How can you survive a terror attack without losing your respect for the humanity of the other side? How can you defeat terror without giving up on your soul?
Held captive to depravity I knelt, gagged and bound, and waited to be beheaded. I remember the fusion of the fragrant pines and the stench of bile trapped under the rag around my mouth. I remember hearing the songs of the birds and the terrified whimper of my friend. I remember a bright light; a machete glinting in the sun. Beauty and the beast, sanctity and savagery were the unfathomable backdrop of those moments, an eternal epoch that has not allowed, like other memories, for normative absorption with the passing of time.
I had never contemplated being brutally murdered. Who does? At only forty-six years old even death had barely crossed my mind. It was half an hour of madness so debilitating that even the moments necessary for preparing myself for death were strangled by the dread of the manner of my imminent execution. I recall looking to Heaven and begging the sun not to set, and seconds later witnessing the unthinkable: A human being hacked to death before my very eyes.
I was no longer afraid to die, but I was terrified of giving up. I wanted the police to find my body so that the sons of evil would be caught. I wanted to choose my own grave, I wanted that last autonomy. Somehow, gagged, bound, barefoot and bleeding to death, I managed to get up and walk a mile through the forest. I sustained thirteen machete wounds in my lungs and diaphragm, six compound fractures in my ribs, thirty additional fractures, a dislocated shoulder, a crushed sternum and a broken shoulder blade. I found no comfortable grave. Instead, surprisingly, I found help—a couple of families who saved my life.
Kristine Luken was robbed of her life and deprived of the final autonomy of choice that I was awarded. She was also pillaged of a natural demise surrounded by her loving family. Her death stole from her the dignity of dying in a pain-free manner, that basic mercy awarded to even the worst of convicted killers. The butcher’s knife chopped away the future generations of an innocent woman. It ripped apart her family’s heart and tore my innocence to shreds. His blows smashed my bones, slashed my flesh, decimated my soul and shredded the person that I once was.
A year after the attack, as part of a small Israeli delegation I was invited to speak at a European conference that sought to provide a platform for terror victims to tell their stories. I sat next to an Indonesian Muslim who had been “in the business” since the Bali bombings. He was just one of thousands of Muslims maimed or killed by the fanatics within their own Islamist-led regimes. He was a former man. His head was nothing but an unshapely mass that emerged at a peculiar angle from his neck. Tufts of coarse hair sprouted erratically behind his ears. The patches of light-toned skin grafted onto his dark face turned him into a macabre kaleidoscope of humanity. Juxtaposing my physical condition with his, I felt properly grateful. I have no physical disability or outward disfigurement that would serve as a constant source of intrigue to those around me. Nothing about my appearance would ever make people suspect that I was a victim of terrorism.
As terror victims do, we skipped the small talk—we have lost the ability to engage in the mundane. The Indonesian gentleman intuitively recognized that it must be a burden for me to have concealed physical scars that hide all evidence of the psychological terror that I live with day and night. He recognized that I am therefore not always awarded that extra dose of patience or understanding that I sometimes desperately need. I sensed his hidden pain too, and inquired if anyone ever related to him outside his victimhood. I wondered if his conversations were ever peppered with anything but terrorism. Although our experiences were different and it was futile to compare, we were family, inseparable siblings of random political murder. Irrespective of our racial and cultural backgrounds, we were both human targets of indiscriminate and senseless acts of terror. Like me, this innocent man had been tossed by waves of horror and ended up shipwrecked on a hostile shore. Like me, he had no possibility of returning to his former life. Whatever we once were had disappeared along with all our former trivial concerns. In its place was a new us, an unfamiliar us, people who bore not only physical scars but the psychological lesions of those old before their time.
The objective of the weekend was to allow a “voice for the victims.” I appreciated the platform for our global and forgotten community to tell their stories. But despite the good intentions of the conference, my suffering was exacerbated by the applause of well-meaning pity. It was damning. It left me shackled. I wanted to jump, scream, tear my hair out, fry an egg, take my clothes off…anything but be affirmed for my victimhood.
I will not and cannot deny that I am the victim of a murderous terror attack. I am in chronic physical pain and am haunted by the images of my friend writhing and screaming as a terrorist impaled her to the ground. Life has not been kind or fair to me, but it would be incorrect to assume that my sufferings are either comparable or unique. Inscribed upon the tablets of history are records of barbarity towards generations and cultures that have gone before me. Entire people groups have been treated with heinous cruelty: the Kurds, the Serbs, the Aborigines, the Native Americans, the Armenians, and the Jews, to name but a few. And history has also not been kind or fair to Palestinians.
The political frustrations of the Palestinians are as legitimate as they are harsh. True, the Israeli government has often put its head in the sand. But even now, not one Arab state has ever agreed to nationalize the Arab refugees who fled to Arab lands during or after the 1948 War. Even now, many live in squalor because their respective Muslim regimes deny them the privilege of buying land. Even now, the failure of relief agencies is barely addressed. Even now, Hamas—now part of the Palestinian Authority—has consistently rejected prospects for peace, refusing to recognize even Israel’s right to exist. Without exception, the Palestinian leadership has sabotaged every single offer that a mediator has brought to the table. But even now—and most bizarrely of all—the world lays the blame inequitably on Israel.
The Palestinian Authority has adopted an identity of suffering to alert the world to their plight. Behind this ostensibly harmless narrative of misfortune is a subtle and underrated form of political terrorism that is fortified with a mendacious propaganda campaign that is so effective that lies are now truth, fact is now fiction, and the Palestinians have lost sight of who they are. By rewriting history, they attempt to invoke not just self-defeating perpetual sympathy, but inflame the fury of those who harbor the world’s oldest hatred.
Into their tapestry of victimhood they have woven centuries of ignorance and hate. They have brilliantly unstitched the historical, Jewish, Jesus of Nazareth—crucified by Rome for insurrection—and darned him afresh onto their own ersatz chronicles as a “poor Palestinian,” who suffered at the hands of “the Jews.” Jesus’ poverty, hardship, and rewritten cultural identity is now one with theirs. Similarly, the Holocaust, that mass industrial murder of six million Jewish people and the ultimate human atrocity, has been nefariously captured by the talons of the Palestinian Authority. The spurious and lethal certitude that every single Palestinian amounts to nothing but an emaciated, caged refugee in a Zionist imposed ghetto, surrounded by a 28-foot wall that conceals genocide, is a chilling, wicked and audacious blood libel.
The formation of this “suffering Palestinian” is a sinister narrative that perversely seeks to claim victimhood by exacerbating hatred toward the Jewish people and the State of Israel. It absconds with the sufferings of Jewish history to gain political clout, and carves victimhood out of a stealthy narrative that mirrors, undermines, and purposefully inflames an unreformed Islamist East and hoodwinks a largely anti-Israel West. Behind the phenomenal “suffering success” is the slick, well-oiled, and brilliantly executed directional narrative of the Palestinian Authority.
At the very least, to encourage the Palestinians to embrace an identity of unabated misery and cling to the notion of victimhood robs them of their quest for a genuine identity and cements them in generic and disingenuous misery. As a person who has suffered greatly, I cannot accept the endorsement of the perpetual psychological victim of any individual as either true, moral, or helpful.
I want my horrendous experience to help my Palestinian friends unshackle themselves from the lies that they are being told and telling themselves. I want to guide them out of the dark thicket of resentment and encourage them into the light. I want them to choose life—that unstoppable and raging desire never to give up—because it is a drug more powerful than any treacherous lie of misery and victimhood that seeks to poison their souls. I want them to make a better future for their children. I want them to lead healthier and more meaningful lives.
Behind this ostensibly harmless narrative of misfortune is a subtle and underrated form of political terrorism that is fortified with a mendacious propaganda campaign that is so effective that lies are now truth, fact is now fiction, and the Palestinians have lost sight of who they are.
So I share with them the story of my own death march so that they can marvel at the hidden strength and the irresistible drive that dwells within a human being to live and not to die. I share this in the hope that the challenges that I continue to encounter in my own life will help them somewhat through theirs. I remind them that agony and gratitude go hand in hand. I tell them that I am in psychological trauma with what I have seen, yet I am smitten with the joy of being alive. I look to the light that forms the shadow in the valley of death and tell them that once I was bound but now I am free. I am free to choose right from wrong, free to strike or embrace; my once-bare feet are free to walk painlessly towards or painlessly away.
It is effortless for me to be bound again by a fear-based lie that every single Palestinian is a terrorist. To avoid shackling myself with these chains of prejudice I have to scrutinize any signs of contempt encroaching upon my soul. To steer clear of that thicket of hostility, I lunge towards freedom by nurturing the relationships with my Palestinian friends, and reject the manacles of vicarious blame that holds accountable the entire Palestinian people.
It is my jihad, my struggle, my individual and persistent mental war that is won by me telling myself that not every Palestinian is responsible for the murder of Kristine. It was just two thugs who were part of a thirteen-man terror cell. It was just the Arab states, banks and Muslim charities who finance terrorism through money laundering. It was just the Palestinian Authority, the recently united Fatah and Hamas, a state-sponsored coalition of terror. These are the people who are responsible for the murder of Kristine Luken.
There are thousands of Palestinians who have done nothing to deserve the situation that they find themselves in. No one in their moral right mind is happy with the political status quo. It is these innocent Palestinians who are the hope for their future, and by taking on a moral jihad, a non-violent struggle, I hope, with them, that they will defeat the insidious occupation of hate in their society and souls.
I wish them freedom: an autonomy of thought that refuses to believe that they will only be liberated by the shedding of blood.
I wish them courage: a valor that quarantines religious leaders who proclaim through the muezzins that Jews are pigs and only Muslims are made in the image of God.
I wish them generosity: a giving spirit that would enable a Jewish state to live beside them in peace.
I wish them tenacity: a resolve that uproots the rampant incitement in their educational institutions.
I wish them justice: retribution that holds accountable, rather than rewards, cold-blooded murderers sitting in jails.
I wish them strength: a tireless resilience to meticulously trace the billions of dollars squandered by their own authority.
I wish them integrity: an honesty that concedes that Israeli settlements provide them with equal and respectable salaries.
I wish them identity: the establishment of culture so they will no longer be bereft of libraries, museums, theatres and galleries.
I wish them peace: a treaty that invites the international community to spurn their leaders who choose only war.
I wish them patience: the forbearance needed to wait for those such as the United Nations to cease their pathological demonization of Israel in order to address the real issues at hand.
And if they do achieve their dreams, then I wish for them to come to Israel, so that they can see the unimaginable: the sole democratic country in the Middle East.
If that day comes I will take them to Jerusalem, the undivided and eternal capital of the Jewish people. After visiting a hospital to meet with the Muslim Arab-Israeli surgeon who saved my life, we will travel to the Supreme Court, the pinnacle of Israel’s judicial democracy. I will tell them the story of the Arab judge who sent a former Jewish president deservedly to jail. I will laud our system that tries government and military personnel who seek to abuse their power. I will praise the Israeli authorities that arrests Jewish vandals who desecrate people’s property in the name of God and commend my people who are outraged by acts of vengeance directed at innocent Palestinians.
I shall also speak against the rabid injustice in our democratic society that is carved into the flesh of those who have buried their murdered. I shall ask for them to try and understand those who stand by helplessly as they watch the government of Israel award clemency for the sons of evil. I hope that they can sense our outrage towards a prison system that resembles a country club; one that fails to administer befitting justice for those who chose to work off their frustrations and racial hatred by kidnapping and murdering teenagers, blowing up the elderly on buses, butchering sleeping babies, and hacking at women with meat cleavers without so much as blinking an eye.
I will take them to any Israeli university, where Arab and Jew study together to build for themselves a life of provision and meaning. In that same university, we shall attend the demonstrations held by some Arab students, the morally and hypocritically impaired, who protest that Israel is an apartheid state. I shall encourage my Palestinian friends to learn the tongue of the prophets, the same Hebrew that is used by the Israeli press to vehemently and fearlessly critique any and every government policy. We will finish the day at my home, a tiny rented flat, barren of all but a bed, piano and books. I will explain that my situation is due to the terror that plundered my psychological health and has left me disabled. I would hope that they could understand the exasperating unfairness I feel when I am reminded that terrorists are entitled to a Palestinian Authority monthly murder stipend ten times what the Israeli National Insurance awards me as a disability allowance. But I have learned that life is neither fair nor kind. And I have learned that to listen to the inner voice of futile comparative victimhood only fans the flames of injustice and saps me of my life.
I refuse to be consumed by hate and define myself by evil. Instead I choose to be thankful for what I have. With all my resolve, I strain to hear the songs of the little birds over the whimper of my friend. Through the reek of vomit I inhale the fragrant pines. I turn my head away from the glint of his knife and choose to look to Heaven. With the exuberant and endless gratitude known only to those who have escaped death, I daily declare the ancient Hebrew prayer, a decree of gratitude that millions before me have stubbornly whispered throughout millennia of collective Jewish suffering: “I offer thanks before you, living and eternal King, for You have mercifully restored my breath within me; Your faithfulness is great.”
It’s a long, lonely, terrifying, yet exhilarating walk, out of the forest of hate.
Banner Photo: Uri Lenz / Flash90