Al Qaeda, The Enemy – Up Close & Personal
Being escorted on a Jeep through the Golan Heights by Elan, a recently retired military intelligence officer, was one of the highlights of my recent trip to Israel.
After a rugged ride through back roads and trails, we reach a high post on the mountaintop. Elan was explaining to us about how, due to the internal fighting between many factions, Syria could hardly be considered a unified country any longer. Not only were Isis and Al Qaeda fighting against the corrupt and murderous Assad regime, but several other warlords were engaged in fighting one another for supremacy and power in this once proud country. The devastation has caused the deaths of almost half a million people so far.
As he stared toward Syria, Elan drew our attention to a truck across the border, which was about a quarter of mile away.
“See the truck?” he said. “That’s Al Qaeda.”
Al Qaeda! We were astounded. “You mean we are seeing Al Qaeda?”
“Yes that’s who it is.” Apparently, they have stolen a UN truck and are using it to transport supplies and arms. If you look through the binoculars, you can see that they have scratched off the UN insignia.”
Astonished, we asked how he knew it was Al Qaeda. “We know,” he replied. “In Israel we stay safe by knowing everything that’s going on across the border. We only survive through our intelligence about our enemies. Our enemies are all around us, on every border.”
Even though, he assured us we were in no danger, I could feel the fear shivering through my body. Even though Al Qaeda has been our enemy for over 15 years, I realized I had never before seen them in real life.
Fear generated a flashback…It was a sunny morning in September 2001. I was sitting having coffee with my friend at Zingerman’s Deli when the phone rang. It was my wife, Pat. Immediately I could hear fear in her voice. “What’s going on?” I asked. She explained that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. At first I could not understand her fear, but as I drove home from the deli to comfort her, I realized that a catastrophic event was unfolding.
Immediately I understood her fear. Not only was New York under attack, but our son and daughter-in-law worked in Manhattan.
I arrived home in time to watch the second plane strike the World Trade Center, Pat was on the phone trying to reach Adam. Even though he works for a financial news agency in Time Square, he often reported from the World Trade Center. His wife worked close to the World Trade Center, too. Our panic rose as we were unable to get through on the phone lines.
Moment by moment in real time, the tragedy unfolded in front of us and our televisions. The second tower struck. Next, people jumping from the windows. One of the towers collapses into dust. A few minutes later, the second tower crashes to the ground. Thousands of ash-blackened people running away from the trade center and from Manhattan.
Now terrified, we wondered how many people would die at the World Trade Center. We had recently visited there and knew that over 20,000 people worked in the area. Would any survive? Who was attacking us NY?
The horrifying news continued. We heard that the Pentagon had been attacked. At least one airliner had crashed in Pennsylvania. There were other reports that the planes were heading toward Washington.
Still no word from Adam. We kept dialing the phone but could get through to no one. Finally, at about 1 pm, we heard from one of their friends that they were safe. They had been in Brooklyn when the attacks occurred and, while they had seen it from their roof, they were safe and unharmed.
At 7 pm that night, the phone rang. My friend Sharon, the assistant HR director at Reuters News, was calling for help. For the past two years I had been a consultant for Reuters and was the executive coach for Phil Lynch, the president of the company. Knowing that I was a psychologist, Phil had suggested that Sharon call me to see if I could help.
Sharon explained that several of their employees were missing and unaccounted for. Staff who was in the office were terrified that there could be an attack on their offices in Time Square. Several of the staff did not know where their family or children were. Her boss and other executives were stranded at airports throughout the world. Could I provide any help?
I gave Sharon whatever help I could on the phone. I also made a commitment to leave the next morning to help with the recovery as best I could. With all flights grounded, I decided to drive in my Jeep across country to be there as soon as I could.
For the next two months I spent most of my time in New York City trying to help the employees and their families at Reuters’ companies. My wife Pat, also a psychologist, followed a few days later. She was to work for the next several months with the Red Cross in their efforts to help the families of the victims of United Flight 93.
As I stood on the mountaintop in Israel, all these memories flashed through my mind. Suddenly, I realized that I was actually seeing the enemy for the first time. I was not so much scared as angry at the terrorists in Al Qaeda who had caused so much devastation and who are still ripping apart the country and the world 16 years after the attack.
As we got back into the Jeep and proceeded to the safety of the Kibbutz where we were staying, my fear began to abate. However, seeing the enemy up close and personal reminder me that we still live in a time of uncertainty and fear. In Israel it is even worse. They’re surrounded on all sides by enemies determined to obliterate them.
I returned home committed to write about my experience. Hopefully, as painful as it is to return to the events of September 11, 2001, we have to keep remembering, keep searching for solutions, and keep doing all we can do to provide for the safety of our country, our friends’ countries, and our children. To cause chaos is the goal of our enemy. To stand firm in our values is our best defense.