Terror is terrifying and fascinating all at the same time. In the seventies, as my generation settled into adult life in the aftermath of the Vietnam War and the downfall of a Presidency, I read a troubling little novel back then by Paul Theroux called The Family Arsenal. Set in London, it looked hard at the underbelly of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and its centuries’ long conflict with Great Britain. The United Kingdom wasn’t.
Theroux created a penetrating portrayal of young, smart radicals with no money, no political influence, no military sophistication or cache of traditional weaponry. In spite of their lack of resources, they wreaked havoc on their adversaries by planting and then detonating concealed bombs in public places. Their strategy empowered their cause. It was a new and devastating kind of warfare. Terror.
It seemed that the world had learned something diabolic from the jungles of Southeast Asia. Conventional warfare was turned upside down over there on the other side of the world. The power of terror emerged. The traditional, “civil” rules of engagement were summarily dismissed. The element of surprise. The power of concealment. Maximum damage at minimum cost. Civilian damage. Direct and bloody attacks on complacent populations. The psychological damage – bringing business as usual to a nerve shattering standstill. By creating a fictional account of what was clearly non-fiction, Theroux postulated that the IRA embraced a strategy that would become a world-wide nemesis for decades, maybe centuries to come – terror. The new art of war.
Here we are, some thirty years later, and the novelist seems to be a prophet. In 2006, John Updike also tackled the subject. In his novel, The Terrorist, he attempted to get inside the mind of an American high school student named Ahmad, half Irish-American, half Egyptian. He falls under the tutelage of a New York imam and becomes a suicide bomber.
On April 15, 2002, Newsweek put two young women side by side on its cover. They look like sisters. But they are not. Rachel Levy, seventeen and an Israeli teenager, ran a pre-Sabbath Friday afternoon errand for her mother. The wrong place, the wrong time. Ayat al-Akhras, eighteen and a Palestinian teenager, ran a different kind of pre-Sabbath Friday afternoon errand. Her mission would end both of their lives in a very public way.
Terrorists don’t consider themselves terrorists. They lay claim to a principal of retribution. Philosophers call it consequentialism. Others quote the maxim – “The Ends Justify The Means.” There are two major approaches to dealing with terrorists: 1) eliminate them and 2) attempt to understand them. Which approach works best? Ayat presented the world with a whole new set of questions.
Ayat, who grew up in the challenging and war-torn streets of Dehaishe, a Palestinian ghetto just outside Bethlehem and inside the Israeli concrete wall, became enamored with the literature of revenge. Her people suffered dislocation and perpetual intimidation and aggressive military suppression. In secret, after a shattering explosion of violence in her neighborhood, she prepared to be numbered among the martyrs whose portraits decorated the walls of her home, her school and the public square. We know now that her parents and her fiancé knew nothing of her plans.
Rachel lived in California and then Israel. It was a challenging life; little excess for her single mother and two brothers. But she reveled in the company of her high school friends; listening to music, watching movies and socializing at the local mall. That fateful Friday afternoon, getting ready for Sabbath dinner, her mother Avigail asked her to run to the Supersol Market near Kiryat Hayovel in south Jerusalem to pick up some herbs and spices for supper. As she entered through the ever-present security gate, past an armed, uniformed guard, she noticed another young woman, her head covered, whose face looked strangely like her own reflection in a mirror, but then so very different, she an Israeli and the other a Palestinian, girls so young and beautiful with such promise. The guard, sensing some ominous presence, yelled and pushed the Palestinian girl away. She reached across from under white garment and at 1:19 in the afternoon triggered a concealed detonator. The explosion ripped through the market. Ayat, Rachel and the guard were torn to pieces. Twenty-eight others lay in torment, seriously hurt. The sirens sounded the alarm. Too late.
Hilla Medalia, a graduate student in film at Southern Illinois University, needed a topic for her master’s degree project. The Newsweek cover captured her interest. She read the expanded story and wondered – how were the two mothers of these striking young women coping? There were all the political dynamics of the story – but the personal aspect even more compelling. And then it came to her – what if I got those mothers together in the same room? What might their encounter tell us about the irreconcilable differences in this volatile part of the world – the part of the world Joel Rosenberg calls The Epicenter?
What has emerged is a powerful documentary called “To Die in Jerusalem.” Medalia succeeded in bringing the two mothers face to face. But political realities and security demands allowed for only a video conference. The region remains too explosive for a personal encounter. Avigail Levy and Um Samir al-Akhras talked for four intense hours over a satellite link. It is an illuminating, disturbing conversation.
But sadly, at the end of the day, the two could not find common ground.
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It’s Monday morning. You are a leader. The world is in turmoil. We move ahead. In spite of the risks.
Sometimes a powerful, personal story rocks our world. My sister and brother-in-law have the audacity to believe that the power of the Gospel to bring reconciliation is the only hope for an estranged world. They’ve seen it first hand. They call the author of that good news Yeshua ha Meshiac. They live in Mount Carmel, just outside Haifa, Israel.
Theirs is a ministry of reconciliation. And it’s working. Israelis. Palestinians. Lebonese. Jordanians. Europeans. All in increasing numbers are finding hope, forgiveness, mercy, grace and love in a world of brutal confrontation and endless retribution. It’s something that has illuded two mothers and a maker of documentaries. It’s revolutionary. It’s real.
Seek, and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened. Ask, and it shall be given.
Copyright 2007 Kenneth E Kemp