By Patrick Meagher
Farmers Forum editor
Living on an Israeli kibbutz in 1983, I had the job of cutting down banana trees with a machete. I also irrigated cotton fields and worked in an outdoor cement factory. I lived in a dorm with about 25 other volunteers, mostly Germans, English, and Aussies. The dorm was next to a bomb shelter that we turned into an underground pub. My biggest worry were the English who drank too much and sometimes passed out outside. I feared they might get bitten by a poisonous snake.
This was a subculture of camaraderie in a place that was constantly on the alert — even though I had arrived in a period of calm after backpacking through Europe. The war in Lebanon was over. But there were constant reminders of war. There was a memorial in a field I passed each day where a bomb went off years ago killing five people. Dogs were put on lines around the village each night. They made a lot of noise if anyone showed up without using the front gate.
This was a country of soldiers. Every man and woman was enlisted and went on training every year. The roads were full of soldiers walking, sitting at outside cafes, at bus stops and hitchhiking home. I was a little nervous when I visited Jerusalem and went into a grocery store. I had heard stories of how terrorists were inserting bombs in loaves of bread to blow off Jewish hands. I didn’t understand how on edge everyone was until I was walking back to an open square in the southern town of Eilat, where I had been sitting one hour earlier. This time the square had been cordoned off and soldiers had gathered. I asked someone what was happening. “Bomb,” I was told. And then I looked to where I had been sitting and a soldier was wrapping a wire around my green water bottle that I forgotten under a chair. I immediately walked up to one of the soldiers along the tape barrier and told him the bottle was mine.
“Come with me,” he said. Everyone spoke English, though accented. He walked me straight to the water bottle. Two soldiers spoke in Hebrew; then one turned to me and said: “Show me.”
It unnerved me when two soldiers stepped back. I picked up the water bottle, opened it and poured water into my hand. I was led to a jeep where I sat in the back until another soldier and I completed a report.
I had returned to Israel from Egypt that day by bus, which was held up at the border by more than one hour because of another bomb scare. This was daily life in Israel. Daily worry about bombs.
That was more than 30 years ago and Israel is still under constant threat from its enemies that are all around them. But I never thought that Canadians would ever have to worry about bombs because we can’t be certain that our enemy is not all around us. Canadian children are now growing up with the idea that terrorism is just part of life. This is the first year that I heard parents openly talk about their fear about Canada Day celebrations. Parliament Hill would make a good target for terrorists, a parent told me, and she stayed away. Another family went to the Hill but stayed along the perimeter just in case.
Has it really come to this? Is our reaction, when we hear of a bloodied bar or street, going to be, “Where will they strike next?”
I repel at the thought. One of the dead bodies could have been one of my children. It could have been one of yours. We should feel enraged. Where are our protectors to stop what appears to be the dawn of a new age of death? U.S. President Barack Obama cannot recognize that the west is at war with Islamic terrorists. To me, his lack of concern ranks him as the most incapable U.S. president in my lifetime. It is the first duty of a nation’s leader to ensure the security of its citizens. Canada and the United States cannot even ensure that they are not letting terrorists or terrorist sympathizers into our countries.
Islamic terrorism is a war we are in whether we like it or not. We are reminded every time we get on a plane or enter a city sports stadium and have to pass through security. What are western leaders waiting for? The next terrorist attack in France? United States? Canada? There have been enough terrorist attacks — thousands of them — for the west to have complete moral authority to destroy the Islamic State, a mere 50,000 strong. More than enough military brass across the western world have said that we need to send soldiers into the Middle East to kill these barbarians and end their reign of terror and torture and genocide.
We have chosen to be cowards. We are so soft, so self-centred, so comfort-seeking that we can’t see that the future of our world and our country is being re-shaped. It’s not too late to act. But one day it will be.