The constant threat of terrorism continues to change lifestyles in the United States.
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Imagine if the pair of terrorists who attacked Boston on April 15 stuck to their original plan: July 4, 2013—the city decked in red, white and blue. From an Islamist extremist’s point of view, Independence Day would have been an ideal target for a symbolic strike against American freedoms.
But that is not what happened. The Chechen-born brothers finished their pressure-cooker bombs early and bumped up the date to Patriot’s Day during the city’s famed marathon.
Yet did not the terror attack achieve a similar goal? Will not the tragic scenes of carnage—billowing plumes of smoke, blood-spattered faces, blown-off limbs—haunt Boston’s patriotic celebrations for years to come?
The tragedy also served as an uncomfortable reminder to those across the United States. The first successful home-turf bombing since 2001 made clear that the entire nation still lives under the threat of terrorism.
In this way, the U.S. has a kindred bond with Israel. The Middle Eastern nation has experienced continuous extremist violence since its inception in the spring of 1948. This fact made an April 17 visit from Israeli Chief Police Commissioner Yochanan Danino all the more significant.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Mr. Danino “arrived in the U.S. two days after the terrorist attack on the Boston Marathon to meet with officials at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Homeland Security and New York Police Department, where he delivered a sobering message: ‘It’s very hard to deal with this kind of terrorism.’”
The police commissioner was also quoted by New York Daily News: “I just hope that what is a reality in Israel won’t be a reality in the U.S.”
Yet America is already heading toward a similar reality. In the decade-plus since 9/11, the U.S. has slowly been relinquishing freedoms to ensure terror attacks do not occur. Air travel will never be the same. Closed-circuit cameras blanket city streets. And police have begun to be armed with military-grade weaponry.
A drastic ramp-up in government infrastructure is another sign of change. Since 2001, domestic security has cost the nation approximately $1 trillion. This spending has been proposed and authorized by both Republicans and Democrats. President George W. Bush and Congress signed a veritable blank check for the CIA, military and Department of Homeland Security to ensure a 9/11-type event would “never happen again.” President Barack Obama has followed a similar path, barring a few differences. He has banned waterboarding and closed secret CIA prisons around the globe—yet the Patriot Act is still in full force, Guantanamo Bay remains open, and drone programs have undergone massive expansion.
Watching planes crash into skyscrapers and the Pentagon immediately changed America forever. But changes to its society have continued throughout the years since. With each subsequent terror plot—whether executed or foiled—the U.S. inches toward an Israel-style response to homeland security.
Setting aside for the moment the controversy surrounding Palestinian statehood, life in Israel reveals three realities America can learn as a nation living under terror.
During Mr. Danino’s visit, he stated that the Boston law enforcement officers “probably did what they could have done” (New York Daily News).
This statement aptly frames the first reality the U.S. can learn. No matter how hard a nation tries or how much money is pumped into domestic security, terror attacks will still occur.
Israel has systematically separated Palestinian and Jewish communities. It has checkpoints everywhere. It employs demographic profiling. Other measures have included changes in laws, counterterrorism methods, and institutional security. Even highly controversial measures such as the security fence around the West Bank and attempts to isolate the Gaza Strip have been put in place. None of these have completely stopped terrorism. Each may have helped, but none has eliminated the threat.
U.S. security officials also understand that terrorism will persist no matter what. The PBS television program Frontline interviewed a number of military officers and high-level government employees:
This idea may be common knowledge in Israel and among U.S. officials, but it remains a tough sell for the average American. Most citizens still feel Washington can do better.
Case in point: the intense backlash against the FBI after it was revealed that they had ceased investigating one of the Boston bombers. The agency closed the file when it did not turn up evidence of links to extremist or terrorist groups.
Despite a feeling the government should do more, Reality One has begun to set in. A CBS News/New York Times poll conducted after the Boston bombing found that nine out of 10 U.S. citizens agree with this statement: “Americans will always have to live with the risk of terrorism.”
Spend any time in Israel and it is obvious that security is at the forefront of daily life, 24/7.
Laws enforce it: Building codes dictate that every structure must have a merkhav mugan (protected space), which is a security room constructed specifically to withstand rocket attacks and chemical weapons.
Schools teach it: Israeli Defense Force soldiers educate children as early as age 4 about what to do if a weapon of mass destruction explodes nearby. At age 8, children receive gas masks personally fitted for their faces. Infants to 7-year-olds all have protective hoods or coverings.
Citizens live it: The director of the Institute of Israel Studies at the University of Maryland, Yoram Peri, described this culture of security to USA Today. He stated, “In Israel, avoiding suspicious packages that could be bombs is taught in grade school, surveillance techniques are aggressive, and watching for the typical profile of a bomber is routine…”
In addition, Dr. Peri told the paper, “You grow up internalizing this thought that there might be terrorists and attacks anywhere and everywhere…You walk differently, you look to the sides, you look for people who might be terrorists, you look for packages. You’re more aware, that’s clear.”
Slowly but surely, Americans are moving toward Reality Two.
Consistently, average citizens are the ones who tip off law enforcement, prodded by the slogan, “If you see something, say something.” This was the case during the manhunt after the Boston attack. In addition, New York street vendors in 2010 informed police of a suspicious car parked near Times Square that was “smoking.” Their calls about the vehicle, which was rigged with explosives, helped thwart what could have been a disaster.
Also, Americans seem to be getting used to increased security. This is most evident in airports. September 11 got the ball rolling with new requirements: for starters, arriving two hours early due to heightened security with the newly created Transportation Security Administration. The “shoe bomber” incident meant removing footwear for the TSA. An uncovered 2006 plot resulted in limiting the amount of liquid in carry-on luggage. Then the “underwear bomber” led to full-body scanners.
While there is grumbling from time to time, most everyone is now dutifully trained: wear easily removable shoes, one-ounce containers of liquids go in a quart-size Ziploc bag, laptops come out of cases, and so on.
The bottom line for security seems to be that Americans will put up with lesser inconveniences and intrusions as long as the measures do not hamper their overall lifestyles.
Even more extreme actions seem to be fine. After the Boston bombings, police SWAT teams and FBI agents went door to door, sometimes forcing people from homes while searching for the suspects.
How many times citizens will allow police to forcibly remove them from their homes remains to be seen, but such drastic measures are being accepted for now as “what needs to be done to protect the public.”
The Israeli government has worked hard to ensure its citizenry feels safe—even with rockets pointed at them from every direction. For example, Dr. Peri told USA Today, “Israel developed a protocol that said all bombing locations—even bus bombings with multiple casualties—must be cleared and declared safe within four hours, so ‘life should return to normal in the quickest lapse of time possible.’”
After any terror attack, some things are never the same, especially with the loss of life or limbs. Yet Western civilization always fights hard to ensure the terrorists “do not win.” Their main push-back tactic is to doggedly hold to modern Western standards of living. In America that means ballgames and barbecues, shopping malls and spring break, fast food and freedom—the freedoms to choose, to speak out, and to disagree.
An article in The Atlantic titled “The Boston Marathon Bombing: Keep Calm and Carry On” recommended a similar approach: “How well this attack succeeds depends much less on what happened in Boston than by our reactions in the coming weeks and months. Terrorism isn’t primarily a crime against people or property. It’s a crime against our minds, using the deaths of innocents and destruction of property as accomplices. When we react from fear, when we change our laws and policies to make our country less open, the terrorists succeed, even if their attacks fail. But when we refuse to be terrorized, when we’re indomitable in the face of terror, the terrorists fail, even if their attacks succeed.”
Yet something else happens under the constant threat of extremism—especially with each successful attack. Again, Israel demonstrates the end result of over half a century of living on high alert. In Tel Aviv today, many are numb to the constant threat of violence. Citizens are accustomed to seeing military personnel, some in their teens, toting AK-47s while lounging in plazas with their friends and surrounded by families with young children. Everyone knows it is a rule that both men and women must serve in the Israeli Defense Forces.
This past year, a photo was posted of what was assumed to be a female IDF soldier in a bathing suit at the beach with a gun slung over her shoulder. While the photo generated questions as to why she was not in uniform, Israeli paper Haaretz published an editorial that stated that it was not as uncommon a sight as those not used to living under constant threat of attack would believe: “To an Israeli, the photo makes perfectly practical sense,” the paper stated. “When soldiers take their weapon off military premises, they must guard it closely and keep it on their person, at all times. Having one’s weapon stolen is harshly punished with time in military prison a given. I’ve heard male soldiers on leave refer to their gun as their ‘wife,’ so constant is the companionship. We’re used to seeing guns in all kinds of places—propped up next to the guy sitting next to us in a coffeeshop, or in a university classroom, and of course, slung over the shoulders of women soldiers…”
In addition, most in the country refuse to let the situation deter their lifestyles. Ron Huldai, who has been mayor of Tel Aviv for 13 years, told 60 Minutes that “in life, there are a lot of risks. Always…Iran today, Iraq yesterday. During the first Gulf War, Saddam Hussein rained scuds on the city. Soon after that, the streets of Tel Aviv became killing zones as Palestinian suicide bombers blew up buses and cars and clubs. But the bombings didn’t stop Tel Avivians from going to the beach by day and the bars by night.”
Consciously or not, many Israelis subscribe to the idea of “live it up today, as we may die tomorrow.”
This concept is deeply ingrained in their culture. The origin of the phrase comes from the Jewish Tanakh, which Christians refer to as the Old Testament.
The 22nd chapter of Isaiah describes Jerusalem surrounded by enemies. The Israelites’ response to these conditions? “Let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we shall die” (vs. 13).
A dozen years under terror has begun to change America’s national psyche as well. When you add to this the slew of problems besetting the nation—unemployment, political gridlock, economic woes, a steady stream of weather disasters—understandably many have chosen to ignore such problems and continue living their lives.
While many similarities between the United States and Israel exist, Washington could never fully emulate Jerusalem’s domestic security. For example, America has more than 8,000 miles of border and shoreline—Israel only covers an area about the size of New Jersey. The U.S. has dozens of different cultures, while the Jewish State only has a handful. America has the bureaucratic red tape of federal, state and local governments, while Israel can quickly implement security policies across the entire nation.
Despite these differences, both nations share a stronger bond than at first glance. This is particularly evidenced by the nations’ shared religious heritage. These roots also help demonstrate the ultimate desires for both nations—again found in the Old Testament.
Israelis and Americans undoubtedly seek a time when all can freely enjoy a life of peace and safety.
This verse speaks of a time when, without fear of attack, Israel can enjoy abundant prosperity.
Think of all the money currently spent on defense and security. What if it was put into farming research, city infrastructure, education, etc.? The results would be immediate and astonishing!
Un-walled cities, however, are not a reality—and most consider them an idealist impossibility. Instead, the U.S. has pumped hundreds of billions into domestic security and $1.4 trillion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Yet this ability for Washington to write a blank check to combat terrorism provides great proof of another aspect of the nation.
Take a step back and think. How does America continue to do what it does? How did it support its “War on Terror”—especially when the international community largely did not agree with it? How does the nation pay the defense budget of nearly the entire world? Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia would be drastically different places if Washington did not spend well over $600 billion per year on defense. How does America continue to shell out cash even with $16.8 trillion in debt, and during a dour global economic downturn?
While the realities of living under terror become clear when examining modern Israel, still deeper realities come from examining ancient Israel.
First note that ancient Israel had 12 separate tribes. (The modern-day nation of Israel is mostly comprised of descendants of the tribe of Judah.) In the book of Genesis, a special birthright blessing was put upon the tribe of Joseph, which passed to his sons Ephraim and Manasseh. God promised that both would “grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth” (Gen. 48:16). The older brother, Manasseh, was to “become a people, and he also shall be great: but truly his younger brother [Ephraim] shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations” (vs. 19).
Only one pair of brother nations has ever become a singular great nation and a multitude of nations—the United States (Manasseh) and Britain with its former colonies (Ephraim). This is just one proof of America’s true identity. Many more are detailed—with clear historical facts—in David C. Pack’s America and Britain in Prophecy. (The book also describes in crystal-clear language what will befall these two nations in coming years.)
Return to the question from before: How does the U.S. do it?
The answer is found earlier in Genesis. The blessings passed to Ephraim and Manasseh were first given to Abraham. God told the patriarch that his descendants would enjoy incredible prosperity “because you have obeyed My voice” (22:18).
Abraham’s obedience alone allowed for America’s meteoric rise to prominence. Now having fulfilled these promises, however, God’s obligations to America and Britain are over.
Realize how truly blessed the United States has been. Even while these birthright blessings are being withdrawn, America still is able to hold its prominence (for a while longer) on the world scene!
But Americans are not doomed to suffer the scourge of terrorism forever. God mercifully provides a way of escape. The recipe for prosperity is the same as it was in Abraham’s time: obedience.
God gave ancient Israel a choice. The same decision stands before the U.S. today. Leviticus 26 shows the terms of this agreement. The Creator states, “If you walk in My statutes, and keep My commandments, and do them” (vs. 3), then…
This is a simple formula. If the United States lives God’s Way, then it will dwell safely.
Conversely, if Americans choose to ignore these plain statements, then they will not have rain in due season, will not dwell safely, and will not have peace in the land.
The second half of Leviticus 26 makes this clear. Notice God’s blunt language: “But if you will not hearken unto Me, and will not do all these commandments…I will even appoint over you terror…and you shall flee when none pursues you” (vs. 14, 16-17).
Realize what this means. Terrorism and the fear of such attacks are appointed over the United States. Unless America realizes this, terror attacks will continue.
Think back to Reality Three and the “eat, drink for tomorrow we die” mindset. This thinking naturally produces more terrorism.
Why do Islamic extremists hate America, which they call the “Great Satan”?
Most believe this is due to the freedoms the West enjoys. Yet many Muslims see these freedoms as allowing rampant promiscuity, wanton drunkenness, etc.
Neither side is in the right. Islam goes too far by severely constricting freedoms and using brutal violence to push its agenda. The West goes into the other ditch by fostering an “anything goes” society. In contrast, God’s Way is one of moderation and order (Phil. 4:5).
Reality Three means that living under terror will push the West to openly party harder, covet more, and live larger. This will engender more extremism and still further “loose living” for the West—forming a vicious cycle.
Many scoff at this notion and optimistically believe they can minimize the terror problem through increased security. Much of American life still feels normal. Yet conditions such as terrorism are meant to be a screaming warning that something is wrong—and to jolt the U.S. from its slumber. Indeed, threats from extremist groups are only one way of helping America see its true condition. There are many other trends detailed throughout Leviticus 26 and the entire Old Testament.
For individuals who sense something is terribly wrong, God declares: “Stand you in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths”—detailed throughout the Bible—“where is the good way, and walk therein, and you shall find rest…” (Jer. 6:16).
God assures those who follow His commands and trust in Him “shall not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flies by day” (Psa. 91:5).
David C. Pack’s book The Ten Commandments – “Nailed to the Cross” or Required for Salvation? details the foundation of God’s Way, the only way that leads to happiness and peace. As world conditions—including terrorism—continue to worsen, those trusting in God will be assured true safety.