The terror attack outside my house
It has taken me four days to write up what it was like to have a terrorist attack at a street corner a mere 100 meters down the road from my apartment. One might think that as a freelance journalist, I would have jumped at the chance to report on something that was just outside my door. No need to drive anywhere — just walk out the front gate to the street and take photos and talk to a few people. At least after the all-clear was given. But experiencing it live made me stay behind my locked door and closed shutters until long after the danger had passed.
First what was reported in the news after the incident, then how it was for me in real time.
A terrorist from Tamra, a town north of Haifa that has not been known to be antagonistic toward the state, drove into Haifa and turned down the one-way street leading to the entrance to the naval training base. That street happens to be my street.
He first rammed into a soldier who was walking toward the base, crashing his car into the base’s fence. Then, axe in hand, he got out of the car to continue his assault. Luckily, he was killed (why use the sanitized word, neutralized, when killed will do just fine) before he could hurt anyone else.
This video shows the exact place he was killed. He rammed his car just after turning onto my street and then got out and ran toward the entrance to the base. He was killed a few meters from the main gate to the base. That means that he ran right past my apartment. The soldier talking on the tape says: “The bastard! Here is the terrorist. Terrorist here at the our gate.”
What it was like for me
At about 10:30 a.m., a half-hour after completing my volunteer shift on a mental health hotline, still at my computer in a back room where street noises do not reach me, I heard a loud boom followed by shorter booms. “Boom” is generally reserved for the sound of either a missile that lands or a missile taken out overhead by the Iron Dome. The particular booms that morning did not sound like either of these. I just supposed it was a neighbour in the next building using heavy equipment to take down a wall while renovating his home.
But I was not quiet. Something felt strange.
I opened the community WhatsApp group and after announcements of farmers bringing their produce to sell and other such regular stuff, I saw that a few people were asking if anyone else heard that noise. One person wrote that it sounded like something between heavy renovation work and gunshots. Focusing on the “heavy renovation,” I closed the smartphone and went back to some online reading and preparing for a Zoom meeting I was set to participate in at 11:00.
But I was drawn back to the WhatsApp group to see if anything untoward was developing. People were asking if anyone knew what was going on. Someone suggested that it was merely the noise from a scheduled experiment at a research center during which explosions might be heard. But that was not it; the experiment was scheduled for the afternoon.
After about ten minutes, someone posted that the loudspeaker at the base was calling out “Terrorist infiltration at the gate. Emet. Emet. Emet,” which means that a true event was taking place and this was not a training exercise. With the base across the street from me, I could hear that an announcement was being blasted out repeatedly, but with all my windows closed, I could not make out the words.
In the summer, when my windows are open, I can often hear the morning and evening roll calls. While I am not too happy with being a legitimate military missile target, the base being on my street, after all, I do love the hearing the voices of the young soldiers as they shout out “Yes, Commander.” this and “Yes, Commander” that. Hearing them, and seeing them walking to and fro between the base and the train station, sometimes laden down with heavy duffle bags of laundry, always makes me smile.
Then there was word on the group that police and soldiers are patrolling our streets and everyone is to stay behind locked doors with their shutters closed. I hated having to close the shutter in my bedroom window because the electric mechanism that makes it rise and fall hardly works on the “rise” side of the equation and it will be a bitch to get it back up again once this is over. Ah! The little inconveniences, eh? I was thinking about that as I scanned my yard quickly, the shutter rolling down into place, wondering if a terrorist might already be there, looking for a way into my apartment.
Making sure my never-unlocked doors, front and back, were really locked, making sure to close all the shutters on every window, I then set aside thoughts about what might be happening outside as I once more began to think about the upcoming Zoom session.
That lasted about a minute. I was back on WhatsApp, both on the general community group and on the Emergency Notifications group for Bat Galim.
People on the community group asked again and again — is it really a terrorist incident? Someone asked about the school and the day care centers. I can only imagine parents’ fears.
At about 10:50, someone told the group that there was a terrorist with an axe who injured a soldier and was killed. A minute later, there was a news report that a 20 YO soldier was seriously injured in the attack and sped off to Rambam Hospital that is a mere few-minutes drive from the site of the incident.
At 10:59, the group was told that there were two terrorists and the security forces were searching for the second one. Then my Zoom session started.
I told the others with me on Zoom about what had just happened so that it would be out there and I would not be trying to behave as if this was just a normal morning, something that would have raised my stress level yet more. I must admit that at the time, I was not aware of my stress level being particularly high. I function very well under stress. Something within told me that I must certainly be stressed by this even if I was somewhat in denial at the conscious level.
I have no idea how much time passed before there was a knock on my door. I don’t have a peephole on the door so I could not see who it was (not that that would have helped, as you can soon see). I told the Zoom group that someone was at the door and held them in my hand (on the smartphone) as I loudly asked who it was. A man’s voice said he was a policeman and he told me to open the door.
“I don’t believe you,” I said. “I’m not opening the door for anyone.” (A voice on the Zoom session told me I was behaving properly and gave me emotional support. I have no idea what the other Zoom participant was thinking.)
I expected the man to go away. But he was very stubborn. As much as he would insist I open the door, I insisted I would not. Finally, I told him to come around to the window and I would open the slat shutter (not an electric one) a tiny bit to look at his identification card. I felt so stupid as I did this, because if he really was a terrorist, he could have easily shot me in the face. But I also thought that if it really was a policeman, I had to do what he said, no?
I looked at his identify card and I looked at his face. The photo was an exact replica of his face and he was in a cop uniform. But I’ve watched too many movies not to know that fake ID cards and uniforms of all kinds can be easily come by. So I still told him I don’t believe him.
He must have been so frustrated by me. I didn’t care. I was not budging. There was no way I was going to open the door. And then another man came into view in my window. My neighbour. I breathed a sigh of relief. I suppose the cop did as well. My neighbour told me it was okay, that he was there with the policeman and they needed me to open the door.
Don’t think that I trusted that totally, eh! If the “cop” was really a terrorist, he could have easily had a gun to my neighbour’s side and in that way gain my trust and get me to open my door and let him in to use us both as hostages. Think of how stupid I would have felt then!
I really do have to cut back on my regular viewing of detective and disaster movies. (But I won’t. I find disaster movies particularly and pecularly calming at this time — almost as if the war was on the screen and not in real life — and not on my street just outside the gate to my apartment building.)
I (still reluctantly) opened the door to my apartment. And there was the cop with my neighbour, with no muzzle pointing at either me or him. The cop asked me to open the door all the way so that he could see that there was no terrorist holding a gun to my head while telling me to tell the cop that everything is okay and to go away. Shees! If that was the case, does the cop really think the terrorist would have let me open the door and live to write this story? I can see that there was some missing logic here on the cop-proceduring side, but I understand he had to do that.
And I am eternally grateful to my neighbour because if he had not helped overcome my mulishness, I might have found myself without a front door at all because surely I would have left them with no alternative other than to assume I was hostage and storm the place. Or something.
Anyway, thus mollifed, the cop was free to go about asking other people in other buildings to open their doors, scanning the neighbourhood for the missing terrorist.
I wonder if I am unusual in thus wasting his time, time that would have been better spent continuing the search for the terrorist rather than pleading with a white-haired senior citizen who watches too many movies.
The Zoom session continued without incident.
As soon as it was over, I went back to catching up on the news on the community WhatsApp group and other online social media.
Before my Zoom had even finished, the story had come out with a sense of finality, creating a degree of calm, but at least for me not totally. We knew what had happened to the soldier, we knew that the whole area was tied up with traffic as streets were closed, we were still to stay indoors as there was talk of a second terrorist. And even before my Zoom had finished, people were back to discussing when the next delivery of strawberries and other farm produce would be.
For some time more, there was a lot of confusion — is the event over? Can we go out? Or is it still an active terrorist threat? Backs and forths among members of the community. Finally, by about 12:30 we were told to go back to our normal lives. I still waited a few more hours before I finally opened my shutters.
The news reports talk about only one terrorist, but I think there really was another one. I wonder if we would have been locked down with massive numbers of security forces searching the neighbourhood if there was no indication that this was not a lone wolf actor. At one point, there was a photo being shared of someone the police had surrounded — thought to be him but it turned out it was not.
So why say in the news that there was only one terrorist? Saying there were two and one got away would only prevent many people from going about their regular lives. It would be an added stress to the current situation of living under the shadow of impending war that everyone in the north feels even as we act as if nothing untoward is in the air.
I imagine the second guy would have already been long gone from here by the time things really heated up. Where is he? Who knows! But I do anticipate that investigations into the family and friends of the terrorist they killed will produce results that the public will likely not be privy to, even if he is apprehended at some point, dead or alive.
And now that I have written all this, perhaps I can put it aside and not think about it every time I walk out my front door. What does it make you think or feel, dear reader?
P.S. No news report would be complete without an original photo taken by the intrepid reporter, right? So I just went out this morning and took this.
P.P.S. Map of the neighbourhood showing Rambam Hospital, the base, and where the attack took place
P.P.P.S. If he had been from the Palestinian Authority or Gaza, he would likely have had a school or street named after him (if such still exist in Gaza) and his family would get a pension in the Pay-4-Slay longterm financial planning programme.