The soldier whose life was saved by his enemy’s donated heart

A Palestinian heart beating in the body of an Israeli became the symbol of the life

Rowan Somerville: The gift of the heart was an act of grace, of mercy and sacrifice. As the son of two cardiologists perhaps it was inevitable that it should impact so deeply on me

Rowan Somerville: The gift of the heart was an act of grace, of mercy and sacrifice. As the son of two cardiologists perhaps it was inevitable that it should impact so deeply on me

 

Sixteen years ago a man called Said Hotari walked into a crowd of young people waiting outside a music venue and detonated a bomb he was carrying. It was June 1st in Tel Aviv, a warm night, young people milling about outside the Dolphinarium nightclub on the sea front. Most of those around Hotari were teenaged girls – children really. They were waiting to dance and celebrate because it was “teen night” at the disco. When Hotari flicked his switch and transformed himself into a fiery cloud of hate and destruction, 22 people died, most of them girls.

Of course this resonates horribly, because only a few weeks ago in Manchester Salman Abedi, who like the Tel Aviv bomber was in his 23rd year of life, positioned himself amidst a group of predominantly young people outside and blew himself up. Again 22 people died, most of them girls.

For me much of this past decade has passed travelling to Israel and the West Bank, trying to understand what happened 16 years ago. I have spoken to many who were there that night. I’ve interviewed girls who were injured, and the families of those who were killed. One young man called Alexei lost both his sisters, a woman called Liya was yards away but felt only a flash of heat as if hot water was thrown on her back – her cousin who had been next to her was blown back 30 feet. I have spoken to blast specialists, security experts and I have spent many hours with the family of the bomber, trying to understand, beyond news and politics, who he was and why he did such a thing.

The surgeon called the act “a ray of light” and said that during the operation he had held both hearts and there was “no difference” between them

That Monday night in Manchester last month, I could almost feel the blast, the grief of the families, imagine the agonising steps of those who must learn to walk again, the screams of those who will wake up still remembering, 16 years from now. I cried for the dead and wounded of Manchester, for their friends and family as I cried for the victims of the Tel Aviv bombing.

But my tears help no one, I cried for my own daughters ...for me.

Terrorism derives from the Latin terreo, or “I frighten”. Its essence is the shocking power of performance. It is a narrative of drama and fear, and to exist, that narrative must not only be narrated but heard. This power of performance is replayed in every terrorist event in our own media in the same tone of excitement and fear.

The great American poet Gil Scott Heron declaimed “the revolution will not be televised” in 1970 but today, television is exactly where the revolution is to be found. This is the fact of terrorism: it is a two-handed play of audience and performance, media and public. Without an audience, the exponential force of terrorism becomes negligible, and its brutal effect doesn’t go beyond those in its immediate vicinity. Without an audience, terrorism is just another crime.

I’ve no interest in being a spectator to violence and thus giving a criminal the audience he or she craves. That is not why I wrote Beat – The True Story Of A Suicide Bomb And A Heart. What held me to this story was not the suffering, no, there was something else amidst the horror in Tel Aviv, something good – the still small voice of hope that remained after Pandora opened her fateful box.

The gift of the heart was an act of grace, of mercy and sacrifice. As the son of two cardiologists perhaps it was inevitable that it should impact so deeply on me

It was this, a heart transplant between a Palestinian Muslim and an Israeli Jew, a heart exchanged between enemies. After the bomb, an innocent Palestinian called Mazan Al-Joulani had been shot in an act of random revenge. Al-Joulani’s family responded to the tragedy by donating his heart for transplant to an Israeli Jew called Yighal Cohen. After the operation, the surgeon called the act “a ray of light” and said that during the operation he had held both hearts and there was “no difference” between them. The gift of the heart was an act of grace, of mercy and sacrifice. As the son of two cardiologists perhaps it was inevitable that it should impact so deeply on me.

In terms of terrorism even after all these years, I don’t know if I have any big answers – but I do know this: the threat to British people, Irish, Americans – it’s negligible. Watch yourself getting stepping out the shower my friend – it’s much more dangerous.

The similarities between the two bombs; the age of the bomber, the number of dead, they aren’t signs of a deeper conspiracy, they are what Jung called “meaningful coincidences”, what he called synchronicity. And when there was synchronicity Jung directed us not to waste time gesturing to the supernatural but to look for the meaning. And here it is for me:

The idea Manchester holds on to is not one of fear and not one of revenge. What remains beyond the grief and anger in Manchester are the memories of the city’s hotels giving free rooms, the taxi companies driving people home without charge, the strangers looking after other people’s children, the police and military besieged with cups of tea and food. What remains after the London Bridge attacks, a few weeks later, are the symbols of resilience and courage, men and women who drove the crazed knife attackers from the doors of restaurants and bars.

The Palestinian heart beating in the body of an Israeli in Beat is a symbol – and a symbol has transformative power A heart is more than a pump, it is the symbol of life itself and the Palestinian heart beating in the body of an Israeli became the symbol of the life that connects us all.
Rowan Somerville is the author of Beat – The True Story of a Suicide Bomb and A Heart, published by Lilliput Press

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