In radio and newspaper interviews I’ve done recently, a singular question has been asked more than any other: if your wife was the one injured in a terrorist attack, why are you the one telling your story?
It’s a similar question I asked myself when, in the wake of the 2002 Hebrew University bombing, I began suffering from PTSD-like symptoms. Hyperventilating in public and unable to sleep at night, I’d ask myself, Why are you not okay? You weren’t injured, your body wasn’t pierced by shrapnel, you’re not a victim. Why must you behave as one?
And it was this thought – you’re not a victim – that prevented me from seeking help, even after my wife had gained a remarkable measure of psychological healing after the attack. It wasn’t until years later, researching secondary victimhood as I prepared to reconcile with the family of the Palestinian bomber who tried to kill my wife, that I came to understand just how wrong I was.
For in trying to understand myself and my motivations for such a reconciliation quest, I came to understand that secondary trauma is not just real. It can be just as powerful and debilitating as the primary trauma itself. I came to learn that secondary victimhood exists not just in the victim’s imagination, but in clinical research as well.
This is something I explore in my memoir, What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife? For in the book, I examine psychological studies which show that journalists who cover traumatic events often exhibit the exact same psychological distresses as the primary victims they cover. And sometimes, remarkably, spouses of war veterans will not only exhibit identical PTSD symptoms as their partners, but will sometimes respond to the exact same stimuli – the blades of a helicopter overhead, fireworks erupting – despite never having set foot on a battlefield.
For many years after the Hebrew University attack, I refused to view myself as a victim – refused to give myself such license – even as I struggled to breathe and sleep.
Today, when asked by journalists why I’ve written a memoir, and not my wife, I breathe deeply and say: because we were both victims, and this is my story.
My recently-published memoir, What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, chronicles the story of my reconciliation with the family of the bomber who perpetrated the 2002 Hebrew University terror attack – an attack which injured my wife and killed the two friends with whom she was sitting.
It is the story of how, suffering from PTSD-like symptoms in the attack’s wake, I sought a meeting with the Hamas bomber upon learning that he had unprecedentedly expressed remorse to Israeli authorities upon his capture.
It was a meeting I sought not out of revenge, but out of desperation.
To some, my story is a dangerous one – that is, if you view stories of peace and reconciliation, stories that humanize both Palestinians and Jews, as existential threats to Israel’s survival. Apparently, some do. Which is why, when the New York Post recently named my memoir as a “must-read,” a blogger for The Times of Israel penned an article entitled, “Is the New York Post Supporting the End of Israel?”
Within the article, I am characterized as an anti-Semite whose writing could come from “Hamas’ Editorial Team” because, apparently, any writing that critiques Israel and humanizes Palestinians is championing Israel’s destruction.
For those who view the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a zero-sum game, in which only one side can emerge victorious, my book is indeed dangerous. It’s threatening. Even terrifying. Which is why it has inspired writers like the one at TOI to levy the ‘anti-Semitism’ charge against me – a charge meant to shut down political dialogue and debate on a most important issue.
Unfortunately, when the ‘anti-Semitism’ charge is employed in this way, it means little more than this: I disagree with your politics. And this usage, which is nothing more than a scare tactic, actually dilutes what is a very real and dangerous prejudice which continues to persist globally.
In truth, it’s not so different from what the Tea Party did recently during the government shutdown. In that case, you had politicians willing to leverage damaging the United States in order to promote their extremist, unsustainable demands. It was nothing but a destructive tantrum which, in the end, cost the U.S. economy $24 billion and .5 percent GDP in projected growth.
So too are misplaced charges of anti-Semitism by American Jews who stand outside the mainstream. They are nothing more than political tantrums intended to destroy reputations and silence debate on an issue that needs to be discussed: how to peacefully resolve a conflict which must end so that each side emerges ‘victorious.’
How to bring resolution so that each people, both deserving self-determination, can live in a country of their own?
An anti-Semitic notion, no?