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Insert Comma • A Portfolio of Leigh E. Rich
A timely tale of revenge

Giving peace a chance

By Leigh E. Rich

Kalandia, West Bank.

“‘That’s him,’ the woman said, pointing over her grandchildren’s heads. I followed her finger to the wall, to the shooter’s photograph, saw his face for the first time, and sank into the couch. ‘He tried to kill someone,’ she said in an easy voice. ‘Who?’ I asked. ‘Some Jew.’”

So begins Laura Blumenfeld’s aptly titled Revenge: A Story of Hope, a poignant and timely account of the year this Washington Post staffer spent in Israel plotting revenge—much like a modern-day Hamlet—against the man who attacked her father in 1986.

While a personal as well as a partially journalistic take on the shooting of three tourists in Jerusalem’s Old City, Blumenfeld’s tale isn’t so different from that of the melancholy prince, save for Shakespeare’s tragic denouement.

Like Hamlet, Blumenfeld is haunted by a ghost—the near-death of her father, a New York rabbi, who wouldn’t have survived a gunshot to the head had the bullet struck half an inch in either direction. Blumenfeld’s father had been praying at the Western Wall and, upon making the trek back to his hotel, was assaulted by a Palestinian gunman retaliating for the U.S. air raid on Libya. The shooter’s co-conspirators also shot two others, wounding a German woman and killing a young British man.

Twelve years after these incidents, as Blumenfeld and her newlywed husband spent a honeymoon year in Israel, the story of this daughter’s vengeance unfolds, making the adeptly written Revenge a cautionary and shrewd tale of brooding and forgiveness.

“At some point in every country and in every person’s life,” Blumenfeld writes, “a choice presents itself that defines one’s soul. You have been hurt. What will it be: turn the other cheek, or an eye for an eye? Both options were rooted in the Holy Land.”

Perhaps inadvertently reminiscent of Shakespeare’s tragedy, much of Revenge depicts Blumenfeld’s equivocation. As Hamlet ponders whether “to take arms against a sea of troubles,/ And by opposing end them,” so too does Blumenfeld question the extent of revenge she can “rightly” mete out against her father’s attacker.

In an extended “To be, or not to be” quest, Blumenfeld seeks answers from practically everyone with a grudge, including a Druze man who strangled his unmarried sister thought no longer to be a virgin, an Israeli drug addict and thief, and a Jewish woman who nearly poisoned Germany’s water supply in 1945 to settle the score with the Nazis.

Revenge also documents Blumenfeld’s conversations with vendetta “experts,” such as a Sicilian Jesuit priest to whom many Mafia bosses have repented and the ayatollah of Iran. “I had told myself I was learning the rules of revenge,” Blumenfeld concedes. “In fact, I was hiding out in the rules. I was scared, I was stalling.”

This sprinkling of others’ narratives of vengeance within her own, as well as interviews with high-ranking Middle Eastern officials—including Ariel Sharon, Benjamin Netanyahu, the spiritual leader of Hamas Sheik Ahmed Yassin, and the chief Islamic cleric of Jerusalem—lends a sobering impact to Blumenfeld’s saga. “Every person who hopes to even a score has to answer this question: How much revenge is enough? The most honest reply I ever heard came from Leah Rabin, the widow of assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. ‘None,’ she told me. ‘Because there’s not enough revenge in the entire world.’”

Blumenfeld’s retribution becomes blurred, however, when she begins corresponding with her father’s attacker, still serving time in prison for his crime, under the guise of a burgeoning relationship with his family. Hiding in the persona of an American reporter, neither Omar Khatib nor his relatives knew of her connection to the man Khatib had wounded.

This exchange of letters becomes the thing in which Blumenfeld hopes to catch the conscience of Khatib. “This letter, I thought, would decide everything. Let him say he’s sorry. Please make it be true.”

In the end, rather than tragedy, Revenge sets the stage for hope in spite of the escalating violence in the Middle East. Although a bit dramatic and, after 400 pages, long overdue, Blumenfeld’s impassioned speech at one of Khatib’s parole hearings reiterates why Revenge is an important and enlightening read.

When asked by one of the judges why she would do ”such a dangerous thing” as con Khatib’s family in order to get to know him, Blumenfeld replies: “You have to take a chance for peace. You have to believe it’s possible.”

Rich, L. E. (2002, April 19). A timely tale of revenge. [Review of the book Revenge: A Story of Hope by Laura Blumenfeld.] Rocky Mountain News.

First Place – Book Reviews – Colorado Press Women – April 2003

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