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Minutes from terror on the streets of London

"The people of London are facing the beginning of a slippery slope, one where we all know how it begins but never how it ends."

    Tamir Oren (right) and friends in central London last night
    Tamir Oren (right) and friends in central London last night

    This is a story of an "almost".

    I "almost" stopped to take a few photos near London Bridge.

    I "almost" stayed a few more minutes in the nearby restaurant enjoying dessert and I "almost" found myself under the London Bridge at the exact time that raging terrorists perpetrated their evil attack targeting innocent people.

    Fortunately for me, this was only an "almost". Four minutes after walking under the London Bridge towards Tower Bridge, I saw policemen running the opposite way, exactly where I just came from. I heard the sirens and immediately understood what had happened.

    Four minutes is the time it takes someone to pay the bill, to take a few photos, or say goodbyes at a restaurant. When I reached home, I found this photo (above) which was taken in the exact time the attack took place, only four minutes away.

    The photo of our happy faces makes me think about other people who were enjoying a weekend night out and found themselves in the middle of a terror attack at the heart of London.

    At 6.00pm, I had been thinking about what was the best way to show the nicest and most touristic places to my friends from Israel who were on their last night in town.

    We had a plan which involved walking by the Tate Museum, taking photos near Shakespeare’s Globe, having dinner near London Bridge and walking under it towards Tower Bridge.

    Living in Israel most of my life I have unfortunately becomes used to hearing reports of car rammings and stabbing attacks. There is an eerie regularity to it. Whenever you hear about an attack, you immediately call your loved ones and make sure they are safe. The police announce the nature of the attack, secure the area and within a few hours’ people go back to normal. We used to call it "terror procedure".

    In my wildest dreams, I didn’t think that my friends’ last night as tourists in London would conclude with us looking at London Bridge filled with police cars as a terror attack ensured.

    We – Israelis in London were the ones receiving worried messages from family and friends back home. While walking the streets of London I saw the Israeli-style “terror procedure" I knew so well go into action.

    We stopped the first taxi we could find and explained to the driver that there was an incident and there were probably injured people, we assumed this was a terror attack. He immediately responded by saying, “it’s probably a car accident”. But if it was terror, living in a big city, he said, is sometimes “inconvenient. This stuff just happens”.

    I was immediately filled with anger. How ignorant can he be? Is he deliberately ignoring reality and avoiding what was to me so obvious? Later, I reflected that my immediate reaction was based on the fact that I had been exposed to so many terror attacks.

    Maybe the London cab driver was just not used to this and that it was so obviously terror wasn’t the first nor the second thing that came to mind.

    By the end of the ride, after having listened to the radio, while news alerts pinged on our phones, our driver had changed his tune. He said in sorrow that now he knows "London isn’t safe anymore".

    True or not, that is a shame. There had been something comforting to me about the fact that the people of London are not used to what was so normal to me and my friends and family for years - I wish this would remain the case.

    But terror in major British cities – directed so cynically at the softest of targets – people enjoying their leisure time – is becoming a reality in Britain.

    I fear that the naivety of my cab driver at the beginning of the trip will not remain, and that the people of London, my temporary home, are facing the beginning of a slippery slope, one where we all know how it begins but never how it ends.

    No matter how things unfold in the following weeks, I am not going anywhere. I will spend my time showing my friends here that we are with them, supporting and comforting them, as the frequency of attacks rises.

    Facing terror down will require resolve and unity. I never expected, as an Israeli, to be minutes from terror on the streets of London but there is a commonality between the evil terror we face: here, there and in the rest of the world.

    We must not change our values or limit or freedom. We must not let them win. However many times terror strikes, whether in the UK, or Paris, Brussels, New York or Jerusalem, let us never get used to this.

    Tamir Oren is UK director of StandWithUs, the Israel advocacy group