2015-11-11 / Columns

Surviving terrorism by eliminating fear through dialogue


In the latest wave of terror in Israel I learned something about myself.

October 13 was an especially difficult day.

I was in a morning class and we heard sirens. Lots of sirens.

That day, three people were murdered and dozens wounded in five terror attacks in Jerusalem, Ra’anana and Kiryat Ata. One more, a neighbor and fellow American-Israeli and peace activist, Richard Lakin, died of his wounds a few days later.

Richard, an educator and former elementary school principal made aliya from Connecticut. In Israel, he taught children regardless of background, including Palestinians. He, like me, was active in a number of groups that promote connections with Israelis and Palestinians. We both have the same cover photo on our Facebook pages. It reads “Coexist.” Richard lived a block away from me.

That day, in the attack that took Richard’s life, two young men from Jabel Mukaber, the village bordering our neighborhood, boarded a bus one neighborhood over from us in East Talpiot. The men, both in their early twenties, started shooting and stabbing passengers, one armed with a gun, the other with a knife.

Kids for Peace building bridges are (from left), Nadav, Assaf, Maytav, and Beno. Kids for Peace building bridges are (from left), Nadav, Assaf, Maytav, and Beno. Rubi Mahatbi, 18, who was lightly injured in the attack described his experience to the Israeli daily Yediyot Achronot:

“As soon as the bus started moving, the terrorist drew out a gun, yelled ‘Allahu Akbar,’ [‘God is Great’] and shot a person as he came in my direction. I hid near the door and tried to escape. He drew a knife and started stabbing a soldier. The second terrorist grabbed me and tried to attack me, but I hit him and was able to escape…That moment, you feel fear and stress and you don’t know what to do. I preferred running away rather than confronting him. I have bruises on my neck from his attempts to choke me. At that moment, all I was thinking about was I would either survive this or I’ll die.”

As the attack continued, one of the terrorists got into the driver’s seat and attempted to hijack the bus. Realizing what was happening, a local resident drove his car in front of the bus, blocking it.

The terrorist locked the bus doors preventing security forces from boarding and passengers from escaping the bus. Police opened fire at the terrorist from outside the bus.

The other terrorist was shot by a security guard, got up and tried to continue his attack. The guard shot him again.

Both terrorists went down, one dying, the other injured and neutralized.

When it was all over, the terrorists had killed two people on the spot. Two others died of their wounds in the hospital. Ten more were injured, some seriously.

All of this minutes from my house.

In the days that followed, I noticed that when these events happen and when we are in times of crisis, we regress to our core emotions. Those of us who are fearful, become very afraid. Those of us who are full of anger and hatred, express these emotions.

I am a man of faith. I believe in Oneness. Some may call this God. Others have various names, but my belief is that there are forces that try to divide and there are forces that try to unite and we are most at peace with ourselves, our community and our world when we are at one with it. The divisiveness caused by fear, anger and hate only deepens the crisis and takes us further away from the peace and well-being we all seek.

As John Lennon wrote in his song “Imagine,” “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.” A week after the incident described above, I joined about 50 families in a meeting between Palestinians (both Muslims and Christians) and Jews. We came together as One.

The kids and parents met separately in the framework of Kids for Peace, an organization which my middle son, Maytav, joined two years ago. Kids apply in sixth grade and, if accepted, become part of a group of two boys and two girls from each of the three faiths. These groups meet monthly with groups both in Jerusalem and abroad. Each summer, kids from the Jerusalem groups join kids from the Diaspora in camps for 10 days, some in the U.S. and some in Israel.

Kids for Peace also connects the parents of the participants and I have become friends with several Palestinians I have met through K4P.

The night we met, I learned a lot about how “the other side” feels.

Among the shared stories and feelings, I heard both Jewish and Arab women speak about their fear of saying goodbye to their children in the morning not knowing if they would ever see them again. Jews described their fear of terrorist attacks, while Arabs spoke not only of their fear of being caught in a terrorist attack, but also of Jews who the Jerusalem mayor called on to carry guns who may shoot to kill and of Israeli soldiers who terrorize. Some Palestinian mothers go to sleep afraid that soldiers will break into their house and abduct their sons without reason while some Palestinian children are afraid their house might get demolished or Jews might attack them. Fear is shared on both sides and only escalates the cycle of misunderstanding, confusion and violence.

In the meeting, a Muslim doctor told me that his son asked him, “What do I do if a Jew attacks me? Do I try to run away? Do I freeze? Do I fight?” He didn’t know how to answer his son except to say that he will never be alone. The father escorts his son to school every day out of fear.

This Muslim Palestinian doctor who works at the Wolfson hospital in Tel Aviv said that to him all life is sacred. He will fight to save the life of any living being. He continued saying that there are so many important things to fight for that we shouldn’t be wasting our time fighting each other.

Nazira, a Muslim woman who had hosted my family for Iftar (the daily evening meal after fasting during Ramadan), related a story to me that made me very uncomfortable. Nazira knows English, but not Hebrew. She came to a roadblock in Jerusalem. The soldiers had their back to her so she did not know what to do. She wondered, should she stop or go? She slowed to a crawl and the soldiers did not turn around so she drove slowly through the roadblock when a soldier suddenly slammed his hand on her car. She stopped. He said something in Hebrew she did not understand and in fluent English told him she didn’t speak Hebrew.

“Were you scared?” the soldier said to her.

“Yes,” she said.

“Good!” he answered.

This was not a young 18- year-old boy, but a reservist in his thirties.

It is wrong for us to assume that all Palestinians are terrorists or that they support terrorists. It is also wrong to assume that Jews are the only ones being terrorized or living in fear. I can also assure you that coexistence does exist.

Another Muslim Palestinian father told me that he lives coexistence every day. Now 43 years old, he has been attending these types of groups since he was 11. He has a degree from the Hebrew University and is a CPA. He serves the State of Israel running a department at the Income Tax Authority. He is the only Arab in his department and he has 13 Jews under his direct supervision.

My friend Mohammed, who I have known since 1987 when I was volunteering on a kibbutz in northern Israel before my junior year at The Hebrew University, called me to make sure we were alright after the terrorist attack - in East Talpiot. He is a loyal Israeli. He is also a Muslim Arab. I am like a family member in his home. We have been through a lot together and our connection is very deep. As we spoke about what Israelis refer to as “The Situation,” he assured me, “We only have one state and we have to defend it.” Our bond is very deep and he identifies as an Israeli. Mohammed is family. How many friends have you had for over 25 years?

What did I learn about myself? I learned that I am a man of faith. That I have a choice between faith and fear and that when I eliminate fear through open dialogue and educating myself, there is a vacuum which can be filled with love and compassion. This connects me to the Oneness in all of us and by doing this I am building a world in which I want to live and the world I want to give to my children. .

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