- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 4, 2002

REVENGE: A STORY OF HOPE

By Laura Blumenfeld

Simon & Shuster, $25, 218 pages, illus.

REVIEWED BY SOL SCHINDLER

In March of 1986, David Blumenfeld, an American rabbi visiting Israel, while strolling through a Jerusalem marketplace was shot at close range by an unidentified Arab. The bullet creased his scalp drawing blood, but otherwise caused no serious damage. The good rabbi, disturbed more by an impending divorce from his wife of 25 years, put the incident aside to ponder the failure of his marriage. His daughter Laura, however, then an undergraduate at Harvard wrote a poem titled "Revenge" in which she swore to find the gunman.

This book, carrying the same name, "Revenge," is the culmination of her poem. Ten years after the event, newly married to Baruch Weiss, a federal prosecutor, she and her husband set off to Israel for a yearlong honeymoon. He is on a sabbatical, one of several anomalies presented to us since civil servants do not receive sabbaticals, as distinct from leave without pay, while she presumably has some writing assignments from The Washington Post. Her main purpose — after 10 years of festering — is to find the man who shot her father.

Working through the Israeli bureaucracy she discovers that the gunman had been one of a gang that had committed four closely spaced atrocities, had been arrested, tried, convicted and then incarcerated in Ashkelon prison. The other victims had been a young British tourist, murdered while sitting near a church, a German woman, shot and wounded while strolling through a marketplace in Jerusalem with her husband, and Zahava Ovadiah, an eighth-generation Israeli businesswoman whose main occupation was helping Arabs deal with Israeli government regulations.

The rationale behind these shootings seems undeveloped at best. David Blumenfeld was shot because he appeared to be an American Jew, the British tourist because he was British which is the next best thing to being an American, the German woman because she was a foreigner and shooting foreigners makes headlines, and the Israeli businesswoman presumably because she was creating good will between Israelis and Palestinians.

The author, following her obsession, interviewed the relatives of the victims. The Germans, much like her father, spoke of the shooting as the accident; the British parents, deeply religious, spoke of the shooting as preordained, referring to omens previously received; while the half-Jewish, half-Arab husband of the Israeli businesswoman lit a candle in memoriam every day. No one spoke of revenge.

Court records showed that Omar Khatib was the man who shot the authors father and that he came from the village of Kalandia, about a dozen miles from Jerusalem in the West Bank. The author had learned some Arabic from previous volunteer work in the West Bank, and using this knowledge she visited the gunmans family posing as a journalist interested in the four shootings and the plight of the Palestinians.

She introduced herself simply as Laura; and after repeated visits she became a virtual part of the family. She was able to enter into a clandestine correspondence with the prisoner and a strange but warm relationship arose between them.

The authors original feelings of revenge — seizing the assailant and shaking him by the collar — metamorphosed into a desire for Khatib to acknowledge both his responsibility and regret.

Khatib had developed asthma in prison and his lawyer requested his release for medical reasons. A hearing was held and arguments presented. Though told by both the lawyer and the court that the author could not testify, at a crucial moment she sprang to her feet, announced that she was the daughter of the victim, and that on behalf of both her and her father she asked for the court to show mercy. This created an uproar unequaled by any Hollywood drama, but the court nevertheless ruled that although it had been shown that Khatib had asthma it was not so severe to warrant his release.

The Khatib family was clearly shocked to discover that their beloved Laura was both a Jew and the daughter of the victim, but their feelings remained surprisingly warm and friendly. Omar, after some prompting by the author, finally acknowledges his regret, and so the author in a fashion has achieved her revenge. Yet many questions remain.

Although one has to admire the authors tenacity, doesnt the fact that the perpetrator has been imprisoned for his crime mean that justice was done? Why then this extraordinary effort for very vaguely defined goals?

As for the Khatib family, although one has to admire their family love and loyalty, arent they almost unbelievably simple-minded in not knowing the family name of their visitor before making her part of their family?

And then, of course, there is the overriding question concerning Palestinian behavior: If they object so violently to Israeli occupation, why dont they turn their guns onto the actual occupiers, the soldiers, police, jurists who administer the occupation rather than tourists strolling through the marketplace? This is a skillfully written book that would have been improved with less introspection, more observation, and judicious editing.

Sol Schindler is a retired foreign service officer who writes and lectures on international affairs.


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