David Blumenfeld, a tourist, was returning from prayers at the Western Wall in 1986 when a member of the rebel faction of the PLO, a hidden gunman, fired one shot at him and fled. The bullet tore across Rabbi Blumenfeld’s skull but fortunately did no permanent damage. Fifteen years later, his daughter, Laura Blumenfeld, a Washington Post reporter and widely published journalist, decides to spend her honeymoon year in Jerusalem with a not-so-secret agenda: to track down her father’s attacker, to try to understand his life and to have him understand how his shot altered the life of her family. Laura visits the assailant’s family several times without revealing her personal connection to the event. One day she receives a letter the gunman has written to her from prison.
I broke the seal of the plastic capsule. Unwound the thread that bound the letter. Rubbed the string between my fingers and sniffed. Day-old spit.
His note began with a warning. Prison guards were cracking down. We had to watch what we wrote, he said. I should “stay far from the main subject.” I wondered what he thought our main subject was.
Then his tone relaxed:
It is a great news, dear Laura, that you visited the sea of Ashkelon, and you have enjoyed a good time. I wounder how the sea looks like now. I haven ‘I seen it more than 15 years. But I do feel its presence, mostly when I do stand out at the coridor looking at the old city of Ashkelon and smelling the breeze coming out of the sea. I used to close my eyes for seconds and dive into imagination, while the taste of the sea are being .smelted by my weak lungs. How great is the feeling that gets me escape out of the prison far away from the darkness for a few seconds.
On the coming dayes, I’II be travelling to Barzili hospital at Ashkelon to have some medical tests for my lungs. I hope passing near the sea that I could see it. Concerning my health, still things are going so bad to a degree of touching the different faces of death many times. I have felt how beautiful is life and how great are its meanings. I do believe that life is fighting for me. It doesn’t want to ignor me. Or turn its back on me. I ‘m her great present, how could she leave me!?
I have many things to do if I do win getting back to life. I have learned many things through this long Journey of mine.
I have learned to believe in my princibles, and to respect the holyness of others lives. People are so different when you get to know them from near.
That last line jumped from the page. Exactly! I thought. That, more or less, was my philosophy of journalism, if not of life. We were all more alike than different.
I’ve known some people from near, and discovered how different they are especially when you feel, and understand their hopes, and needs, their true humanity. We need to believe in peace between peaples. We need to give and forgive to find ourselves living a true life.
At this stage, I’m working so hard to finish my studies, so when I do get released, I could find my place of work at the field of diplomacy where I could work for the benefit of introducing mutual international issues such as the universal peace issues and the introducement of economical cooperation between peoples of the world. I hope I could take part in shopping the new history of the Middle East. . .
Everything he had written so far looked promising. He will apologize. He must. Even if he doesn’t mean it, I ‘II believe it because I want to. If for no other reason than that, I did not know what to do next.
For the sake of answering your questions, I’ve told you, what I ‘ve done is not personal. You have to see it as part of our leagal military conduct against the occupation. Occupation knows no justice. We learned it to be a duty to fight the aggresor Land, in our believes, is a holy main thing we are ready to die for.
If the Israelian people could forget and forgive the Nazis for what they done for them, we could forgive them for the occupation to our land-a thing that can’t be imagined. . .
With concern to “David Bloomingfield”—
My eyes had skipped over the line about the Nazis to my father’s name. The shooter had never mentioned my father’s name before. No one in his family had.
— “David Bloomingfield”— I hope he could understand the reasons behind my act. If I were him I will. I have thought a lot of meeting him one day. We have been in a state of war and now we are passing through a new stage of historical reconciliation where there are no place for hatred and detestation. Under this new era and atmosphere, he is welcome to be my guest in Jerusalem.
I hope, Laura, you too could be there. You could believe that God loves us both. Me for leading my act and having me shoot him just one shoot, and him for having his injured lightly. We are both children of God, and he probably knew how to take care of us.
Dear Laura, feel free to ask any questions you want. You are not overwhelming me with your queries. The fact is that I’ve little time to concentrate on what I write you . . . . time passes so fast, I hope the day will not end, so that I could work and work.
My family do love you and keep on telling me about you on their visits to me, Feel free and open when you ‘re with them. . . .
with my best wishes to you,
My eyes misted, Yes! He’s sorry. He acknowledged his wrongdoing. He accepted responsibility for his act. There was no longer a need for revenge.
I called Rachel and read her the letter, looking forward to gloating.
“I had a chill,” she said when I finished the last line. “He sounds like you. It’s a UNICEF letter. Maybe this whole thing is a joke on you. He’s saying what you want to hear. Maybe he’s like, ‘Ugh, this journalist is writing me again.’ He’s telling his cellmates, ‘You write the first page and I’ll write the third page.'”
Rachel was voicing one of my unspoken fears. Maybe he was playing with me. Tricking the trickster.
“Still, he says he’s sorry,” I said.
“He’s not sorry. He’s worse than not sorry. He thinks there’s nothing to be sorry about.” She quoted his latter back to me: ” ‘I hope he could understand the reasons behind my act. If I were him I will.'”
As she spoke, I was thinking about the downside of having smart friends.
“He’s saying”— she said a little too loudly—”I don’t owe him an apology because what I did was OK. That’s a more extreme form of not being sorry. Ha! I was right. He’s not sorry at all.”
Rachel was right. I had misread his letter.
“You don’t think he believes in peace?” I said.
“He’s saying ‘peace,’ but that’s pragmatic, not a change of heart. There’s a peace song playing now, so he’s an asthmatic, poet, philosopher-politician who believes in humanity. But if the music changes and peace negotiations fail, he’ll become a lion-warrior again. It’s that tribal thing, that Mafia thing, ‘it’s nothing personal.’ Then bang—he shoots you.”
“Shoots an innocent man?”
“It’s disingenuous to say your father was just walking in the market, minding his own business. He’s a Jew; his collective group is guilty.”
“I don’t believe that. I believe in reconciling individuals.”
“That’s so American. Everyone doesn’t have to be friends.”
“But that’s the whole point of me: ‘Let’s all be friends.'”
“Then you shouldn’t be playing in the Middle East. In the Middle East people just look across fences and grimace. People aren’t friends in the rest of the world. It’s sort of cute that you believe the whole world works that way. It’s all brave men and pretty women, and good triumphs. It’s a joke.”
My head was aching.
“This is not about the heart of an individual,” she said. “I’m going to prove you’re wrong.”
Baruch had come home and climbed to the roof
“You OK?” he said.
I shook my head no.
He mouthed the words I love you, and retreated.
I said to Rachel, “Can’t the personal overcome the collective?”
“So what, then—you’ll see the shooter in court, and you’ll fall in love and you’ll have intertribal children? And he’ll say, ‘Did you take prenatal vitamins?'”
I could not keep up with her when she was on a tear.
“You know,” I said, hoping to slow the fight, “we’re trying to make him more like ourselves. We’re projecting onto him, as if he’s a figment of our imagination. I want him to be a dreamy idiot. And you want him to be like you—a tribal cynic.”
“But I’m the one in touch with reality. He doesn’t regret shooting your father, and he never will. How are you going to deal with it?”
I decided to stop calling Rachel.