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Israel felt pain of 9/11 terror attacks with New Yorkers

Michael Oren recalls that fateful day.

On a hilltop at the entrance to Jerusalem, overlooking a timeless view, stands the Middle East’s only memorial to the victims of 9/11. Forged in bronze and set in Jerusalem stone are the names of the 2,974 victims of the terrorist attack.

A 30-foot sculpture of an American flag transforming into flames evokes the twin towers. Side by side, the Stars and Stripes and the Shield of David flutter. The monument, built with American contributions to the Jewish National Fund and incorporating granite segments of the World Trade Center, stands as a testament to the shared pain — and common hope — of the United States and Israel.

As an Israeli who grew up in the United States, I feel that connection deeply. The twin towers dominated the skyline of my suburban hometown. They were a fixture of our lives, beacons of a resplendent future. My memory of that vision remained luminous throughout the grim summer of 2001, when suicide bombers targeted buses and restaurants in my Jerusalem neighborhood. Our son, Yoav, about to enter the Israel Defense Forces, refused to give up his normal life as a teenager and to stop going out to clubs. Which left his father sleepless.

“That’s it,” I finally told him. “Until your induction, you’re staying with your cousins in New York.”

On September 8, Yoav met his friends on the top the north tower. Dazzled by the vista, they agreed to rendezvous there again on the morning of the 11th. Yoav was still sleeping, fortunately, when his cousin awakened him with the news. From the roof of her apartment, he watched as both towers collapsed. My wife and I frantically tried to phone him, but the international lines were down. Hours passed before we finally reached him, weeping from the horror he had witnessed.

America’s agony was intensely felt by Israelis. Though we had long known the trauma wrought by terror and had grappled with its grief, the 9/11 attacks were unique in their scope and devastation. We watched, helpless, as the survivors staggered from the smoke and as families searched desperately for their loved ones. Yet we were also awed by the sheer heroism of the first responders, especially those who risked and even gave their lives to save others.

Volunteers poured into the streets of Lower Manhattan, offering food, shelter and emotional support in a display of community that inspired every Israeli. This, for us, was not only America at its most vulnerable, but also America at its most resilient and humane.

Yoav soon returned from New York and joined an elite IDF unit. Three years to the day after he visited the north tower, he was wounded while apprehending a Hamas commander responsible for the deaths of dozens of Israelis. And yet, despite encounters with terror on both sides of the ocean, Yoav remained optimistic. While aware of the need to defend his country from mounting threats, he still believes that peace is possible, and he yearns to embrace it. He is not alone. Today,10 years after 9/11, Americans and Israelis refuse to allow terror to diminish their determination to defend themselves or extinguish their desire for peace.

Together we are fighting back, pooling our technology and intelligence and medical know-how. For that reason, Israelis applauded the intrepid operation against Osama bin Laden — Hamas denounced it — and the successful campaign to eliminate Al Qaeda’s leadership. And together we are striving to create a more stable Middle East. Accordingly, Israel welcomes President Obama’s efforts to restart our direct talks with the Palestinians. We share his vision of a Palestinian state living alongside our Jewish state in mutual recognition, security and peace.

Throughout, we will not forget. We will remember the victims’ pain and their families’ irretrievable losses. On the anniversary of the horrendous attack, Israelis will stand with the people of America and lower our heads in silence. A great many will gather at the monument outside Jerusalem, and others at the ground zero memorial, “Reflecting Absence.” Fittingly, this solemn masterpiece was designed by Israeli architect Michael Arad, a veteran of an IDF commando squad and son of a former Israeli ambassador to the United States. Two countries, two memorials, inextricably linked by the same sorrows, strengths and hopes.

Michael Oren is Israel’s ambassador to the United States.


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