If a miracle had not happened that Friday afternoon as we were driving to our Shabbat destination, this article would never have been written. Instead you would have read the standard description of a horrible terrorist attack. The political reactions would have been immediate; the eulogies short and heart-rending. I can imagine the newspaper banners stating loudly, “Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Strongly Condemns Shooting” or “Six Family Members of Amona Killed.”
There would be calls for both sides to desist aggressive acts and return to the conference table and peace talks forthwith.
The Israeli contingent would announce a freeze in deliberations for 48 hours in protest of the attack. President Shimon Peres would issue a statement that “We must move toward peace as if there was no terrorism, and battle terrorism as if there was no peace,” and so on.
But a guiding hand from heaven made things happen differently, so that I am here and able to relate what happened that day.
What happened that day
We were on our way to spend Shabbat in the pre-military mechina (academy) in Neveh Tzuf. We had just passed the intersection near the old British police station when out of the blue I started thinking about a number of terrorist attacks that had occurred and wiped out entire families. I thought of the Zur family, the Schikuschurders, the Horowitzes, the Diksteins, the Henkins – and then wondered why in the world I was bringing up these depressing incidents now.
About two kilometers west of the intersection, I had to slow the car because of a sharp swerve in the road. Suddenly I heard gun shots at close range. I yelled at my wife and kids, “Get down! We’re being shot at.” At the same time I stepped on the gas to gather speed and get out of danger’s range. To my horror, the motor didn’t react. I lowered the gear and pressed on the gas pedal again and again, but realized in shock that the motor had died. The first bullet must have hit the mechanics inside the hood, and indeed I found out later that it passed through the radiator, the oil pump and within seconds emptied the oil tank.
The situation seemed hopeless. We were sitting ducks inside a tin, rolling coffin. The terrorist continued firing at us methodically, another bullet every two, three seconds. Our vehicle had turned into a death trap in which my wife and our four panic-stricken children sat captives, and we were likely to get hit any minute. It was a lose-lose situation: if I’d get out of the car and start firing my small revolver at my unseen assailants, I’d expose the family even more; and there was no way to flee the scene with a dead motor.
I figured that the firing was coming from the southern mountain to my right, so I turned the steering wheel and guided the car into the opposite lane, as close as possible to a rock outcrop at the side of the road to get out of the Palestinians’ vision.
When the car stopped I got out quickly, grabbed the kids and literally threw them one after the other into the bushes around the edge of the mountain. The little one started to cry, “Imma!” (mother) and ran into the middle of the road hysterical. I ran after her, scooped her up and pushed her into the arms of her sister. Only then did I have a chance to release the trigger of my gun and look around for the terrorists.
There was a lull in the shooting, and I imagine that they must have cut back to check on the number of victims they’d killed. So I advanced in their direction to prevent them from reaching my family when they started up again. Even as I crouched my way back across the road I’m thinking, “How exactly am I going to conduct a shootout with an unknown number of assailants and my small 26 Glock revolver that has only 10 bullets in it?”
I could not see any sign of the attackers, so I returned to the car and decided to stop the first car that passed by to get my family out of there. The first two cars that I tried to flag down were Palestinians. They almost ran me over as they simply picked up speed and fled the scene instead of stopping for us. A Rabatz (security officer) from one of the settlements drove up right after them, evaluated the situation and helped me evacuate my wife and kids.
Then a patrol of Border Police arrived, closed the road and began to sweep the area. At that point, for us, the incident was over.
But I could not get over the experience.
We had clearly been spared by a miracle, clear cut and dry. When I survey the lay of the land and the distances involved, I simply cannot understand how they didn’t hit us. They stood above the road, several meters from our slow-rolling automobile, methodically shooting fatal bullets, one after the other into our vehicle, yet they missed every time (except for that first bullet which damaged the car).
For me, this was an unnerving experience. I’ve had my baptism by fire in the army, but this was something completely different. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov once described what dying and entering the next world is like: “I’m now in this room, and then I leave it and go into the next room and close the door after me.” Something of this frightful banal situation almost became a reality, when we faced the Angel of Death and looked into the very whites of his eyes that Shabbat eve.
“I’m now in this room, and then I leave it and go into the next room and close the door after me.”Rabbi Nachman of Breslov
Even now as I’m sitting at the computer, writing these lines, at this very moment, they could have been conducting our funerals. They could be eulogizing us, and relating how Ayelet was finishing a course in coaching, and had begun her new book; how Maayan was an outstanding student and wrote the family newspaper weekly; how Ateret had finally learned to ride a two-wheeler without the help of auxiliary supports; how Ra’anana loved to sing; and how Malachi, the baby, started to walk only this week.
When I think about that fateful Friday, how humdrum and conventional what could have been the last day of our lives was. Like other people who have had near-death experiences, I realize how short and precious life is, and how important it should be to live it to its fullest, without wasting time and energy on daydreams, false desires and nonsense.
But over and beyond my personal story, I’m thinking there is the bigger one. Usually we are all taken up with our personal lives, what I call the Small Story. We’re completely involved with our careers, our family, and the constant urgent demands on us. News and politics pass over our heads, and don’t really bother us or interest us that much.
But in the background, the Big Story is always there, the story of the Jewish nation, which after 1,900 years of exile finally returned and established an independent government of its own. And, as in all generations, there is again no lack of those who are trying to destroy us. There are moments in one’s life when the Big Story pushes its way into the Small Story. These are moments of clarity, when matters become crystallized, and the essence of our collective fate takes over.
The Big Story comes on the screen and reminds us of the hard truth that we try so hard to ignore: the Palestinians’ jihad culture feeds off of our weakness. Statistics show clearly every time we start peace talks with the Arabs the amount of murder and bereavement in our streets rises significantly. Those qualities of empathy, understanding and identifying with the underdog, which are expressions of progress and enlightenment in the West, are seen in the Muslim culture as signs of weakness and lack of resolve, and only invite additional violence. Thus the Oslo agreement led to the Second Intifada, the retreat from Lebanon and the Disengagement from Gush Katif led to the Second Lebanon War, and the trouble in the Gaza Strip, and to our sorrow, the government of Israel is at this very moment “cooking” up the next conflagration.
It’s hard to say this, but when Bibi Netanyahu, the prime minister at the time, sent another mission to conduct still more talks of accommodation with the Palestinians, I and my family were almost murdered. The truth is that Bibi also knew the score.
The writing has long been on the wall in bright red letters, but we prefer to bury our heads in the sand of sweet lies, to sink into fantasies of a new Middle East where the wolf and the sheep play shesh besh (backgammon) together or eat hummus at the same table.
And then reality kicks in with an “incident” like ours, and puts us down on the ground. There’s no way to escape the hard facts and the simple truth: we live in a bad neighborhood, surrounded by real and dangerous enemies, and if we don’t stand up and protect ourselves, we can’t survive. ■