Life During Wartime


Still Life with Bombers: Israel in the Age of Terrorism
By David Horovitz
288 pages. Knopf. $25.

Though I've read a myriad of books on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, not one has moved me quite as much as David Horovitz’s Still Life with Bombers. Horovitz, the editor of The Jerusalem Report and a British émigré now living in Jerusalem, is a superior writer and an elegant stylist, but there's more to him than polished prose. The man has a profound understanding of his complex social milieu. Still Life With Bombers is his attempt to make some sense out of the chaos that has steadily infiltrated Israeli life since the outbreak of the second Intifada, three years ago.

Horovitz’s writing is both bookended, and in many ways centered around, the story of Yoni Jesner. Jesner, a 19-year-old Scottish boy in Israel for the year before beginning medical school, was murdered by a suicide bomber on a bus in Tel Aviv on the way to visit relatives for the weekend. Jesner’s life is a microcosm of the fatalistic reality that the citizens of the Jewish State are forced to face every day. As Horovitz starkly puts it, “This is the story of the senseless death of Yoni Jesner… It stands for no other death. And it stands for all the other deaths.”

But what is so affecting about Jesner's story is that his persona is so vivid, his tragedy so sad. Consider a group of papers that Jesner had written, which were found on his corpse after the explosion and included statements like “Don’t be afraid to get up and dance. You’ll get the hang of it.” The details Horovitz presents are both pathetic and deeply moving.

Throughout Still Life with Bombers, Horovitz forces the reader to confront the question: Why? Why have the Palestinians turned to suicide bombings? Why, and how, do Israelis continue to tolerate the continual bombings and random murders, what Horovitz calls the “grisly lottery” that awaits the fate of every Israeli who leaves for work, who sends his children to school in the morning?

And so the book becomes at once a testament to Zionist spirit and ideology—with former Britons and Americans examining the true reasons they moved to the Jewish State—and a condemnation of the way things are, an examination of how they might be changed. It is a testament to the enduring power of Horovitz’s writing that both of these subjects, which have been overwhelmingly reported on in recent years, radiate a freshness and vigor that make the book, as painful as its subject is, a joy to read.

When Horovitz continues Jesner’s story, late in the book, he comes to a surprising conclusion. “The hospital's transplant staff asked the family whether any of Yoni’s organs could be made available for donation,” apparently a standard request made to families of terror victims. After some discussion—Ari, Yoni’s brother, explained the doubt, “You’re preparing to bury someone you love and you want them to go whole”—the family decided that donating the organs would be the right thing to do. Later, Ari reflected, “It would have been such a waste not to donate his organs. They’re burying Yoni and he’s gone, but he’s saved some other people.”

One of the people whose life Yoni saved was Yasmin Abu Ramila, a seven-year-old Arab girl from East Jerusalem. “Inevitably, the fact that the recipient was an Arab made headlines… but Ari was resolutely nonchalant. ‘The principle of saving lives is common to Judaism and to Israel,’ he told reporters on the day after the funeral. ‘I am proud that we can participate in that.’”

And this—seeing evil for what it really is, but never losing hope in one’s own warmth and compassion, thereby finding hope in the midst of terror—is what Horovitz’s book is really about.

At one point in his writing, Horovitz exclaims, “My most fervent hope is that this book, with its depiction of the untenable reality that the violence of the second Intifada dictated for us all here, and our efforts nonetheless to keep plugging away in a daily life so precious and so vulnerable—can come to be read as history, an account of a bloody bygone era, since superseded by a blessed return to sanity.” If the reckless violence the people of Israel continue to witness and undergo daily does eventually abate, it will happen largely because people such as Horovitz have worked tirelessly in an effort to make their small part of the world a better place.

Discussion Question

David Horovitz writes of his hope that Still Life with Bombers “can come to be read as history, an account of a bloody bygone era, since superseded by a blessed return to sanity.” What is your take on this idea? Do you think there will ever be peace in Israel? How can Horovitz’s “most fervent hope” become a reality?>>