Twelve years ago, someone tried to kill me. I didn’t know him, and he didn’t know me. I happened to be an off-duty soldier just finishing up my active duty service, but he didn’t know that. He came to kill civilians at Sbarro Pizzeria in Jerusalem, and he did, including Malki Roth, sister of a yeshiva chum of mine, who was working the cash register to my left; five members of the Schijveschuurder family, who attended my cousins’ synagogue in Har Nof, who were seated behind me; and nine other civilians — ten if you count the young woman who has been in a persistent vegetative state since that day.
As some of you may know, the date of this attack was 9 August, 2001, at the height of the Second Intifadah. The 12th anniversary was one week ago. But I was one of those 130 injured. I didn’t die that day. Two weeks later, I got married. That’s why today, equidistant between these two very public and very personal events, is the day I think about both, the worst thing to ever happen to me and the best thing to ever happen to me. Or maybe these two events are tied for best; I suppose it depends on your point of view.
I think about the what ifs. What if I had caught the bus and met my friend at Sbarro an hour earlier, as originally planned? I would have missed everything. What if I had sat one table closer to the door? I would been killed. My parents would have been getting up from shiva for their only child on this date. My fiancee would never have become my wife, and my sons would never have been born.
Instead, I walked away from that devastating attack in the center of Jerusalem a dozen years ago. Literally. Exiting through the wall, because there was no wall there anymore. As the blood ran down my face, an MDA medic took my hand and walked me the two blocks up to Bikur Holim Hospital. They stitched up my scalp and my shoulder, but there wasn’t much to be done for the burst eardrum. Then they sent me on my way. I walked to the police station to pick up my backpack, which had been cut open to look for potential explosives. Then I got on a bus and headed back to my yeshiva dormitory. The next day, I got back to planning our wedding with my then-fiancee, while others were planning funerals–for spouses, children, siblings, parents.
Whenever a murder is in the news here, the reporter will note whether it is “criminally motivated” or “nationalistically motivated.” It does not, of course, make a difference to the victim, who is equally dead in either case. But while a criminally-motivated murder is tragedy, a nationalistically-motivated murder is martyrdom. The upside, such as it is, is that the whole nation joins in the mourning, commemorating it each year after on Memorial Day; the downside is that the same nation sometimes sets those murderers free. And I accept that.
This has been a hotly-debated topic this week. In an effort to restart peace talks, Israel released the first 26 of 104 Palestinian prisoners, murderers all. You can read details of their crimes and victims here. Coming so soon after the 12th anniversary of the Sbarro bombing, it’s no surprise that many have reacted quite negatively to the idea of setting these killers free, everyone from bereaved family members who appealed to the High Court of Justice and the President, to Knesset members who wrote furiously to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, to people who were almost there concluding that “Peace you make with humans, not animals.”
I am none of these. I am a survivor. And the people who tried to kill me? The bomber was killed instantaneously; the wheelman (actually, wheelwoman) was freed two years ago to secure the release of captive soldier Gilad Schalit; and the bomb-maker is currently serving 67 life sentences in an Israeli prison.
As I stood at the corner of King George St. and Jaffa Road this week, looking at the building which is now a cafe, I wondered why I didn’t feel anything. Not anger, not sadness, not triumph.
I’m beginning to suspect that this is the nature of survival. It is the lot of others to rage at the government; I just hope and pray that this trade of justice for peace proves to be worth it. This is a cause which seems to most exercise those who have lost everything and those who have lost nothing. As for me, having lost just a little something, I merely want to go on surviving.