I must have had a review copy of this little book on my desk for a fortnight before I had the courage to pick it up and start reading. I wasn’t wrong to be afraid. However I hadn’t banked on the reward for facing its contents.These include not merely the curiously soothing effect of the author’s straightforward writing style and lack of vituperation. There is also her extraordinary strength of spirit which has remained intact despite her confrontation with something which most people would describe as evil incarnate.
The incident which prompted the book was widely reported in the press and occurred a year ago on 18 December 2010.
The author, Kay Wilson, an Israeli tour guide, with her friend, Kristine Luken, a committed Christian, went hiking in a forest near Jerusalem. She sets the scene quickly and lightly: the good friendship of the women, the beauty of the forest, the paradisical atmosphere in the wild, unspoilt, isolated parts of Israel. Then suddenly she sees two Palestinian men nearby and senses that all is not well. The men rob them, terrorize them, tie them up and gag them, stab them repeatedly and leave them for dead.
Kay, her hands bound behind her back, her mouth gagged, hardly able to breathe, her body blood-soaked from the numerous stab wounds that had been gouged into it, was somehow able to rouse herself long enough to stagger back to the main trail. She kept herself going, she later realised, partly by blanking out some of the hellishness she had experienced and witnessed by mentally arranging the chords of ‘Over the Rainbow’ (hence the title of the book). Luckily she came upon some – shocked – picnickers who immediately did what they could to stop the bleeding and summoned medical help. Kay lived to tell the tale.
The power of her account, the part most difficult to read and impossible to put down, lies in her description of what it is like to be terrorized and stabbed so that you are sure you are going to die. One is tempted to say she not so much miraculously survived the ordeal as that she came back from the dead. We all suppose that such things don’t and won’t happen to us, they happen to others. Alongside feelings of anger and fear, as well as regret and sadness, in the middle of her ordeal she had such thoughts herself, a sense of the impossibility of what was happening to her and her dear friend.
Considering what they both went through, she lets us off lightly in her descriptions of the physical details of the stabbings. I suspect she edited out the most graphic elements, going some way to sparing the reader’s feelings and accurately avoiding producing a text which could serve perverse ends. But even what she leaves in, is hard to take. You wonder if you could have found the will to force yourself up and seek help as she did. Surrendering to the physical mutilation, pain and despair would be so much easier.
Meanwhile Kay Wilson takes no comfort in her having subsequently acquired the official status of ‘terror victim’. One realises, after reading her account of her thoughts and feelings during the attack, that the label unintentionally trivializes the profundity of the experience.
She does not pass judgement, as the outraged reader is tempted to do, on the pointlessness of this unhinged event which killed her friend Kristine and nearly killed Kay too. The question that she finds needs to be answered is not ‘why?’ but ‘how?’ Sustained by her religious faith, she asks: ‘How do I incorporate such a grisly experience into the very core of my life without letting it consume me? … I have learned that we are not always able to put events in our lives in a neat theological box.’
The explanation, if one may call it that, emerged a mere two days after the event. Their attackers, unable to cover their tracks, were easily apprehended. They were found to be members of a small Hamas gang of men who had been involved in another murder and other attempted murders (and rape, which the press mentions but she does not). Their remit, which would be pathetic if its outcome were not monstrous, was simply ‘to kill Jews’. That the two perpetrators in question had neither the wit nor the will to determine who exactly they were in fact robbing and stabbing and killing rather undermines the ambition of their project. What was their gain? A purse of money? A stolen phone? The approval of others in their gang for vanquishing two weak, terrified women? The absurdity of it all strikes one dumb.