Reflecting on the years of my youth, gives me a crystal-clear idea of why Netanyahu is— and will continue to be— so popular among Israelis.
I was 17 years old, studying in Yeshiva in Jerusalem. It was a Saturday night, December 1st, 2001. After Shabbat, a friend and I decided we would go to the Western Wall to pray. After our visit to the Western Wall, we figured that instead of taking two long bus rides to our Yeshiva, we would walk to downtown Jerusalem, grab something to eat, and take the bus that would take us directly to where we lived.
Exiting the Old City, as we passed nearby Paratroopers’ Square, an Arab teen approached us aggressively and attempted to start a fight with us, but we rushed passed him and walked on our way. Passing through downtown we could hear the cheerful sounds of young teens socializing with a joie de vivre. Innocence and happiness were in the air.
Once we got to the middle of Jaffa Street we heard a very loud and heavy thud. We tried to think it was just a construction related sound. Seconds later the ambulance sirens shattered any kind of illusion we had. It was a suicide bomber. Having lived in Jerusalem for the ten years prior to this, there was no need to explain. We all knew it was a suicide bomber.
We started walking with no specific destination in mind. People in the street were walking, sobbing, and echoes of trauma were tangible. Chaos reigned high. Suddenly, from another direction, a second loud bomb went off. It was a multipronged attack. My friend and I began running fast. Once horror was in place there was no time for trauma,. The goal was to get away from the center of town— as fast as possible.
While this was the closest I came to the horror of a suicide bombing, and it was close, a suicide bomber was not the only terror I was exposed to growing up in Jerusalem in the 1990s and early 2000s. There was walking right outside the Old City of Jerusalem in the 6th grade and being beaten by Arab teenagers, going on a school trip in high school and heavy stones landing on the roof of our bus, walking on a Friday seeing people running from the direction of the Mahaneh Yehudah market after a suicide bomber killed six,
I remember taking the first number 2 bus to the Western Wall, 24 hours after 23 people— many of whom were women and children— were blown up on their way to prayers, and so much more. Terror was just part of life.
Can I say that I had it the worst? No. There were far far far worse situations in those years. I think of my beloved Shvuel Schijveschuurder who had to see his own parents and siblings blown up in front of his eyes in the Sbarro bombing just to see the terrorists who committed that worst of crimes released later in the Gilad Shalit deal. I think of four generations of one family killed while eating their Passover meal in the Park Hotel in Netanya.
Living in Jerusalem in those years was not too different than living in Sarajevo or Baghdad. Sure, if you stayed home or in your neighborhood life can be pretty safe. Taking a bus or going to the center of town? That was playing Russian roulette.
Now, living in New York, I still go back to visit Jerusalem. My eyes fill up with tears seeing children playing safely on the streets. My heart is warmed seeing the myriad of visitors from around the world enjoying the unparalleled exotic beauty of Jerusalem. I am happy for them, and wish it could have always been this way, but it wasn’t. Yes, there is still terror, children must be given careful instructions, but the streets are safe.
In Israel, when people vote, the years of war and terror leave their mark. Proud of Netanyahu or not, he lived up to the primary duty of a leader—he kept his people safe. Despite allegations of possible bribes—taking cigars and champagne when he should not have— he was voted in in the past, and will likely be voted in again in the future.
Israel is a country of law and will decide on the legal aspects of the allegations. However, as Netanyahu is deemed responsible for the happy childhood of all those children in Israel today—a childhood I did not have— it is easy to understand why he is supported by so many of my peers and friends. Those who grew up knowing terror see Netanyahu as savior, and perhaps rightfully so.