Revenge: A Story of Hope

Revenge: A Story of Hope

3.6 12
by Laura Blumenfeld

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In 1986, Laura Blumenfeld's father was shot in Jerusalem by a member of a rebel faction of the PLO responsible for attacks on several tourists in the Old City. Her father lived, but Blumenfeld's desire for revenge haunted her. This is her story. Traveling to Europe, America, and the Middle East, Blumenfeld gathers stories and methods of avengers worldwide as she plots


In 1986, Laura Blumenfeld's father was shot in Jerusalem by a member of a rebel faction of the PLO responsible for attacks on several tourists in the Old City. Her father lived, but Blumenfeld's desire for revenge haunted her. This is her story. Traveling to Europe, America, and the Middle East, Blumenfeld gathers stories and methods of avengers worldwide as she plots to infiltrate the shooter's life. Through interviews with Yitzhak Rabin's assassin; with members of the Albanian Blood Feud Committee; the chief of the Iranian judiciary; the mayor of Palermo, Sicily; an Egyptian heroin smuggler; the Israeli prime minister and the military chief of staff; priests; sports fans; fifth-grade girls; and prostitutes, among others, she explores the mechanics and the psychology of vengeance. But ultimately it is a journey that leads her back home -- where she is forced to confront her childhood dreams, her parents' failed marriage, and her ideas about family. In the end, her target turns out to be more complex -- and in some ways more threatening -- than the stereotypical terrorist she'd long imagined. A rare, ambitious, personal, and intellectual tour of dark urges often denied, Revenge: A Story of Hope is a beautifully written story about family, loyalty, and home, about the personal passions behind public events, and about the thin line between love and hate.

Editorial Reviews
The Barnes & Noble Review
In the complex reality of life and death in the Middle East, contradictions are commonplace. This compelling story, a deeply personal one, shares that irony, as journalist Laura Blumenfeld blends themes that are at the heart of the troubles between Israelis and Palestinians: the tradition of revenge and the human heart's need to sustain hope.

Blumenfeld's father, a noted rabbi, was shot on the streets of Jerusalem's Old City in 1986 by a Palestinian terrorist. He recovered completely, but in the wake of the event, Laura felt an overwhelming need for revenge. "…This hand will find you. I am his daughter," she wrote bitterly in a poem. She then set out to find her father's attacker. This book recounts the journey she took to find understanding, satisfaction, and ultimately, personal healing.

Blumenthal's book is deeply disturbing and penetrating, moving on multiple levels. It brilliantly makes the political personal and intimate. And in the end, there are no Israelis or Palestinians, no occupiers or terrorists. There are only people, families, and deeply wounded lives. Revenge: A Story of Hope raises as many questions as it tries to answer. All of them are questions we all need to confront before we can stop the madness that has become daily life in the lands holiest to three of the world's major religions.

Of course, books cannot bring peace. Peace can only come one heart at a time. But reading can help initiate understanding, and that is where healing begins. This book, filled with the myriad contradictions that have framed an age-old conflict, is one good place to start. (Elena Simon)

Elena Simon lives in New York City.

Publishers Weekly
At its heart, this remarkable tale is a rite-of-passage story, an intense and deeply personal journey. For newlywed and successful Washington Post reporter Blumenfeld in 1998, life appeared to be just about perfect. But she had a score to settle. In 1986, the same year her mother declared she wanted a divorce, her father was shot by a Palestinian terrorist while visiting Israel. Fortunately, the young man had poor aim. But the impact on Blumenfeld was dramatic. That year, as a college student, she wrote a poem in which she addressed the shooter: "this hand will find you/ I am his daughter." In 1998, the shooter was released from prison. Blumenfeld saw her chance and grabbed it. She traveled to such places as Bosnia, Sicily and Iran, and interviewed both perpetrators and victims of violence to determine the rituals and rites of revenge. She tracked down and spent hours with the shooter's family, telling them only that she was American journalist working on a book. She and the shooter became pen pals. The book's only flaw, and it's minor, is a sense of detachment, though Blumenfeld is an able and expressive writer and is not sparing when it comes to personal revelations. The climax is astonishingly powerful a masterfully rendered scene, crackling with the intensity of which great, life-changing drama is made. (Apr. 4) Forecast: Needless to say, a book about revenge against terrorism could not be better timed, and aided by powerful writing and an excerpt in the New Yorker, this has bestseller potential. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
In the winter of 1986, an American rabbi, David Blumenfeld, was shot in the head as he visited Jerusalem. He was one of four random victims in Jersualem that winter. Two of the victims died and two survived, as did the desire for revenge in Blumenfeld's daughter, Laura. Twelve years later, Laura was living in Jerusalem as a newlywed and as a reporter for the Washington Post. She decided to seek revenge for her father's shooting by getting to know the imprisoned shooter and his family without letting them know that she was the daughter of his victim. While doing so, she studied the historical concept of revenge and tracked down the other victims and their families to see how they felt about the event and whether they too needed to seek revenge. The nature of her revenge for her father's death and the journey she took to achieve it is the substance of this book. The fact that she was discovering the meaning of love and marriage at the same time as hate and revenge adds a real depth to the story. Although the story and subject are serious, Blumenfeld does not take herself seriously, giving her story a wonderfully human and affecting twist. KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2002, Simon & Schuster, Washington Square Press, 367p. illus. index.,
— Nola Theiss
Library Journal
When her father was shot in Jerusalem, this prize-winning Washington Post journalist sought revenge the smart way: she talked to other avengers, from Rabin's assassin to the Albanian Blood Feud Committee to Palermo's mayor. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Journalist Blumenfeld builds ties with the man who shot her father ten years earlier, explores her own family history, and documents the practice of revenge around the world.

In 1986, a Palestinian terrorist took aim at Blumenfeld's father and squeezed off a single shot, grazing Blumenfeld pere's scalp but leaving him very much alive. At the time, Harvard student Laura vowed revenge. Over a decade later, she returned to live in Jerusalem with a twin purpose: to start a life with her new husband, and to find the man who tried to take her father's life. Revenge is not a comfortable impulse for this child of privilege, but Blumenfeld finds herself possessed with a need to do something, although she's not sure what. She spends her time seeking out the shooter's family, attempting to visit the gunman in jail, and flying around the world researching how other cultures process the revenge drive. In Sicily, "cradle of the vendetta," she interviews priests and Mafia victims. In Albania, she learns of the canon, a catalogue of revenge obligations as ubiquitous as the phone book. Iran's Grand Ayatollah, who bears a marked resemblance to the author's grandfather, pronounces that she is entitled to even the score but not overshoot it. In Israel, she interviews plenty of people with opinions on revenge, Leah Rabin and Benjamin Netanyahu among them. Meanwhile, her parents are uneasy with her obsession, and her husband begins to keep a log of days when he finds the marriage "intolerable and insufferable." This interweaving of daily life with a drive for vengeance, of the revenge stories of others, and of a final startling showdown of mercy for the shooter himself, makes for a gripping read.

Rich,graceful, intimate, and absorbing.

From the Publisher
Janet Maslin The New York Times A vitally important story....Revenge is written with such forcefulness and immediacy that by the end of her story [Blumenfeld] has carried the reader through an intellectual transformation akin to her own.

Washington Post Passionate, gripping...A work of ambition and humanity.

Baltimore Sun A remarkable, affecting book...unlike any other reportage from the Middle East.

Product Details

Simon & Schuster
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.32(w) x 9.52(h) x 1.18(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One: Heat

July 1998. Kalandia, West Bank

The gunman was not home. "Come in," his mother said. "Would you like some orange soda?" She smiled back at me, waving me out of the sun and through her front door. The knock must have shaken her out of a nap; she had shuffled out in slippers and a pink embroidered bathrobe. She drew me inside, into a dimly lit living room, the curtains closed against the heat. Children were tucked into every shadow, three small boys wedged in an armchair, a teenager straddling the arms of the couch, toddlers blinking up from the floor.

"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. His mother sat down on the edge of the coffee table facing me, her shoulders forward, her feet squared with mine, six inches separating our knees. We looked at each other for a moment. Her features were faded, but her brown eyes glittered, the wrinkles flying out like sunrays. She leaned closer and passed a glass of cold soda to me. Her fingers slid along mine, moist and cool.

"He tried to kill someone," she said in an easy voice.

"Who?" I asked.

"Some Jew," said the twelve-year-old on my right, shrugging.

I turned to him. The boy smiled crookedly. "I don't know who. A Mossad agent."

He laughed and everyone laughed. I joined in too, as best as I could. After all these years, I had arrived unannounced on their doorstep on a fiery July afternoon, a stranger with a notebook, dressed in white. I was a newspaper reporter from America, had picked my way down to their home on the edge of a barren gorge, woke them from their sleep and asked to hear their story. There were eight people in the living room, then ten and then fourteen. Family members wandered out of bed, out of a maze of connecting apartments, to see what the noise was about, to meet the unexpected guest.

"I'm not sure he was a Mossad agent," said a man with a well-plowed brow, leaning against the far wall. "He was a person from the outside, the head of a municipality in New York. We heard he was doing something against Palestinians. Why else would they choose him to be shot?"

This was Saed, the shooter's oldest brother. He served in Yasir Arafat's security forces in Ramallah. He wore an olive-drab shirt and army pants, and had an eagle tattoo and a snakeskin scar etched below his collarbone.

I lifted my eyebrows, encouraging him from across the room.

"It happened inside the Old City, near the Western Wall," he said, coming closer. "He shot the man one time in the head."

"Why only once?" I asked.

"It was in the marketplace." He laughed through clenched teeth.

"After the shooting, he threw the gun in the air, and it fell in the marketplace," said his mother.

We all started to chuckle at the comic scene: one bullet, a cowering Jew, the gun pinwheeling out of reach. The mother, laughing, smacked my thigh.

The shooter, it seemed, had bad aim. He fired at the American man half an inch too high, missing his brain and sparing his life. Some of his partners had more success. In all, twenty-five men belonged to the Jerusalem death gang, which police called "one of the most dangerous and well-organized terror cells in recent memory." They were Palestinians in their twenties and early thirties, many of them ex-cons, all of them members of a radical faction of the PLO, backed by Syria. Their leader had blown out his own eyes while wiring a bomb to a Palestinian informer's car.

The winter of 1986 had been a quiet time in Jerusalem. People walked through the Old City without fear. In March, that changed. The gang began gunning down tourists -- mostly American, German, British -- point-blank, a single shot through the skull.

The American man was their first victim. Next, the gang killed an Israeli businesswoman. Her twenty-year-old daughter had just dropped her off at work at a building outside the Old City's Damascus Gate. The assassin followed the woman up the stairs to the third floor. He walked through her office door as she was settling into her chair, adjusting a green cushion to support her back. She wore a ribbon in her hair, and clips to sweep back her long, brown waves. Eight-thirty in the morning, and here was her first client. Wordlessly, he removed a Beretta from inside his shirt and reached across her desk, over the coffee creamer, over the desktop calendar. He lifted the pistol to her left cheek. She hit the white tile floor so hard it knocked out her teeth.

That same week, another gang member ambushed a German tourist. She and her husband were on a Holy Land tour. On the third day of their trip, they strolled through Jerusalem's walled Old City, down the Via Dolorosa, the route Jesus took to his crucifixion. The couple stopped, arm in arm, near the first station of the cross to read a sign about the condemnation of Jesus. Suddenly there was an explosion, and a burning trickle beneath the German woman's blouse. A bullet pierced her an inch to the right of her spine, flying out between two ribs. The couple twisted and saw a man with black, matted hair and wild eyes standing ten feet away. His finger was hooked through the trigger, ready to fire again. I'm going to die, the woman thought. She struggled to shift her body in front of her husband's, to shield him. They had two young girls at home in Munich. Her husband had to live.

Eleven days later a fourth gunman struck. He scouted the streets near the Old City for the perfect site: the Garden Tomb, a secluded park revered by Anglicans as the place where Jesus was buried. Outside the door to the tomb, he found a young man sitting next to his backpack.

"How you doing?" the gunman said in English.

"Good," the tourist said, looking up from under a fringe of curls. He was a boyish twenty-seven, with round cheeks and believing eyes. In his backpack, he carried a Bible.

"You American?" the killer asked hopefully.

"No, I'm British," the tourist said, raising a water bottle to his mouth.

British was almost as good. The gunman let him swallow the water. As he watched him screw the cap on the bottle, he stepped forward, so close he could have shaken the tourist's hand. He felt for the gun on his hip instead. One bullet in the brain. An Anglican minister ran outside when he heard the shot. He found a young man, a boy, really, lying on his back, his eyes still, his lips moving, trembling with his last breath. There was something red on his cheek. Not a lot of blood, just a dab, smeared like a hurried kiss.

I had pieced together fragments of these stories before. But now, surrounded by the shooter's family, I was hearing about the attack on the American for the first time.

"He never talks about it, even now," the shooter's father said. The father had entered the room in a long, gray robe and sat down next to me. He smiled with the practiced reassurance of a man who had raised eight children.

"Maybe he was forced to do it," the mother said.

"No, he wasn't forced," the shooter's nephew cut in. "He did it willingly."

"He was proud, he was beaming." Another nephew.

"After the incident, he came home and ate a big meal," said the shooter's sister-in-law. "He said, 'Don't go to Jerusalem, there's been a shooting. The city isn't stable.'" She remembered serving him a plate of melon as they listened to the radio. They heard a report about an American tourist who was shot in the head.

Now she was serving me a plate of cubed watermelon.

"May God bless your hands," I said, the traditional Arab thanks to someone who gives you food.

"And your hands too," she replied, offering me a napkin and fork.

The mother sighed at the mention of God. "I pray five times a day for my son."

"Yes, she prays for God to take away all the Jews," said an uncle. "We call to God. We call to Allah. We call to Jesus." He threw up a hand. "Nobody helps."

I plugged my mouth with watermelon. I widened my eyes to look more understanding. The room was warm, but my hosts brought out trays of black tea. The ground-up leaves spiraled and settled at the bottom of my glass. I grasped the rim and brought the tea to my lips, blowing off ringlets of steam.

"Why did he do it?" I said gently. I sipped the hot liquid.

"No reason," the mother said, uncurling her fist to reveal an empty hand.

"He did his duty. Every Palestinian must do it," the father said. "Then there will be justice."

"Was it for your honor?" I said.

"Not for my honor, for the honor of our people," he said.

"We were all with him politically," said Saed, the shooter's oldest brother. "We all think it was worth it -- his duty to get back all the cities taken by the Jews."

The family ideology decorated the living room walls: the emblem of Force 17, a crack Palestinian military unit; framed snapshots of Saed in uniform with Arafat, Abu Jihad, and other famous guerrilla leaders;

and the centerpiece, over the doorway, an enlarged color portrait of the shooter himself.

"No justice comes from the Jews," Saed said. He pinched the skin on his neck, twisting it right, then left. "My other brother was in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The Jews deported him from Palestine to Jordan."

The deported brother, Imad, straggled in from his nap. He found an armchair and slouched into it. He lit a cigarette and reflexively tipped the pack toward me. This brother looked different from Saed, the officer. Imad's hair, mustache and goatee were dyed a burned orange. He had inherited his father's bony height and his mother's polished brown eyes. He wore a silky red and black shirt. Imad had returned in 1994 from twenty-five years of exile, after the Israelis and Palestinians signed a peace deal. The revolutionary now worked as a beautician.

"Anybody would do what my brother did under those circumstances," Imad said, squeezing his cigarette between his forefinger and his thumb. "If you pretend to be a Palestinian for five minutes, you'll feel what we feel."

"And what about the man he tried to kill?"

"It wasn't a personal vendetta," Imad said. "He didn't know the man. He did it so people would look at us."

As Imad spoke, smoke poured from his mouth. For a moment, he was a voice inside a cloud.

"I am a victim," he said.

A shot went off outside and I must have flinched.

"Don't worry," the father said with his reassuring smile. "It's not a gun. It's a wedding. Fireworks for the party."

Another sister-in-law brought out another tray of scalding tea. I had not seen her before. How many people were in this family? I started counting. Fifteen grandchildren blocked my exit to the door.

"Won't someone from the victim's family kill one of your people?" I said.

"No," said Imad. "There's no revenge." Smoke coiled around each syllable. "My brother never met the man personally. It's not a personal issue. Nothing personal, so no revenge."

The fan behind Imad was blowing his smoke onto me, mixing it with his breath and his sweat. It was not an unpleasant smell, but it was strange, inhaling Imad. I drained my glass, burning my tongue. I looked at the clock behind him, a souvenir stamped "I Love Jerusalem" in English. I had been sitting with the shooter's family for over four hours. It was time to go.

Come back, visit soon, they insisted. I thanked them for their hospitality and promised that I would. They stood up and, one by one, offered me their hands -- muscled housewife hands; gummy toddler fingers; bashful shakes from the girls; blanketing grips from the men; darting, palmy handshakes from the teenage boys. I looked into each person's eyes and felt my lips pull back in a smile.

Outside, more relatives waited and more handshakes. It was sundown on a Friday. The day was spent, burned out in the white hills above the gorge. Everything had turned a shamefaced pink. I walked up toward the main road, and after a minute, my cellular phone rang.

"Just wanted to see if you're OK." It was my husband.

"Yes, I'm just walking up the hill from their house," I said, breathing hard and I hung up.

Then I looked back. The family had gathered on the front steps, in the slanted pink light, arms and wrists and elbows all together, waving. There was Imad, his flaming curls sticking up behind the rest, waving good-bye. "My brother never met the man personally," Imad had said. "It's not a personal issue." I smiled and gave one last spirited wave before I disappeared around the corner. My limbs moved stiffly, as if I had been holding them for hours in an unnatural pose. I felt relief, and then I felt something else. Inside, a clamp came loose. All the swallowed heat rose from my stomach, stinging my chest and my neck. "Nothing personal," Imad had said, "so no revenge." The heat was rising in my face. It was personal. It was personal to me.

Copyright © 2002 by Laura Blumenfeld

Meet the Author

Laura Blumenfeld holds a master's degree in international affairs from Columbia University and has been a staff writer at The Washington Post since 1992. She has also written for The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, and the Los Angeles Times. She lives in Washington, D.C.

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Revenge 3.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I found this to be an honest and compassionate accounting of the desire to understand, confront, and in the end find constructive revenge. One never knows what they will find while trying to conduct a personal journey, and there is a fine line between wasting time and energy versus finding growth. To change oneself and others and make a connection is difficult at best,so it is risky business while those close to one are expressing doubt. Furthurmore, when is one doing harm or in danger? These are issues thoughtfully explored. Life is not neat and easy. Laura's style of writing is almost lyrical and makes the journey with her through that uncertain time less bumpy for us. She expresses what she loves about her family and it makes us love them too. Several times I agreed with her best friend's point of view and that brought even more clarity to the isssues at hand, yet what will Laura do? What would I do? The bedtime story about Esther has resonance in Laura's story because it is hope and it brings the teachings of the past to lead in a time of darkness. I will be searching for Laura's work with the Washington Post because I think her kind and honest character comes out in her book, and I love her style of writing.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Now is the time to read this book, while we are mired in fear. Laura Blumenfeld has taken her personal and touching story of avenging her father's injury and given us much to think about. She examines and analyzes the human urge to avenge a wrong, while exposing her own quest for vengeance. It is honest, well written and truly fascinating. I couldn't put it down.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Too often, non-fiction writng suffers from informational overload or pedantic styling. Not so, the extraordinary 'page turner' non-fiction book, 'Revenge: A Story of Hope' by Laura Blumenfeld. In a marvelous blend of theme and narrative, the author provides a brilliantly written format which keeps us all fully alert and deeply interested. By virtue of a polyphonic cast of characters, differing views of revenge are skillfully presented while, at the same time, we empathize strongly with Blumenfeld's personal search for the terrorist who shot her father. It certainly is a timely book - given the tragic situation in the Middle East. This book is one of the best non-fiction books that I have read in a long time. Bravo!
Guest More than 1 year ago
The author's many tv appearances got me interested, and the book is even better. This combination of a fascinating personal search for revenge with a broad examination of the universal need to even the score, delivers an incredible read. It takes one persons response to terrorism and shows that revenge can take many forms. The climax is a cliffhanger. The book is beautifully written.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have to admit that prior to Sept. 11, I had absolutely no interest in learning about world news. I wanted to learn why certain groups of people resort to violence and blatant murder of innocent people, when I believe deep down, that people are genuinely good. Revenge is easy reading, I finished it in two days. I couldn't wait to get to the part about reading the correspondence between Laura and her father's shooter. This book gives insight into the delicate, and sometimes contradictory balance between politics and morals. We are more alike than different and REVENGE keeps open the prospect for hope and promise for peace in our tumultous society. Highly recommend.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I often enjoy reading books that enlighten me on the culture and personal experiences of individuals in the third world, and specifically, the Middle East. However, this book was not at all enlightening. The author claims her reason for writing the book was to find the individual who shot her father in Israel over 10 years ago and to seek revenge. Her father is still alive, living in the United States with no apparent handicap resulting from this experience. Furthermore, he doesn't appear (nor does anyone else in her family) to have any interest in seeking revenge or for that matter finding the individual who shot him. There is no apparent motivation for her to seek revenge other than a reason for writing a book. The author goes on and on about the meaning of revenge to the point where you want to pull your hair out! She forces herself into dangerous situations to find out how different cultures seek revenge (in an attempt to make the book more exciting?) This in itself seems so contrived. The Washington Post must have helped her make these connections and provided protection as well. How else would a young Jewish women return safely from these encounters? Did the Post think there was potential for a Pulitizer prize or that the author could make a significant contribution to journalism and literature? If this is what they consider a good journalist then I now have little regard for their paper!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I found this book to be excruciatingly painful to read. Laura Blumenfeld is happy to expose the most humiliating details of her 'loved ones' lives, putting them on public display, while giddily finding herself grand. It sickens me that a woman as shallow and lacking in self-awareness as she be allowed access to the highest echelons of power in the Israeli government. The fact that the Washington Post sees fit to employ her is a very telling indication of their lack of credibility as a newspaper of record. Blumenfeld is impervious to the evil of terror. She takes pity on the terrorist and feels nothing for the victim. This 'Laura' thinks she's cute, calling her mother a 'moron'; has she never matured beyond adolescence? I think not. No, I would definitely not recommend this book to a friend!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I remember hearing about this projects from fellow journalists in the region and thinking that it was quite self-absorbed. But I bought the book anyway, curious, and hoping I was wrong. The sad truth is I was so much more right in my initial presumption than I ever imagined. Blumenfeld is so self-involved, she ran the risk of alienating her husband of several months and has no problem telling you in detail about it. (Her portrayal of that marriage was depressing at best, but that is another story). Above all, I found what she did unethical. Posing as a reporter on a story (she is a reporter, but she was far from honest about who she really was) was big time unethical. I am shocked and saddened that her newspaper, the respectable Washington Post, didn't seem to have a problem with this either. On a final note -- the cover was cheap. Revenge: A Story of Hope. Sounds like Blumenfeld may have a brilliant future with Fox news. She certainly has little credibility with me. If I was forced at gunpoint to say one nice thing about this book, I would say that without a doubt she writes well.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The self righteous and naive Blumenfeld has given interviews in which she expressed moral superiority over the terrorist and his family who shot her father. She expresses no sympathy for the innocent Palestinians who have gotten caught in the cross fire of this conflict and pretends not to understand why they would resort to terrorism to accomplish their aims. She has no direct e-mail links to answer questions with the public. It is the moral superior attitutute of People like her and her father, a self important big shot rabbi, who have perpetuated this conflict to begin with. I recomend that readers go to books about the history of Islam, so they could understand the roots of the conflict, instead of reading this wind-bag book.