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The French-Israeli woman who looked a stabber in the eye

The story of a heroic young French-Israeli who fended off her attacker and refuses to leave Israel or hate Arabs

On October 14th, Sarah Blum was attacked by a stabber outside the Central Bus Station in Jerusalem. She walked down Jaffa Street at around 6:20PM when a Palestinian terrorist came at her with a knife.

Instead of panicking, she ran into the street and shouted, “Terrorist!” The stabber decided to stop chasing her and instead sped towards a crowd of passengers getting off a bus. Sarah courageously rushed after him, yelling to warn people around. The stabber wounded a 72-year-old woman before he was stopped by a security guard.

Sarah’s sharp instincts may have saved her life and those of others. Her matter of fact detailed recollection of the attack is gripping and heroic, but her life story and reaction to the horrifying event demonstrate that her bravery extends to all of the complexities she faces by living in Israel.

Sarah moved to Jerusalem from France in 2008 at the age of 24. She is currently completing her Master’s Degree in Middle Eastern Studies at Hebrew University. Last year she left Jerusalem for Tel Aviv

The morning of October 14th Sarah told herself that she should not be afraid of going to Jerusalem, yet, just to be sure, she wore sneakers instead high heels. “If something happens, at least I’ll be able to run away,” she told herself. The day passed quickly, and at around 5 PM she headed out from Hebrew University. She just had to stop at the doctor’s before she could start back for Tel Aviv. Conveniently, her clinic was near the Jerusalem Central Bus Station; she could get off the bus there and walk.

Her mother, who now lives in the United States, called her on the phone when the bus was nearing her stop. She was upset that her daughter was in Jerusalem. “I thought we agreed that you wouldn’t go there anymore! Just yesterday seven people — ,“ she said.

“Yes, mom. I know. I know. It’s not the best time for me to talk about it. Listen, I’ll be at the doctor’s in fifteen minutes, stay on the line with me, but let’s talk about something else.”

Her mother’s anxiety triggered her own and she recalled the lessons from last night’s Krav Maga class: when you want to determine whether people harbor violent intentions, it is better to look at their hands than at their faces. As she stepped off the bus, Sarah’s attention shifted from listening to her mother, who continued talking, to looking at the hands of strangers.

Not thirty meters away from the bus stop, she noticed a fist. She looked up at its owner — the young man walking towards her looked normal. A brown leather jacket, dark blue jeans, slightly chubby. But when her eyes returned to the man’s hand, she saw it was grasping the handle of a knife and that the blade was hidden under his jacket. Everything unfolded within seconds. She made a slight move to the right, and thought, “maybe I’m wrong.” But he mirrored her footsteps, and again they were walking directly towards each other. At once, it became clear to them both that she had seen the knife, and that he had seen that she had seen it. He came at her, lunging towards her with the knife. For a split second she met his eyes. “There was something wrong with them,” she thought, but she wasn’t sure whether it was “just hatred or also drugs” she saw in his eyes.

Jaffa Road is always whizzing with cars, but she ran into the street and started screaming. “TERRORIST! TERRORIST!” When she looked back, she saw that he was no longer chasing her, but was now running into a crowd of people getting off a bus. She turned back and chased him shouting “terrorist” to warn the people around. He stepped into the bus and disappeared from her sight. A moment later she heard shooting.

In the brief time between his stepping into the bus and the shooting, the terrorist had stabbed a 72-year-old woman. But Sarah did not know that yet; shooting erupted and she decided it was time for her to hide. She ran up to the street corner where she found shelter in a lottery booth and squeezed inside with the woman who sold the tickets. For fifteen or twenty minutes they kept their heads down, hearing the soldiers and SWAT teams running up and down the streets and shouting that there might be a second terrorist running free. Only when she was certain that things were in order again did she say goodbye to her host and approach the cops. She told them she could identify the man and described his features and the clothing he was wearing. She mentioned that he was about 25 years of age. It turns out he was 26.

Sarah grew up in Alsace, France, studied international law in Paris, and after graduating decided to move to Israel. Her family was Zionist, she faced anti-Semitism growing up, and the way the Second Intifada was covered in France made her sick. The decision to relocate to Israel was not simple for her.

Three years ago she officially became Israeli. She stayed in Israel because she feels she belongs here.

Sarah Blum

In the past three years, she worked as a legal intern for MK Einat Wilf of the Independence Party, a researcher and translator at the French Embassy, and headed the news desk of the French edition of the Jerusalem Post. She visited places most Israelis have never been — Bethlehem, Ramallah, East Jerusalem — and has developed meaningful friendships with Arab Israelis and Palestinians. She is one of those rare people who do not think that trying to understand someone else means having to give up on your own truths.

One of the first people she spoke with when she arrived home after the stabbing was her friend Aziz Abu-Sarah, a Palestinian social entrepreneur and a journalist. That very same day, Aziz’s nephew was attacked by settlers in the Mount of Olives; they beat him up with clubs until they broke his arm. On October 26th, Aziz wrote in Haaretz that the same night Sarah was stabbed, she texted him, “I hope your nephew is okay… Send him my love and warmth.” He then explained how moved he was by her and his nephew’s reactions.

“Just a few hours before, a Palestinian had tried to kill her — but here she was, selflessly expressing her concern about my Palestinian nephew. When I checked in on my nephew, I was equally impressed. He had posted online that, ‘After being attacked yesterday by Jewish extremists, I want to say that I don’t hate Jews. Not a single one. But I do hate the Occupation. I will speak up against occupation, but only in the way of peace and love… not hatred.’”

Since the attack, Sarah had many conversations with her Palestinian friends about what happened. She told some of them: “I believe in dialogue! I do. But it needs to be on the same terms. You cannot call stabbers ‘resistance fighters’ and expect me to accept it. You want to fight the occupation? Fine. You can and you should. But you also need to know that we are here to stay.”

Despite being attacked by a Palestinian terrorist, Sarah does not intend to move back to France or stop visiting Jerusalem or start hating Arabs. If anything, the event strengthened her determination to live in Israel and seek ways to become a meaningful part of its society.

About the Author
Natan is a novelist and an MA student at Hebrew University