Commentary: What if Israel took a different route after 10/7 than the US did following 9/11?

Frank C. Strasburger, The Baltimore Sun on

Published in Op Eds

Sept. 11, the day in 2001 that terrorist attacks took the lives of 3,000 people and injured twice as many, is embedded in American memory. Like Dec. 7, 1941, when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, it is a day of infamy in this country. But what has disappeared from public consciousness, despite its having been momentous in its own right, is Sept. 12, 2001.

That was the day when, in all our unaccustomed vulnerability, we were suddenly the object of the world’s empathy. Messages of condolence streamed in from nearly every nation across the globe. Leaders of countries small and large, who had envied or resented our power, were suddenly willing to share our pain.

And then we sacrificed all of that goodwill in favor of a “Global War on Terrorism,” turning from grief to rage in a matter of days. Along the way, we destroyed at least one country and destabilized the region around it. It’s hard to make a case that any of that bought redemption for the lives lost on 9/11.

As Israel suffered its own version of 9/11, on Oct. 7, when Hamas terrorists launched a surprise attack on Israel, kidnapping men, women and children, and slaughtering hundreds, President Joe Biden urged Israel not to make the mistakes we made when we were similarly attacked, while providing all the moral, political and military support he could. His advice went unheeded, and Israel now finds itself condemned by friends and enemies alike. As was true for the United States in 2001, Israel has reacted to Hamas’ wanton, vicious attack with seemingly legitimate fury directed at their Gaza homeland. But while such rage may provide momentary catharsis, it nearly always results in outsize destruction. The moral high ground on which Israel stood as victims on Oct. 7 has been lost not to Hamas but to the indiscriminate devastation wrought by Israel’s own bombs in Gaza.

What if, in the days immediately following Sept. 11, 2001, America had declined to be drawn into the very armed response al-Qaida had surely hoped for, and instead used the trillions we would eventually waste on war to invest in the region’s welfare — a Marshall Plan for the Middle East? Wouldn’t we likely have had a good deal more success against terrorism than we in fact did? What if Israel had taken a breath, waited for its rage to dissipate, and adopted a more rational and visionary approach to the critical danger that nation faces from Hamas?

Virtually all of the world’s religions preach love. It’s easy to love our friends, of course; the challenge is to love our enemies. Well, that may be all well and good for individuals, we’re told, but it’s different for nations. Really? Is anybody prepared to argue that the way we’re doing things is a better alternative, as 1,200 Israelis lie dead, more than 150 hostages remain in captivity, and more than 14,000 Palestinians have been lost to “collateral damage”?

Even as we are grateful for the temporary cease-fire among the two nations, and the release of individuals on each side, we must ask: Isn’t it time — in fact, long past time — to find a better way?


We could begin, not just in Israel and Gaza, but all over the world by treating one another not as friends or enemies, but as the flawed human beings we all are, rather than reducing entire groups of people to “vermin” or “cockroaches” or racial slurs. Reducing other human beings to such degrading epithets gives us permission to do whatever we want with them. But make no mistake: In so doing, we make ourselves inhuman, not our targets.

So this is a plea that in nations at war, in the houses of Congress, on campuses, in political debates, in the streets of our cities, in our courts and in our jails, in our financial dealings, in our civic life, in our neighborhoods and in our families we commit ourselves to discovering the humanity in one another, not just when it’s easy but, more crucially, when it’s difficult, painful and seemingly impossible. That’s when it matters most.


Frank C. Strasburger, a retired Episcopal priest, taught at Gilman School, was chaplain at St. Paul’s School, and was the Episcopal chaplain at Princeton University.


©2023 The Baltimore Sun. Visit at baltimoresun.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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