Monique Buzhish sits on a black leather sofa holding her chubby-faced daughter on
her lap. She nuzzles her face in the little girl’s nape. “Who gives mommy
strength?” she coos.
Buzhish, 29, is married, four months pregnant, has
just finished her university degree in social sciences, and is enjoying a
typical afternoon frolicking at home with three-year-old Shai-lee in her
spacious newly-built Ashkelon apartment.
It looks like a scene from an
In fact, it is.
And that is Monique’s
Exactly 10 years ago, Monique Buzhish – whose maiden name was
Goldwasser – was hovering on the brink of death with a severed leg artery,
crushed pelvis, ruptured intestine and numerous gashes and broken bones, as
doctors tried desperately to stem a torrent of internal bleeding. Her face was
smashed and there was fear of brain damage.
She was a 19-year-old
soldier, and an aspiring professional dancer, on her way back to her army base
after a visit home in Ashkelon.
It was Valentine’s Day.
Muhammad Abu Ulba, a father of five from Gaza, did not have love on his mind
that day. It was the height of the intifada and, as relatives would later say,
he was upset by the number of Palestinians killed by the IDF. When Abu Ulba, a
bus driver, spotted a group of soldiers at the crowded bus stop at the Azor
junction near Holon, he plowed his Egged bus straight into them. Seven soldiers
and a civilian were killed and more than 20 injured, among them Monique
Goldwasser, who was brought to Sheba Medical Center in critical
After 25 blood transfusions and futile efforts to stop the
internal bleeding, doctors asked Monique’s mother for permission to try an
experimental clotting drug, “What if we don’t?” Sharon Evans recalls asking.
Then she’ll die, they said. The drug worked, and Goldwasser began a slow
recovery back from the brink.
“I call it Monique’s miracle,” the
South-African-born Evans says, recalling the poor odds of survival that doctors
had given her daughter.
Ten years later. February 14. Valentine’s
Monique Buzhish (pronounced Boozish) is seated on her sofa, sipping
iced tea, her long, dark hair pulled back in a pony tail.
“What is this
day for me?” she asks. A small smile forms on her lips. “It’s my 10th birthday,”
she says. “My new lease on life.”
BUZHISH HAS no memory of the terror
attack, and only blurred recollections of the first few months in the hospital;
she was sedated much of the time. “When I woke up, I did not realize how close I
had been to death. There is a particular moment, an action that changed my whole
life around. I live with the consequences of that moment every day, yet I can’t
recall the moment itself. There is a complete disconnect for me.”
spent six months in the hospital, underwent at least 10 operations (“I stopped
counting after that”) and two years of rehabilitation. “I was too busy to
consider whether I would ever walk again. There were people around me 24/7 so I
hardly had time to think. There were moments when I asked myself: ‘Why am
I in a wheelchair? Why me? Why am I suffering?’ You have your days. But I was
lucky to have a great network of friends and family around me who didn’t let me
get into that too deeply.”
She has soft features, wispy hair, a delicate
face, but speaks directly, succinctly, projecting a pragmatic no-nonsense
“Don’t look back. Don’t dwell on it” seems to be her guiding
principle. “I don’t want to be known as a terror victim.
I don’t like the
label. I am not a person to be pitied. I like being known for what I am
During her rehab, on a weekend visit home, she met Eyal, a cousin
of a friend, and married him two years later.
“Now I just try to live a
quiet, normal life, at home, with my family and friends.”
On the face of
it, Buzhish has managed to do just that. She drives her daughter home from
kindergarten, tidies up the apartment, has a short nap, inserts a DVD of Yuval
the Clown on the plasma TV for Shai-lee to watch. She is doing a course in
events planning, having recently completed her BA at the Ashkelon campus of
Bar-Ilan University. She is pregnant with her second child. She is
cheerful. Most of her neighbors and casual acquaintances have no idea what she
has been through.
But the scars are there.
Her left thigh is
paralyzed, and she has no movement in her left foot. She walks with a barely
perceptible limp. She is supposed to wear a leg brace. But the former dancer
“I don’t like being tagged as disabled, having people look at me
as though I’m different.” Walking without a brace is difficult. “I have to lift
my foot up using my hip, which throws me off balance and makes me walk
She admits that it’s painful and tiring and, at times,
limiting. She can’t take long walks or run after her daughter in the
She sometimes resorts to strong painkillers, though now that she is
pregnant she can have only mild ones. She tends to lie down more
“Pick me up, mommy. Pick me up,” beseeches Shai-lee as they are
about to enter the elevator in her building.
“You know mommy doesn’t have
the strength to do that,” she says.
Although Buzhish’s pelvis was broken,
she was able to give birth with a C-section; this pregnancy is a little
harder. She has put on more weight and feels the strain.
drives everywhere. “I don’t go on buses. I don’t go near bus stops. I don’t
remember the injury, but something inside me that I can’t explain stops me from
going anywhere near a bus.”
Ditto, crowded places. “I can’t go to a
public place with lots of people. It gives me knots in my
During Operation Cast Lead, a rocket exploded in front of her
Ashkelon apartment building in the suburban, heavily Anglo neighborhood of
Barnea. She packed up and went to stay with her mother in the center of the
country for the duration of the war. “I avoid danger zones.”
it’s very quiet here,” she says of the town where she has lived since her family
made aliya from Durban in 1989 when she was seven. After her parents divorced,
her father returned to South Africa. Monique and her two brothers and sister
were raised by their mother. Sharon Evans was export manager at a textile firm,
barely making ends meet, when the attack occurred. An articulate and passionate
speaker, she became involved in generating support to help families of terror
victims, visiting the US numerous times on speaking and fund-raising
tours. Today she is a full-time fund-raiser, has remarried and is living
in Hod Hasharon. Occasionally Monique would join her mother on the tours. But
over the years she bowed out, preferring to carve out her own new life, one
characterized by privacy and quiet.
FROM THE balcony of her high-rise
apartment one can see a sliver of the seashore. “I love the beach,” she says
dreamily. “I find it so calming.”
Nowadays she wades only in shallow
water. “I don’t swim. I have no feeling in my leg and therefore no control if a
large wave comes...”
Driving home from her daughter’s kindergarten, it’s
clear she savors life’s simple pleasures.
She stops to exchange
light-hearted banter with a relative she meets on the street. She talks
enthusiastically about helping friends plan parties. She looks forward to an
afternoon nap with Shailee (“my gift”). Her face lights up as she watches her
climbing all over the furniture. She grabs her, hugs her, nibbles her
Sometimes Shai-lee asks about the scars on her mother’s abdomen. “I
call them ‘my holes,’” Buzhish offers with a half smile. “She asks me, ‘Who did
that to you?’ For now I tell her it was the bus.”
Several of Buzhish’s
friends died in the terror attack. Four of the soldiers killed were also from
Ashkelon. She finds it hard to visit their parents. “I feel guilty,” she says.
As for the man who did it, Buzhish says she “feels nothing. No
anger, no bitterness, no connection at all.” No thoughts of vengeance.
is serving eight life terms. His name was included on a list of prisoners slated
for possible release in return for kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad
Buzhish has no objection to Abu Ulba’s release. “If it could
bring Gilad home, that’s worth more than him sitting in jail. If this happened
to my son, I would want the army to do anything to bring him back.”
if the terrorist were to kill and maim again? “‘If’ is a big question.” She has
no clear answer.
Buzhish is not religiously observant, but says she
believes in God, and thinks he has a plan.
“Everyone gets the portion
they can deal with. I don’t know why I got what I did, but I am strong enough to
cope with just about anything,” she says, adding quickly, “thanks to the people
around me who love me and push me forward.”
She waves away talk of the
past, doesn’t indulge in excessive introspection. Her revenge is living a
normal life. Here and now. On her “10th birthday.”
There is a moment,
really only a fraction of a moment that a tiny crack becomes visible in
Buzhish’s unflappable self. She is talking about the line of work she hopes to
pursue: She’d like to be an events planner. Before “it” happened she was sure
she would become a professional dancer, having taken lessons in every form of
dance since she was three. It was her life’s dream. Today she can’t dance. At
“That was one of the hardest things,” she says quietly. “It left a
bitter taste.” There is silence for a moment.
“But,” she says,
bouncing back, “that’s life. So you take a different lane, choose a different
She nuzzles Shai-lee yet again.