Terrorism in Real Time

Update: Don’t get scared – this isn’t now. It was an article I wrote in 2003, part of my ongoing attempt to rebuild this site. And yet…if you can imagine the emotions of the time…it is an experience, a horrible one, to experience terror in real time.

Terrorism in Real Time

The Internet is an amazing tool. Like television, it allows you to experience, almost in real time, the happenings that occur half a mile or half a world away, instantaneously. The joy, the fear – it all comes live as you click your way around from site to site, sometimes curious, sometimes desperate for more information.

What happens when the event is a terrorist attack, unfolding before your eyes, in the town in which you used to live, to friends you still hold dear? The answer is, of course, terror. Blinding fear. You click on sites and when that isn’t fast enough, you flip the channels, desperate for them to tell you the ending to a story that is still in progress. But if this is a small event, not instantly dramatic enough to be reported, the television stations will hesitate to interrupt their programming until more information is available. News anchors need to be able to offer real information and too little is known. A quick newsbreak tells you only what you already know, perhaps even less.

Another update is posted to the Web. First reports of injuries, unconfirmed. The army is there. Gunshots, flares. Helicopters. Somewhere, someone is typing into a computer, converting it to HTML and posting it on the Web. It takes only minutes; it takes too long.

It is hard to think of a terrorist bombing as anything but catastrophic, but by the time it reaches the news, the worst part, the explosion, is over. Then you wait while they gather the news and add details. But it is a different kind of panic than that which I experience now. When a suicide bombing hits the news, even seconds after the event, you are aware that no one is in danger of being hurt now. It is a past tense event unfolding in the present so the desperation is in finding out how bad it was. Past tense. The event is over and the evacuation and cleanup preoccupies you. You want to know how many were hurt, how many were killed. Were, not will be.

When it is an infiltration in progress, the media takes you along for the ride. There is no knowing how the event will end, how many will be hurt or killed. You do not know how many gunmen are out there, if there are hostages, what is happening now. Real-time brought you to this point, telling you of what happened a few moments ago, and then abandons you to your imagination as it lags behind unfolding events.

An infiltration into Shaarei Tikva, a place I left two years ago because I hated the disorganization, the rude way they treated me and my family. Shaarei Tikva was about forever feeling like an outsider in a community that could not tolerate my Anglo roots. It was my first home in Israel and I loved its name, the Gates of Hope. For me it is the place that contains the people I dislike most in the world, but it is also a place where a few families that I hold dearer than most continue to live. I left it in anger and disgust to a new home that I love beyond words. All that pales beside the fear.

Seeing the name of my old home brings to mind the good people who do live there, a few cherished friends who are in my thoughts. Fear deeper than I can describe – terrorism in real time. It’s after midnight. I was raised to never even consider calling someone at this time. I hesitate only a moment and my friend answers on the first ring. They are all safe. Their daughter got home only ten minutes before it all began. They know very little, even less than I do and I hear myself reading the Internet reports to them. My husband is on the other phone, speaking to another of our friends. He hears gunshots over the line.

My friend’s husband sits in the house with a loaded gun, protecting his family. Any other time, it would sound melodramatic. Now I am glad that the gun is loaded and I know he will use it if he has to. Sometimes, he comes here to visit and is amused by my intense dislike of the weapon. I don’t like it in my house, don’t like the way my sons ask questions about it and he patiently explains the various features.

In a few years, my sons will bring these weapons into my home and I won’t have anything to say because that is reality in Israel. For the most part, I remain silent. But right now, I am so glad my friends have this weapon to protect them. I cannot imagine how I would feel, or how they would feel, if I were to sit cowering in a house, fearing that someone would try to enter.

Their younger children are asleep, the older ones are told to stay away from the windows. “You don’t know what it is like to hear the explosions so close.” No, I don’t. It is terrifying enough listening to it so close and so far away. They’ve told the residents to stay indoors and lock the houses. Lights are out, but she has the television on in a bedroom in the back of the house.

Internet tells me that one is critically injured and they are administering CPR. Who? What is his name? Do I know him? What part of the community? Are there hostages? Can’t you tell me what I need to know? Even my friends don’t know what is happening and I have already told them more than they knew before. It isn’t enough. My friends describe flares lighting up the community. Near the new buildings or near the pool? I have friends in both places. Between the two friends, we have narrowed it down to the eastern side of the community. I can think of many who are safe and many who are still in danger.

Another round of surfing and the Internet has brought me up to date. Again, it isn’t enough. Two terrorists have been killed, but they are searching for a possible third. More critical to me is the part of the bulletin that says one agency is reporting that the seriously injured person has now died, though this has not been confirmed. My friend thinks she knows what street it is, and there are only two houses there. One is a friend, the other I do not know. My son’s friend lives in that house, we gave them a puppy when our dog had her litter. Real time has slowed to a crawl. If it was a child who was injured, wouldn’t they say? There are three families who live in that house. An older man and his two sons-in-law. I don’t even know if it is that street, that house, that family. This is pointless, I tell myself. You can’t think of everyone who lives there. Wait.

Another click on the Refresh button and now they are saying that no one has been killed in Shaarei Tikva. Relief, an easing of the dread. But still a roller coaster of emotions and the concern remains. One soldier moderately wounded, no one killed. Now it appears the terrorists didn’t actually get into the settlement. They were stopped at the perimeter, no hostages. My friend and I joke about her husband standing guard. You go to sleep, I tell her, but he can stay on guard a little longer. Helicopters are still heard nearby, flares still lighting up the sky. The army has not told the people they can leave their homes, but it is almost 2:00 a.m. and my friend believes she can go to sleep now, if sleep will come.

Another item has now been posted. There is no progress in the talks between Ariel Sharon and Abu Mazen. Sadly, I am not surprised.

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