It’s gonna have to be complicated

What? Hm? What is that noise? Urf. Phone.


“Where are you? What are you doing?”

“I’m sleeping.  It’s two o’clock in the morning.  Where else would I be?”

“Oh, thank God!  Mike’s Place was bombed.  Have you talked to our friends?”

“What?  Are you serious? Where did you hear this?  Oh, my God!  Wait!  Where are you?”

“London, of course.”

And that’s how I heard about it.  On April 30, 2003, my friend in London called me in Jerusalem to tell me that the bar we always went to in Tel Aviv was blown up by a suicide bomber.  I called our friends who lived in Tel Aviv and confirmed that they had been there that night and thankfully, they were okay.

Terror in the shadow of the US Embassy

Three people died and dozens were injured but it would have been a lot worse if the guard at the door had not put himself between the bomber and the customers.  He absorbed the blast and spent much of the next week on life support, but when I saw him in the hospital a week later, he was alive, awake, and able to walk around.

I visited him on the way to the reopening of Mike’s Place.  Yes, the math is correct.  They had a ceremony a week after the bombing to remember those who died and then in a celebration of life and not living in fear, the bar was reopened, they served drinks and partied through the night in the shattered, burned-out remains of the bar.

Mike’s Place is a bar on the beach in Tel Aviv and sits in the shadow of the US Embassy.  It’s known for and prides itself on being a slice of Americana where you can get a double bacon cheeseburger and fries if you want to.  Everyone speaks English and everything feels familiar to any American or Canadian.  In an odd coincidence, many of the bartenders were named Dave.  Today there are seven branches of Mike’s Place all over Israel.

From a friendly country

Why tell this story now?  Because the perpetrators of this bombing were British citizens travelling all around Israel and in and out of Gaza and Jordan on British passports.  Israel did not put a ban on all British citizens travelling to Israel.  They didn’t put a ban on Muslims travelling to Israel.  They didn’t stop all people affiliated with radical left organizations from coming into Israel either.

Here’s what the Ministry of Foreign Affairs says:

The fact that the attack was perpetrated by a foreign national, and that another foreign national was supposed to have perpetrated an additional attack, sharply raises the issue of how to deal with the involvement of foreign nationals – citizens of friendly countries – in terrorist activity designed to maim and murder innocent civilians. This was not the first time that the State of Israel has been the target of foreign terrorists bearing British passports.

This is one of the most disturbing and complicated issues to deal with from a security-intelligence point-of-view, due to the fact that no Western country is capable of providing an effective answer without the full cooperation of all countries that are threatened by Islamic fundamentalist terror.

Due to the seriousness of the threat, as reflected in the April 30, 2003, attack, the entry of foreign nationals into the State of Israel – both via Erez checkpoint [from Gaza] and the international crossings – is being reexamined.

Policy should be longer than 140 characters

I don’t have an answer to how best to deal with potential threats crossing a nation’s borders, but I can say that a blanket policy that is uncomplicated enough to fit into the 140 character Twitter limit is not going to work.

I remember that around this time Shaul Mofaz was Israel’s Minister of Defense and on a diplomatic trip to the US he was stopped at JFK and refused entry because he also holds an Iranian passport.  Only high-level diplomatic intervention allowed him to enter the US.  Today this doesn’t happen very often, but this is what a blanket application of a simple policy looks like.  Don’t let anyone in with an Iranian passport.  Result: Not even a diplomat from a friendly country is allowed entry.

If you are not “us,” you are the enemy

One of the worst cases of applying a blanket policy like this is Executive Order 9066, signed by President Franklin Roosevelt during World War II, which gave the Secretary of War the power to exclude people from military areas.  Quickly following this was Public Law 503 based on a variety of Public Proclamations having to do with Military Areas 1 and 2, or the western states.

The US was at war with Japan, Germany, and Italy, but 120,000 Japanese found themselves in internment camps (refusal meant a large fine and a year in jail), yet only 14,000 Germans and Italians were sent to these camps.  Of the 120,000 Japanese, two-thirds were born in the US who should have had full citizenship rights like any other person born in the US.

Japanese citizens were sent to camps surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards in spite of two reports that said that there was no evidence whatsoever that they would rise up and join Japan in the war or undermine US efforts.  They would be loyal.

The excuse of “we were at war” doesn’t fly.  If that was the case, the proclamations and laws should have applied equally to Germans and Italians.  Were there so few Germans and Italians in the western United States?  The law was suspended in December 1944, but the war with Japan did not end until August 1945.  Was it still about the war and questions of loyalty?  The law stayed on the books until 1976 when President Gerald Ford officially rescinded it.  Only in 1988 did the Japanese get (paltry) compensation for the property that was taken from them and the years that they spent in the camps.

I found out about this chapter in American history by accident when I was in junior high.  I read a book about a girl in an internment camp in the US.  I was confused and stunned.  This was dystopian fiction, right?  I asked my mom and she told me that there were people put in camps in the US during World War II.  In MY United States?  In the land of the free and home of the brave?  How could this be?  The Holocaust was in Europe, and even with that knowledge, people were put into camps.  Here?  Did no one speak out?

I think the Japanese were interned because it was easy to mark them as enemies.  They don’t look like “us.”  Anthropologists use the word “other” to explain the “us” and “them” mentality.  They are “other;” they are not “us.”  Italians and Germans are part of “us,” but the Japanese are visibly and undeniably “other.”

And there’s your simple Twitter policy.  “They” are not “us.”  It’s so obvious you can see it.  You don’t have to understand nuances, you don’t have to ask questions, and you don’t have to think.  You just have to believe that the “other” is evil and you’re done.

This is the point where we remind ourselves that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.  That’s why there are no simple answers and no simple solutions.  It’s gonna have to be complicated or we will find ourselves in the dystopian future we fear so much.

Sources on Japanese internment: