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