A Thought About Resilience on Opt-Out Day

Americans could learn a thing or two from the Israeli response to terrorism

Several years ago, I happened to be in Jerusalem when a suicide bomber attacked the Cafe Hillel in the German Colony neighborhood. Seven people were killed, including an American-born doctor, David Applebaum, and his daughter Nava, whose wedding was scheduled for the next day. The bombing took place at night; the next day, Cafe Hillel opened for business. I went to get coffee soon after. The cafe was crowded, the staff was busy at work, and there was little, if any, sign, that a murderous attack had taken place the night before.

This is the way Israelis respond to terrorism. To shut down the cafe; to avoid it; to stay inside in fear--this is not the way to defeat terrorism. Israelis understand that there is no perfect solution to the problem of terrorism, unlike many Americans, including many Americans in government, who seem to believe that all terrorism is stoppable.

The Cafe Hillel bombing came to mind when I read my colleague James Fallows on the importance of resilience in mitigating the impact of terrorism:

People who study terrorism -- or crime, or natural disasters -- also generally conclude that after a certain point, it's better to work on ways to recover from an attack, or limit its damage, rather than spend limitlessly toward the impossible end of reducing the risk to zero. The design of the Internet is an extreme example: it was built, in the Cold War era, to repair itself (by re-routing traffic) if some nodes were destroyed in an attack. Or air bags in cars: we try very hard to prevent crashes, but since some still occur, air bags make them less dangerous. Or: fortified cockpit doors in airliners. There could well be another terrorist who gets onto an airplane with weapons; but there will never be "another 9/11," because cockpit-door design, and alert fellow passengers, will keep hijackers from turning a plane into a missile.

As applies to airport security, this approach means trying very hard to keep dangerous passengers and cargo off airplanes -- but also thinking about how the same money, effort, social friction, etc might be used in "resilience" efforts.