anything to lose. I’ve recently returned from Israel and a tour of the separation barrier and I can tell you, it’s no wonder they want to kill us. Disclaimer: I would never ever condone violence against anyone unless they were physically attacking me at the time. Putting on a uniform doesn’t make anyone less entitled to his/her life either. That said, going and seeing the way these people are forced to live has opened my eyes to the state of mind that could have, maybe, made me think differently had I been born and raised under different circumstances. When your life is worth less than dirt, talking doesn’t solve anything. Does the west care about people demonstrating in Palestine or Iraq or Afghanistan? Do we even get to hear about it half the time? They could be shouting in the street till the next millennium and nothing would change. Sadly, they do owe a lot of their publicity to the fact that they keep blowing up. Maybe if instead of looking for who to kill, people actually tried to get to the root of the problem and solve it, there wouldn’t be so many people out there willing to strap explosives to themselves. Until then, the governments will keep killing and the terrorists will keep killing and innocent people will just keep dying.
    BTW: This article is worth a read. It covers the way the media here has been dealing with the situation much better than I ever could:

  • Izar says:

    Shimrit, thanks for your answer. It was presumptuous of me to try to “explain” to Jason what you meant. Probably comes from finding myself explaining Israel too much. So, I stand corrected – the qualification of revenge/retaliation I gave is definitelly my own opinion and nothing more.

  • “It’s almost as if they are offended by the fact that the terrorists decided not to phone ahead. Here’s a newsflash — the Irish are about as nice as terrorists could possibly be. Normal terrorists, like the ones we get in Israel on a regular basis, don’t call ahead”
    Perhaps it is a sign of a lack of sophistication that there were no bomb warnings for these latest attacks.
    The Irish terrorists used “phone call warnings” with “code phrases” to enhance the disruptive effects of their bombs with numerous deliberate hoaxes,
    “Bomb warnings”, invariably to media organisations, rather than to the security authorities directly (thereby also delaying the time for an evacuation), were also used to claim some soundbites for their side of the media war (a news scoop is more likely to be reported than not), something which Middle Eastern terrorists seem to be particularly poor at, presumably because they are not really trying to influence public opinion in general, but only trying to impress their own supporters.
    They were also notorious for not giving quite enough warning time to clear a target area properly, or were often deliberately vague as to the exact location where a bomb was planted.
    Sometimes the hoax bomb call led to evacuations to a “safe distance”, where the real bomb would be detonated with the aim of killing the concentrated emergency service workers and security forces.
    You also have to distinguish between the Irish terrorist “spectaculars” on the Mainland and some of the “bomb threats” to businesses in Belfast, which were used partly to back up “fund raising” extortion activities by the terrorists and by their criminal associates and rival gangs and factions.
    If the thousands of CCTV surveillance cameras on the London Underground and on Buses and in the streets of London were not enough to deter the bomber(s), then neither ID Cards nor the
    hype about installing Passive Millimetre Wave “see through your clothes” scanners can be effective either, something which even Home Secretary Charles Clarke has grudgingly admitted.

Comments are closed.