Editor's Notes: Self-inflicted wounds

It was the third thrust of the knife that did the worst damage - in his upper chest, near the heart.

david horovitz 224.88 (photo credit: )
david horovitz 224.88
(photo credit: )
Far from the public eye in an Israel understandably preoccupied by President Bush this week, a Jerusalem boy in his mid-teens lay in bed at Hadassah's Ein Kerem hospital recovering from multiple stab wounds. He is, by every account, a lovely young man - personable, polite and anything but violent. In fact, that's why he got stabbed. A player with Hapoel Jerusalem's junior basketball team, he finished a routine practice session at the Denmark School's court in the Katamon neighborhood last Saturday night and headed outside to discover that a friend of his, who had left just before him, was being attacked by a small knot of youngsters. As he tried to break them up, more youngsters arrived, some with scarves wrapped across their faces to prevent their being identified, terrorist style. One of these new arrivals pulled a knife and stabbed him three times. Alerted to the incident, some of the other players, all kids aged 15 and 16, dashed outside, just in time to see him fall to the ground and the assailants run away. His teammates thought at first that he was playacting. "We told him to stop kidding," one of them recounted to me this week. Then they noticed a big, bloody gash in his back. That turned out to be less serious than the deeper wound they found in his lower stomach, where fortunately the blade did not hit vital organs. It was the third stab wound that did the worst damage - in his upper chest, near the heart. These are youngsters who had not witnessed anything remotely like this away from the television and cinema screens, and the wrenching loss of innocence is immediately palpable when you speak to them. "I have never seen anything like it," another of the teammates said, voice truly trembling. "He looked terrible. I thought he was going to die." Coaches came running, police and ambulances were called, first aid kits retrieved. And the victim gradually lapsed into unconsciousness. Fortunately the medical professionals arrived quickly. That third vicious thrust had punctured his left lung, but he was rushed to hospital, his treatment has been as excellent as Israel's emergency treatment so routinely has to be, and his recovery is well under way. The physical wounds are healing. The psychological impact - on him, his friends, their wider circle - is something else. One teammate's mother, herself deeply shaken, told me her son has barely eaten or slept since the attack. The young players were wary about going back to their practice sessions. Hapoel, somewhat belatedly, arranged for a trauma counselor to speak to them all. But growing up in a country where the fear of enemy attack is constant and internalized unthinkably young, the reassuring assumption of safety at least on home turf is now shattered. The incident was triggered by nothing. A few weeks earlier, Jerusalem's police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby told me, some of the young Hapoel players went to watch a game between the professional Hapoel team and a visiting Dutch side, and got caught up in a minor scuffle with other fans; the Hapoel kids say they were picked on, unprovoked, and did their best to extricate themselves. Last Saturday's attack, said Ben-Ruby, was the continuation - a pre-planned assault on the first Hapoel youngster outside the Denmark School basketball court by young thugs who had marked him out at the earlier game, found out where he trained and gathered there with the deliberate intention of "getting him." The stab victim, the well-intentioned peacemaker, was in the wrong place at the wrong time. But the knife had been brought to be used; somebody was going to feel its blade. Ben-Ruby says that the phenomenon of Jewish Jerusalem teens carrying knives for what they cynically call "self-defense" is widespread, and that there is "a high level of violence" among Israeli youth nationwide. Most every weekend brings reports of fights and stabbings outside one night club or another in Tel Aviv or Netanya or Haifa. The Jerusalem Post's police reporter confirms that her beeper goes off all the time with alerts about such stabbings, which make a line or two in the paper, if that. "To our relief," Ben-Ruby said, "it's much less common in Jerusalem than in some other cities - there are maybe 10 cases like this here a year." Moreover, Ben-Ruby says cases of youth violence in the city fell by about a quarter in 2007 from 2006, with 636 files opened compared to 844. But this attack, he stresses, underlines the horrifying readiness among kids to resort to serious violence, to violence with weapons. The casual, appalling willingness of young Israeli thugs to harm, to potentially murder, their contemporaries, it transpires, thrives despite the police's tough line against young offenders and despite the variety of educational programs instituted in a partnership between the police and the school system. Its prevalence is damning, bespeaking broken values and absent guidance. Its consequence is our increasingly violent society, with its weekly murders and rapes and attacks on the weak and the elderly - the grisly symptoms of our oh-so normal nation, a country just like all others. The police have questioned several youngsters about the attack and Ben-Ruby said he believes the assailants will be apprehended. For a group of fine and decent young Jerusalemites, whose parents have tried to mold generous, moral and trusting children, and for the victim in particular, however, a vital layer of confidence, comfort and security has been punctured, near fatally. So while we all obsessed this week with Bush's efforts here to chivvy along relations between Israelis and Palestinians, between Jews and Muslims, we might want to take a harder look at what we are doing to ourselves. * * * ALSO OVERLOOKED amid the presidential hubbub was another visitor from America, the Egyptian-born and -raised Tawfik Hamid, who trained as a doctor at Cairo University a few years behind a student named Ayman al-Zawahiri, now notorious as Osama bin Laden's lieutenant and the brains behind al-Qaida. Hamid, who was making his first trip to Israel (with a group of moderate Muslim leaders sponsored by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the Project Interchange institute of the American Jewish Committee) tells a horrifyingly familiar story of having himself come under the extremist spell merely through routine education in salafi Islam. It is this fundamentalist approach to the faith, he says, that is taught overwhelmingly throughout our region and in Islamic frameworks in the US, Europe and worldwide. Thus exposure to the sacred concept of martyrdom occurred during an elementary school class when he was all of nine, from which point he began to dream of a paradise full of candy and free of study. At university, deeply drawn to al-Zawahiri's religious passion - "like nuclear energy," he calls it - Hamid joined his jihadi mentor's Jamaah Islamiyah fundamentalist group and was on the point of travelling to Afghanistan with a group of fellow terror trainees when he hesitated. Al-Zawahiri was "one of the fiercest speakers I had ever heard," Hamid says. "His rhetoric inspired us to engage war against the infidels, the enemies of Allah." But while he had been swept away by the rhetoric, he shrank at the transition from word to deed. "I was starting to leave the abstract and enter the practicalities" - making tentative plans to blow up churches and mosques in Cairo, he told me in an interview at Jerusalem's Inbal Hotel that I wrote up in Tuesday's Jerusalem Post. "I knew of other plans to kidnap a police officer and bury him alive, and the brutality didn't match my personality... My father was really an atheist; his way of thinking was to critique. And the moment I hesitated, that critical thinking, his approach, started to work in my mind." What I found striking about the conversation with Hamid, apart from the very fact of his being in Israel, delighted to be visiting and anxious to come again, was his blunt insight into the strategic shift of fundamentalist Islam achieved by al-Zawahiri and its staggering resonance, and his courageous effort to counter the death-cult Islamist message with a humane reinterpretation of key Koranic verses that he claims have been skewed by the fundamentalists. Briskly acknowledging the "brutal" Islamic tradition of waging expansionist jihad at a national level, Hamid says al-Zawahiri's devilish feat has been to assert that jihad must be fought on an individual level, too - "in other words," he says apologetically across the breakfast table, "that I have to attack you, personally." This, argues Hamid, is a misrepresentation of Koranic imperative. And, quoting liberally from lengthy memorized Koranic texts, he invokes passages that he insists mandate the opposite - tolerance, respect for Jews and Christians, and adherence to global human rights norms. There is, for instance, he says, a passage in the Koran that runs, "Command the believers to follow what is commonly accepted among humans," which he cites as holy justification for fundamental moderation. Hamid offers an "A to G" list of the most basic qualities of moderation required by Islamic leaders: The denunciation of a) the killing Apostates; b) the Beating of women; c) Calling Jews pigs and monkeys; d) Declaring jihad to spread the religion; e) the Enslavement of women and prisoners and their rape; f) Fighting Jews and killing them, and g) killing Gays. How many salafi Islamic leaders measure up? "Well, virtually none, of course," he says.