Kay Wilson, from improbable terror survivor to resilient activist

Wilson was the improbable survivor of a murderous terrorist attack by two Palestinians, Ayad Fatsafta and Kifah Ghanimat, part of a four-member terror cell based in Hebron.

Kay Wilson (photo credit: Courtesy)
Kay Wilson
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Last March, Kay Wilson, survivor of a brutal 2010 machete attack in Jerusalem by a Palestinian terrorist, spoke to 18,000 AIPAC participants in Washington, DC. AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, is a lobbying group that advocates for Israel.
The British-born Wilson immigrated to Israel more than three decades ago. She is a tour guide and jazz pianist and recently accepted a position as “Liaison to Palestinians” for the Israeli watchdog organization, Palestinian Media Watch.
She told her story movingly, including playing her piano rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" – a song “written by two Jews just before the Holocaust... [that] speaks of the hope and yearning to be at home in a hostile world,” she told Jerusalem Post reporter Sheri Oz.
Why that song? “On the day of the attack, as she stumbled from the site of her intended grave,” walking for a mile with 13 deep stab wounds, including broken ribs, “she played 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow' in her head as she made her way down the thorny hills, barefoot and bleeding, gagged and with bound hands, to safety in the National Park picnic spot... If she was not going to roll over and die in the Jerusalem hills,” Oz wrote, “she certainly was not going to let broken bones, a punctured lung and emotional trauma ruin the rest of her life.”
Wilson was the improbable survivor of a murderous terrorist attack by two Palestinians, Ayad Fatsafta and Kifah Ghanimat, part of a four-member terror cell based in Hebron. The following five paragraphs are gut-wrenching – not for the faint of heart.
On December 18, 2010, Wilson and her Christian friend Kristine Luken were hiking in the Mata forest, near Beit Shemesh. Two Arab men attacked the two women with long serrated knives. Wilson and Luken fought back. Wilson stabbed Fatsafta with a penknife – an act of courage that later turned out to be decisive. But the women were subdued, bound and gagged.
They were separated and forced to kneel. Wilson saw Luken murdered before her eyes. Wilson herself was stabbed 138 times. She played dead, despite broken ribs, punctured lungs and diaphragm, a dislocated shoulder, a broken shoulder blade and broken sternum. The terrorists left, then returned a few minutes later to confirm the women were dead, and stabbed Wilson again in the chest, just to make sure.
Wilson lost consciousness. She recounted later, “I just wanted to sleep and felt as though I were about to collapse, but I knew I could not fall asleep. I tried to get up three times and fell down. I deviated from the path and couldn’t find my way and it was very difficult for me to breathe, but I had to make a switch in my head and think positive.”
Still bound, Wilson staggered barefoot for a mile until she reached a parking lot where a family alerted the authorities. She was taken to Hadassah University Hospital in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem neighborhood. DNA from the blood on the small penknife she had used helped lead to the capture of the terrorist cell. Members of the cell confessed to another murder, that of Neta Sorek earlier that year, along with a rape and other violent crimes.
The two Palestinian murderers are serving life sentences. They have received thousands of dollars in payments from the Palestinian Authority.
The Rage Less Traveled is Wilson’s harrowing account of her 2010 ordeal, recovery and her mission to prevent murderous terrorists and their families from receiving generous monthly stipends.
Wilson recently spoke at VeAhavta, a Masorti Movement synagogue in Zichron Ya’acov. I was deeply moved by her talk, as were all of us. Later, I interviewed her by email.
With respect to Rage, the title of your book – you told Oz that “we have reached the absurd situation where the worst thing you can do in today’s politically correct world is to express anger. But a wrong was done to me. Rage in such a situation is normal and should be allowed. When we are told to short-circuit rage, society will snap at some point. We need to validate rage.” Can you expand on this? How can we “validate rage,” and how have you yourself done so?
People think concepts such as “hate” and “rage” are negative, nothing but emotional four-letter words, emotions we need to rid ourselves from, emotions that are also offensive to the public. I used to think that until I came across an essay by Rabbi Meir Soloveichik called “The virtue of hate.”
The title made me stop in my tracks. I came to realize that to hate and/or in my case, to rage, is not just a virtue but also a moral necessity. We must hate evil, because it is the moral response. We must despise it because it steals goodness from the world. We must loathe those who murder and maim. Rage is no longer an emotion I especially feel, not like I did when I faced them in court.
I feel nothing for the terrorists now. My rage has morphed into a conscious pursuit of justice. While listening to beautiful jazz or drinking good wine, and loving those little blessings in life which give me great pleasure, I am also able to simultaneously fight evil by battling the likes of the British government’s immoral funding of the Palestinian Authority. Rage turned into justice is beautiful, but it has its conditions: I have to limit my rage solely to the murderers and those who support them.
At VeAhavta, you spoke of your rage at the person who stabbed you – but not at all at the nation to which he belonged... quite the opposite. Can you speak a bit about Yellow Brick Road, which you helped found and grow – “empowering through education children in an UNRWA refugee camp?”
By me owning, directing and limiting my rage towards only the guilty and not blaming everyone, I have become friends with many Arabs, Muslims and Palestinians. Ironically, it was people from these communities who reached out to me, thanking me for not blaming them and even asking what they can do to help. It proves Soloveichik’s point that the virtue of hate is that it actually can cause others to act in a virtuous way.
 One such person was a young Palestinian Muslim from a refugee camp. He hates the hate that the Palestinian Authority spews to its children. He asked if I could help him. I’m fortunate to know a lot of good people, so with a little help from this one and that one, we set up a small nonprofit organization in America and found an apartment to renovate into classrooms in the camp.
We have an after-school club where he teaches children to value their lives. Of course Israel is not mentioned because if the PA ever sniffed that Jews were involved, even from afar, I’m afraid the Palestinian Authority would kill him for “normalizing” with Israel.
The goal is to get the children off the streets to teach them English, which will open up their world, gift them with the arts and music – which will help them develop empathy – and help them look beyond themselves so they can understand that no matter what one’s circumstances, life is worth living and life has meaning when it’s not just about us.
My original sole hope was that our program would empower them with courage to stand up for themselves and not grow up and murder Jews. It still is, but I have acquired a bonus. It is wonderful to see my friend flourish and to know that there are some beautiful changes in the lives of these little children. It’s actually very moving for me to see them enjoying themselves, with no other motive. When I say “see” I mean on little videos my friend Ali sends me on WhatsApp.
Individual resilience is defined drily as “a person’s strength and coping behaviors that sustain him or her during and after stressful life events, enabling them to continue to function normally.” I can’t imagine a more stressful event than the one you experienced, and having met you in person, I am overwhelmed by and deeply admire your incredible resilience. I believe we Israelis are in general very resilient.
For those who experience deeply stressful, even terrible, life events, what advice can you give regarding resilience? You note, “even emerging from that dark place, you can find the resources to tap into the goodness of life.” Where does one find such resources in emerging from dark places?
I don’t feel resilient, but it’s not about feelings. It is about having a single purpose and knowing that what I am doing is good for me because it will make good for others too. Living beyond our own small world gives us meaning and drive.
I am unable to look beyond the next five minutes. In the forest I learned that the almost impossible was achieved one step at a time. I am also surrounded by so many good people, kind people. Further, I am part of a people who have risen from the ashes. Our very history and nation have been through so much. That strength and resilience of those who have survived the Holocaust, fought in wars or been injured in terror attacks is nourishment to me. I learn so much from many people here. Their secrets are hidden, but they’ve come out the other side.
In your speaking engagements, what is the key message you want to convey to the world?
A few things: a) Western democracies are enabling the payment of salaries to cold-blooded Palestinian murderers; b) my Christian friend was murdered because they wrongly thought she was a Jew; c) the Palestinian Authority is an antisemitic, murderous regime; d) don’t put off anything for tomorrow: say your sorries, hug your loved ones, cultivate a grateful heart; and e) contrary to popular opinion, the most important thing in life is not a college education, or about what you do for a living. It is about becoming the kind of person we need to be.
Being a mensch is the most important thing in life. Being a mensch is looking out for your neighbor, giving a little helping hand whether they be stranger or friend. I don’t always have the energy for that, but I know that when I do, I can feel my psychological scars healing a little bit more.
A concluding observation: Your wonderful book quotes from The Wizard of Oz widely; you were interviewed by reporter Sheri Oz (no relation!); and “oz” in Hebrew means “strength.”
And some trivia: L. Frank Baum, when starting to write The Wizard of Oz, looked at his filing cabinet and the second drawer was labeled O Z (i.e. letters O to Z). That’s where he got the Wizard’s name.
I didn’t know that! ■
The writer heads the Zvi Griliches Research Data Center at the S. Neaman Institute, Technion and blogs at www.timnovate.wordpress.com
The Rage Less Traveled: A Memoir
of Surviving a Machete Attack
Kay Wilson
Gefen 2020
$14.99; 247 pages