Terror struck in two disparate venues Wednesday, places — in the Talmudic phrase — “as far apart as east from west.” Indeed Jerusalem, Israel, is the hub of the Middle East and no place is as bleached in its Western-ness as Ottawa, Canada. Yet the hills of each played grim host to the murderous scourge of our time, the “Black Death” of Islamic terror. Each terrorist succeeded in bartering his pathetic existence for one innocent life. The world is better off without the two miscreants but sadly impoverished by losing two pure souls.
In Jerusalem, the usual crowd had been crammed together at Ammunition Hill, a terminus for the light rail system and a link to several bus lines. The hillock takes its name from its history as a key storage area for British ordnance prior to 1948. It became a pivot in the ground war between newly declared Israel and neighboring Jordan in 1948, winding up in Jordanian hands.
Ammunition was scarce on the Israeli side, since the only country openly selling to them was Czechoslovakia. The United States may have occasionally overlooked some of the shipments from our shores, but they were technically in violation of a “regional” embargo by the State Department. In one case, the FBI forced the American owner of a plane return it stateside to stop Israelis from chartering it to fly arms from the Czechs to Israel. The Israelis would have loved to capture the goodies stored in that stronghold, but a decision was taken not to risk the battle. Nineteen years later, in the Six Day War of 1967, Israel finally launched an attack for that purpose, one which miscalculated the extent of Jordanian deployment. The fierce battle took place over a single day, June 6, 1967. Israel won the territory but lost 36 men in the process.
To commemorate the battle, the debris of the clash was left in place. To this day you can walk the area and survey the twisted metal chunks of wrecked tanks or mortars. In 1975 the area was declared a national memorial site. To this day it is the main location for the annual Jerusalem Day celebration and the site of the annual induction of Israel Defense Forces paratroopers.
So although the rail riders and those bouncing on the buses are engaging in prime civilian activities, there is a military mojo in the air. Still, no one considers it the least bit unsafe. That all changed on Wednesday, when an Israeli Arab from the village of Silwan drove his car at high speed into the crowd, killing one baby and injuring 8 adults. The baby, Chaya Zissel Braun, was all of three months old. Chaya is Hebrew for lively and Zissel is Yiddish for sweet. The lively sweet little girl is gone now, stolen from us by a fanatic in an automobile.
Parliament Hill in Ottawa was once a British military base as well, but that was back in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Since then there has been a determined effort to render all its structures and symbols remote from violence in any form. The statuary on the hill includes likenesses of Queen Victoria and, unveiled two decades ago, today’s placid Queen Elizabeth II. When a statue was proposed to celebrate a war hero, it was decided to render him as Sir Galahad, presumably to whitewash the image of contemporary blood and gore with the romantic jousting of antiquity.
The central building, the one with the flagpole, is known as the Peace Tower, built in 1927. Although covered in gargoyles and punctuated by four grotesques on its corners, it succeeds in conveying a sense of staid stability, a haven from the snap of armed conflict, a still place sheltered from the crackle of gunfire, a quiet refuge from the pop of human hostility. Amidst all this stands the National War Memorial, positioned to smother war in the shadow of peace.
All that cloistering went for naught on Wednesday as a Canadian Muslim stormed the Parliament with a double-barreled shotgun, sniping indiscriminately. He killed a soldier, Corporal Nathan Cirillo, who died a lonely hero of battle while doing the duty no doubt seen as the softest in the Army of Canada.
Our neighbor to the north has learned the lesson Jerusalem must relearn each waking day, that terror is afoot, that there are forces offended by our self-satisfied sense of peace. They prefer the cacophony over the symphony, exsanguination over sanguinity, maleficence over beneficence. Surely the forces of good will prevail, but the price of our ultimate triumph rises every day in the marketplaces of East and West.