Add her to the hero list

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - OBSERVATIO­NS - THE HU­MAN SPIRIT BAR­BARA SOFER

Kay Wil­son is a cer­ti­fied Is­raeli tour guide, an ex­pert in Israel’s fauna and flora, our ar­chae­ol­ogy and his­tory, cul­tural nu­ances and culi­nary del­i­ca­cies. She’s also a con­cert pi­anist, an artist and a gifted writer.

She’s also a sur­vivor of a ter­ror­ist at­tack who, with hands tied, gagged and chopped by a ma­chete, forced her­self to walk bare­foot across fields of bri­ars to sum­mon help.

When I saw the list of “he­roes of the decade” pub­lished in a na­tional He­brew-lan­guage news­pa­per this week, I was sur­prised that her name wasn’t on it.

Cof­fee with Kay. We’re at a café in Mevaseret Zion, a sub­ur­ban town near Jerusalem. Nine years af­ter the at­tack, she still doesn’t like meet­ing early in the morn­ing and prefers not trav­el­ing into Jerusalem. She’s pe­tite and soft-spo­ken, and de­spite her proven re­silience, she seems frag­ile.

I’ve read her mem­oir, The Rage Less Trav­eled, a rare, close-up and per­sonal ac­count of a ter­ror­ist at­tack, bring­ing the reader in­side the ex­pe­ri­ence of vi­o­lence and the chal­lenge of the phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal re­cov­ery of her un­likely sur­vival. A must read.

On De­cem­ber 19, 2010, Wil­son was giv­ing a pri­vate tour to Amer­i­can tourist Kris­tine Luken. The day-trip was a Wil­son’s spe­cialty: a com­bi­na­tion of na­ture hik­ing, ar­chae­ol­ogy and Bible his­tory. Even a win­ery. On a glo­ri­ous win­ter day, they headed to the pine-scented Matta For­est with its ar­chae­o­log­i­cal relics, the Hor­vat Hanut ru­ins south­east of Beit Shemesh.

Wil­son planned to walk to the trail look­out so they could see Kib­butz Halamed Hey and the site of the bat­tle be­tween David and Go­liath. When they paused to ab­sorb the view, Wil­son no­ticed two men crouch­ing in the bushes. Some­thing about them felt dan­ger­ous, not be­cause they were Arabs, as Wil­son worked of­ten with an Arab driver and was car­ry­ing his wife’s baklava in her back­pack. She hushed Luken, but it was too late.

Wil­son man­aged to fight back with the penknife she’d brought to peel ap­ples, but she and Luken were over­pow­ered. The two women were blud­geoned, stabbed and lac­er­ated with a ma­chete, then left for dead.

I don’t want to re­view the hor­rific story, but when the cof­fee comes I do have a few pre­pared ques­tions.

How could she stop her­self from scream­ing when the ter­ror­ists wanted to make sure she was dead and plunged a knife into her chest?

How could she, al­ready icy with shock – with 13 ma­chete lac­er­a­tions in her lungs and di­aphragm, six open com­pound frac­tures of her ribs, a ster­num bro­ken in two places, and a knife cut four mil­lime­ters from her heart – make her­self walk bare­foot for help?

How did she find the courage to stab the ter­ror­ist with the knife, the blood from which led to the ter­ror­ists’ cap­ture and con­vic­tion?

How could she face the mur­der­ers in court?

I can’t make my­self get be­yond the first ques­tion. It’s eas­ier to talk about mu­sic, about the café food, and about her psy­cho­log­i­cal re­cov­ery. She says that the treat­ment for PTSD in Israel, hers at Hadas­sah Hospi­tal, is far be­yond any­thing that vic­tims of ter­ror­ism whom she’s met from abroad have re­ceived. She’s re­ceived ad­di­tional help for chronic flash­backs, hun­dreds a day. She’s learned to live in the present. Each mo­ment might be her last.

SHE DIDN’T scream out be­cause she knew that her si­lence was a mat­ter of life and death. You can do what­ever you have to when you know your life de­pends on it.

I think about a movie that I’ve re­cently seen with my adult daugh­ters, a black com­edy called Born in Jerusalem and Still Alive. The movie be­gins in Zion Square with a young man named Ro­nen lis­ten­ing to a tour guide giv­ing the his­tory of Jerusalem’s Jaffa Road. Ro­nen feels com­pelled to dis­rupt her de­scrip­tion of land­marks like Al­lenby’s en­trance, Safra Square and the Davidka with his own nar­ra­tive of ter­ror­ist at­tacks on the thor­ough­fare. He de­cides to of­fer tourists the “Ter­ror At­tack Tour,” which we soon un­der­stand is a ther­a­peu­tic ven­ture to deal with his own post-trauma com­ing of age amidst the ex­plod­ing buses, bomb­ings and knif­ings.

As he points out the ubiq­ui­tous land­marks of past ter­ror­ist at­tacks to his clients, he makes the as­tute com­ment that we have no name for this real and im­por­tant pe­riod of ter­ror usu­ally as­so­ci­ated with the years 2000-2005. In­tifada is, af­ter all, an Ara­bic word. Ro­nen ex­plains to the tourists that there were un­writ­ten guide­lines in our na­tional re­silience back then.

“If there was a ter­ror at­tack on a bus and eight peo­ple died, you can still go for a beer, and even on a date, be­cause it’s rou­tine,” he says. “But if there was a bomb­ing in a café and 15 peo­ple died, that’s an ex­cep­tion. You can still go for a beer, be­cause we are stronger than that. But not on a date, be­cause it’s not ro­man­tic.”

Ro­nen, played by the film’s writer-di­rec­tor Yossi Atia, like my daugh­ters, in­deed came of age dur­ing the pe­riod of near-daily bomb­ings. An­a­lysts who ig­nore its im­pact on our vot­ing pat­terns and disen­chant­ment with peace plans are miss­ing an es­sen­tial piece of our na­tional psy­che. And most of us were only close to the ter­ror, not ac­tual sur­vivors.

Not like Kay Wil­son. De­spite the gar­gan­tuan ef­fort re­quired, she has gone on to be­come an ac­tivist in ex­pos­ing the roots of ter­ror­ism, cre­at­ing cur­ricu­lum against vi­o­lence, speak­ing on in­ter­na­tional plat­forms and fight­ing against pay­ments to the fam­i­lies of ter­ror­ists, like the two who at­tacked her. She lives a mod­est life, and when­ever she can, shares her knowl­edge and pas­sion for the Land of Israel she so loves.

In her mem­oir, Wil­son re­counts an in­ci­dent when, like Ro­nen in the movie, she is lis­ten­ing to a tour guide – in her case an Old City guide speak­ing of Hero­dian stones. The Mus­lim call to prayer sounds from the mosque loud­speak­ers with its open­ing words Al­lahu Ak­bar, the tri­umphant chant of ter­ror­ists in­ter­na­tional. Wil­son loses it, and some­how at­tacks a police of­fi­cer who is try­ing to re­strain her.

At the police sta­tion, the in­ves­ti­ga­tor first as­sumes she’s a tourist suf­fer­ing from Jerusalem Syn­drome. When he fi­nally re­al­izes who she is, 20 of­fi­cers gather round to meet the hero­ine, cel­e­brate her courage and the in­valu­able help she has pro­vided in ap­pre­hend­ing the ter­ror­ists for whom Luken’s mur­der was not their first.

The police serve her a fancy French pas­try and toast her with or­ange juice. I silently toast her with my cap­puc­cino. So, dear ed­i­tors, add Kay Wil­son to your list of he­roes. She’s al­ready on mine.

I can’t make my­self get be­yond the first ques­tion. It’s eas­ier to talk about mu­sic, about the café food

The writer is the Israel di­rec­tor of public re­la­tions at Hadas­sah, the Women’s Zion­ist Or­ga­ni­za­tion of Amer­ica. Her lat­est book is A

Daugh­ter of Many Moth­ers.

(Bonah Bachen­heimer)

KAY WIL­SON has gone on to be­come an ac­tivist in ex­pos­ing the roots of ter­ror.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Israel

© PressReader. All rights reserved.