If it is proved that the Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 which crashed in Ukraine on Thursday was downed by a missile the tragedy will further confirm that every local or regional conflict involves us all during this era. The 295 people whose bodies were scattered over a Ukrainian field, as they were headed to Malaysia from the Netherlands, never imagined that they would fall victim to a war that happened to be being waged 10,000 meters below them. In other incidents, citizens far from the fires of war have fallen victim to terrorist acts aimed at raising publicity for the conflict and punishing the enemy where he is most vulnerable – in cities far from the front.
If MH17 was downed by a missile, it will not be the first such incident. On June 27, 1980, 81 people died aboard an Italian Itavia plane when it was hit over the Tyrrhenian Sea. It is still not clear who fired the missile. On July 3, 1988, an American warship in the Persian Gulf shot down an Iranian Airbus A300, killing all 290 people aboard. The United States said that the ship’s crew mistakenly believed the Airbus was a warplane threatening them; many Iranians still believe that it was a crime which underlined American hostility toward their country. In other cases, defending forces acted with intention against what they claimed were threats: The Soviet Union shot down a Korean Boeing 747 with 269 people aboard when it flew into its air space in 1983; Israel downed a Libyan Boeing 727, killing 108 people, over the Sinai Peninsula in 1973.
The Malaysian plane’s downing in Ukraine has provoked fear among all airlines, prompting some to declare immediately that they would avoid Ukrainian air space. It is most unlikely that either of the warring parties on the border between Ukraine and Russia intended to kill innocent travelers, but the message reached the whole world: In Ukraine, death lurks. We get the same message when terrorists strike far from their wars, when refugees struggle exhausted to our shores, risking everything to escape homes that became deathtraps.
In this day and age, technology allows any individual to inflict terrible pain and damage, whether he be a lone teenager learning how to make bombs from the Internet or a member of an organized army with the latest weapons. Every conflict can reach us, whether we are spectators at the Boston marathon, whether we are flying 10 kilometers above ground, whether we hear about the plight of refugees and choose to forget that until recently they lived lives like ours. Every war is now our war. And every refugee is one of us.