I’ve been in Washington, DC, this week for my brother’s graduation, the only graduation on the National Mall (President Barack Obama casually paid a visit above us by helicopter during the ceremony). Between graduation activities, we were able to visit some museums around DC. My favorite by far was the Newseum—a museum dedicated to the free expression of the press, as well as the freedoms of religion, speech, assembly, and petition.
Especially moving were the 9/11 galleries, which told many stories about the event that changed the future of U.S. foreign policy, security policy, and the world at large. Although I was only a child the day the two planes crashed into the World Trade Center towers, I remember my dad staring at the television and shaking his head, as my brother and I woke up for school. But we never went into school that day.
The photographs in the gallery were incredible and tragic at the same time. One showed a man diving perfectly headfirst, right into the ground, after making the choice of how his life would end. This photo struck me in its paradox: the perfect and serene-looking dive, heading directly towards his death.
The man at the epicenter of terror likely had no idea what had just occurred in the World Trade Center, but made the decision to jump out of the window rather than wait to see his fate by staying in the burning tower. I tried to imagine what was going through his head as he dove downwards, with his foot bent as if he were Superman.
Another photograph showed a woman, caked in dust, with pure fear in her eyes. She looked almost unreal, like a doll, but the expression on her face was anything but unreal: it was the face of shear terror. A third photograph showed debris falling as one of the World Trade Center towers collapsed. A video explained that this was the last photo of the photographer, Bill Biggart, who was later found dead in the rubble.
Listening to the stories that went along with the photos, as well as trying to fathom the depravity behind the attack, led me to two conclusions that deeply affected me both personally and professionally.
First, I began to reflect on the importance of the job of a journalist. I became a journalist “by accident,” as I say. I always wrote well in school and was even a writer and editor in my high school’s journalism class. But I never thought of making it a career. Later, in college, after I wrote a few articles about Israel in my college newspaper, I was approached about writing even more, this time for more widely read newspapers. I accepted this offer, as writing is how I make sense of the world around me about which I am so curious.
After a few articles, writing became addictive. I felt powerful telling the world the truths that I saw around me. Telling the world about Israel, the country about which I deeply cared, became a passion of mine. But one part of journalism, so far untapped for me, is photojournalism.
The Newseum told many stories of photojournalists who use photographs to tell a story. Struck by the power of these images, I found it so very true that a photo tells a thousand words, if not more. Thus, going to the Newseum inspired me to learn to use a camera and to bring it along the next time I go out into the streets of Israel looking for a story. I hope that this addition to my journalistic repertoire will make me even better able to tell the story of Israel.
The second thing that moved me was the connection between global terrorism and the terrorism that Israel faces. At the Newseum, I saw letters that 9/11 terrorists left behind before their attacks, the video messages they had for the Arab world, and instructions left by terrorist groups for their fighters. “I hope that my action pleases the Muslim world,” said one attacker on a video publicized in Arabic media. Another spoke about Allah’s salvation in dying as a martyr for Islam. Many spoke of how the West is diametrically opposed to the values of Islam and how the West must be defeated through war. Some of the manifestos struck me as very similar to terrorist media we see regarding Israel, especially the media that Hamas broadcasts. Both al-Qaeda terror and Hamas terror are largely motivated by Islamic fundamentalism, as is clearly portrayed in their broadcasts. The terrorists are not shy about telling of their motivations—quite the opposite. Terrorism, for them, is not just about killing infidels but about transmitting their message to the world. This is very similar to Palestinian terrorists who attack Israeli civilians—they always have a message and many do not just seek political concessions, but rather, they act in the name of Islam.
I was reminded at the Newseum how Israel’s fight is also America’s fight, and vice versa. And as an American-Israeli journalist, I am in a position to share this with the world. It is my duty, indeed my honor, to do so.
Eliana Rudee is a fellow with the Haym Salomon Center and the author of the “Aliyah Annotated” column for JNS.org. She is a graduate of Scripps College, where she studied international relations and Jewish studies. Her bylines have been featured in USA Today, Forbes, and The Hill. Follow her column on JNS.org.