by Keren Carmeli on September 11, 2011
“So looking back, how did we benefit from September 11th?” my teacher with the lazy eye asked as we all sat around in a circle in my 9th grade classroom in Or-Akiva on the first anniversary of the event. I’d been going to Israeli schools since my family relocated to Caesarea when I was four years old and as such those around me would often forget the fact that I was half-American.
I was appalled. How could she ask that? Who the hell was she? Who even thinks about benefiting from such a disaster, even if it is true?
Yes, Israel did benefit from September 11th. Just like the riding instructor at my barn said while the towers were falling, as we all sat on the floor of the nearby restaurant watching CNN International: “now those Americans will know how it feels.” And we felt it- in a big way.
Suddenly it was Us, Americans, Israelis, Europeans, against Them. Dark skinned people with outdated laws and obscure traditions. Those people with their terrible dictators (who we of course had no hand in appointing) and fanatic, merciless ideology. Them.
A new level of “understanding” was forged between Americans and the Israeli people; “they’ve lived in terror for years”, “their children are scared”, “how do they cope?” “trains, buses, cafés- we’re next if we don’t do something about this NOW!”
And we loaded our sons and daughters into air crafts and waved and saluted them as they took off, then saluted them again when they returned in coffins.
“I think it’s disgusting to think about what we’ve gained as the result of such a tragedy.”
Did I really just say that? I spoke up?
My teacher’s eye looked at the wall behind me, which let me know that in her mind she was addressing me. She’s embarrassed. She must have forgotten there was an American in her class. Now she’ll pay, I think to myself.
“How does anyone benefit from thousands of deaths?”
“Well, I just meant politically, ever since the attack Israel’s popularity abroad has increased, there’s no denying that. George Bush’s government has pledged more support for Israel than ever before.”
“How can you say that? So many people are dead.”
A guy who later on in the year would ask me out for my first date began arguing with me. He said that objectively, realistically, Israel was benefiting from the aftermath.
I knew it was true but how could you admit it out loud and discuss it in a group setting, in a classroom, so academically, so matter-of-fact? Like we were discussing a chapter in a history book which in a way we were. A chapter that was being written as we spoke and which would later appear in every history textbook. But why now? Why so soon, when the graves were still fresh and widows and children were still waking up believing it had all been a terrible dream?
“Did you cry when the buildings fell?” he asks.
I’m taken aback. I think I did. Did I? I remember being shocked. First watching like it was just a movie, a scene from Power Rangers, filmed in Japan. Those weren’t the twin towers, they were little cardboard constructions that were routinely torn down by monsters with elaborate headdresses and tentacles and which magically reappeared unscathed in next week’s episode.
Then I saw people. Little specks of people, waving out windows then jumping. And Slavoj Zizek announced that Americans were finally “Welcomed to the Desert of the Real”.
Did I cry? I don’t remember. Is that so important? If I shed one tear as opposed to three, does that make me a bad person? If I cried for twenty seconds or twenty minutes or twenty days, does that mean anything? Does it change anything?
Do I cry now, years later when people continue to die in the name of September 11th? People who had nothing to do with that day, some who weren’t even born when those attacks occurred?
Do you cry?
Did I cry when my cross-eyed teacher’s husband died in a helicopter accident during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 2006, leaving her and three young children behind?
Teach hate. Teach greed. Teach apathy. Teach to look for the potential advantages that can be gained from the deaths of thousands.
See where it gets you.
And I’ll keep watching on TV, as figures and charts and diagrams appear, and specialists argue and bicker and news casters get younger and more attractive as the news table is removed so that we can catch a glimpse of the new reporter’s legs in her increasingly shorter skirts. I’ll stare and feel nothing. It’s not the news, it’s Power Rangers.
Keren Carmeli is a recent graduate from State University of New York Geneseo with a degree in Media Studies. Carmeli grew up in Israel.