Living with terror in London and Israel

A study in contrasts

By Tom Gross
July 25, 2005

The view of the new London Underground
by Le Monde’s cartoonist in Paris


This article examines the contrasting approaches adopted by the UK and Israel in dealing with potential suicide bombers, and the reactions those approaches have provoked in other countries. Israel has been extremely careful to avoid so-called collateral damage but has none the less been subjected to a torrent of international criticism; Britain, the first time its security forces were put to the test, shot dead an innocent man, but continued to enjoy a wide measure of world sympathy.

Since this article was published, that man has been named as Jean Charles de Menezes, a 27-year-old Brazilian. It has also been revealed that contrary to the untruths first put out by the London police, he was merely going about his business: he did not “jump the barrier” at the Tube (subway) station at which he was shot, but passed his ticket through the machine in the proper way; nor, as the police claimed, was he wearing a heavy coat in the height of summer, that might have been used to conceal a bomb. It also subsequently emerged that he was shot eight times (seven at point blank range in the head) not five, which was what the police claimed at the time this article went to press.

This article generated an enormous amount of interest. It was reproduced in other newspapers, including on the front page of the National Post in Canada, and widely recommended on leading American, German, British, Canadian and other websites and weblists, including Clive Davis, David Frum, Melanie Philips, Naomi Ragen, Little Green Footballs, HonestReporting, and Free Republic.

-- Tom Gross


LAST Friday, as British police frantically searched for four presumed suicide bombers on the run, the people of London had a glimpse of what the people of Israel live with daily. The explosive devices of all four men had failed to go off properly on London’s transport system the day before and the men had subsequently escaped.

The previous set of British suicide bombers,
caught on CCTV at Luton railway station
en route to London at 7:21 a.m. on 7 July

During the course of Friday, there were roadblocks and house searches throughout London. Closed circuit TV footage of the four was released to the public in the afternoon, and by evening two suspects had been taken into custody. The people of London expressed the fear of “living with terror 24/7,” the world expressed their sympathy and there was much supportive and understanding coverage of Britain’s plight by international media and politicians.

Palestinian terrorists have carried out over 25,000 attacks on Israelis since September 2000, resulting in thousands of deaths and injuries. Israeli security forces have thwarted thousands of attacks, and Israelis have grown used to living with manhunts of the kind seen in London on Friday, yet they are barely reported on abroad.

The head of the Shin Bet security agency confirmed last week that Israel presently receives some 60 intelligence warnings of potential Palestinian terror attacks every day, and this month alone several Israeli women and teenage girls have been killed in various attacks.


Jean Charles de Menezes (far right),
pictured with friends

Such was the nervousness in London on Friday, that at 10 in the morning, a dark-complexioned man was shot dead on a train at Stockwell Tube (subway) station in south London. Witnesses on the train immediately said that it was clear the man had been unarmed, and in the words of one, was “literally executed.” He was already lying on the ground motionless, having tripped, when British police pumped five bullets into his head at close range. On Saturday evening the police confirmed what had been fairly apparent from the time of the shooting – that they had mistakenly targeted an innocent man. (It turned out he was a Brazilian Catholic.)

Israel has taken enormous care in its “targeted killings” of “ticking bombs,” almost never killing anyone in a case of mistaken identity.

Contrary to the absolute lies told in the British media in recent days, the Israel Defense Forces have not instituted a shoot-to-kill policy, or trained the British to carry out one. For example, on Friday, at the very time British police were shooting the man in the Tube, the IDF caught and disarmed a terrorist from Fatah already inside Israel en route to carrying out a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv. Israeli forces didn’t injure the terrorist at all in apprehending him, and disarming him of the five-kilogram explosives belt, packed with nails and metal shards, that he was wearing.

And yet for taking the bare minimum steps necessary to save the lives of its citizens in recent years, Israel has been mercilessly berated by virtually the entire world.


Mohammad Sidique Khan at
Hillside Primary School in 2002,
where he taught young children

Had Israeli police shot dead an innocent foreigner on one of its buses or trains, confirming the kill with a barrage of bullets at close range, in a mistaken effort to thwart a bombing, the UN would probably have been sitting in emergency session by late afternoon to unanimously denounce the Jewish state.

By evening, 12 hours had passed since the shooting, but the BBC still hadn’t interviewed a grieving family, no one had called for British universities be boycotted, Chelsea and Arsenal soccer clubs hadn’t been ordered to play their matches in Cyprus, and The Guardian hadn’t yet called British policy against its Pakistani population “genocide.” As for London Mayor Ken Livingstone, who is in overall control of transport in the city, including the train where the man was shot, and who strongly defended the shoot-to-kill policy as a legitimate way to prevent suicide bombings, he was not yet facing war crimes charges – as Livingstone himself has demanded Israeli political leaders should be.

Instead on Friday, Polly Toynbee, the leading commentator for The Guardian, wrote that the terrorists were “deranged,” “savage” and “demented” “killers” who “murder in the name of God.” This is a far cry from the habitual manner in which The Guardian and others describe the suicide killers of Israelis “fighters” and “activists.”

Mohammad Sidique Khan arriving
at Karachi airport on November
19, 2004, on the same flight as
Shehzad Tanweer

One of the London terrorists responsible for the bombings on July 7, Mohammed Sidique Khan, traveled to Israel in February 2003. He stayed in Israel for just one day, and we can surmise that he wasn’t there to volunteer on a kibbutz or visit Yad Vashem. Two months later, on April 30, 2003, two other Britons of Pakistani origin were involved in the suicide attack on Mike’s Place, a popular bar in Tel Aviv, killing or injuring 58 people. Hamas later released a video of the two British citizens explaining their motivation for the attack, which included calling on God to punish Tony Blair and George W Bush. It has now been revealed that back in England Mohammed Sidique Khan had been friends with one of the Mike’s Place bombers.


Khan’s visit to Israel was the main international headline in the Washington Post last Tuesday. Yet most British papers have completely ignored it. The Independent and The Daily Telegraph didn’t mention it at all; the Scotsman, the Times and Sun newspapers only very briefly.

There seems to be little interest in Britain in the murder of Israelis by British citizens. Many British journalists evidently have difficulty in admitting that people murdered on buses in Israel are as much victims as those on London buses.

Shoe bomber Richard Reid

Another British citizen, Richard Reid, who became known as the “shoe-bomber,” also visited Israel and the Gaza strip for 10 days in July 2001. Reid was arrested in December 2001 after he tried to light a fuse extending from his shoe on a flight from Paris to Miami.

If people in Britain and the U.S. want to stop terrorists, they need to recognize the inspiration and quite possibly the training that Hamas, the masters of the suicide attack, have given to would-be British and other terrorists, such as Reid. Instead, British officials continue to embrace Hamas, and hold talks with them.

Another of the problems Britons will have to overcome if they want to successfully deal with suicide bombers is to stop listening to the lies propagated by large sections of their media. For example, the cover story of this week’s New Statesman, the favored publication of many in Britain’s ruling Labour party, says “there were no suicide bombers in Palestine until Ariel Sharon, an accredited war criminal, sponsored by Bush and Blair, came to power.” You begin to wonder whose side some in Britain’s media are on.

(Tom Gross is a former Jerusalem correspondent for the London Sunday Telegraph.)