Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Therese Zrihen-Dvir, an author who was born in Morocco and has been living in Israel since 1967 (except for a five-year excursion to Canada). Her academic training is in French literature and the arts. Her published works include The Challenge, a biography of her former husband, painter Eitan Dvir; The Hand of Divine Justice, a novel; and A Quest for Life, a work of biographical fiction. She writes for the Israeli francophone websites. Her latest book is The Stairway to Heaven. Visit her website:www.therese-dvir.com.
FP: Therese Zrihen-Dvir, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
Tell us what The Stairway to heaven is about and what inspired you to write it.
Zrihen-Dvir: Thank you Jamie.
After a long trip to the north of Israel with my family, as we were driving back home, my son-in-law unexpectedly turned the steering wheel of the car in the direction of Beit Lid junction. “Have you seen the memorial erected at Beit Lid?” he asked me. “No, I haven’t. I didn’t even know that there was one,” I replied.
“There certainly is, and it is very unusual,” he said, taking the road to the memorial site.
It was still bright enough to see, although twilight flooded the sky. All of a sudden, an almost perpendicular giant staircase, with twenty-two soldiers, each mounting a stair, could be seen emerging on the horizon. It was monumental, and so real-looking that it was hard to believe my own eyes. Indeed, the huge concrete edifice with its twenty-two stiffened statues brought back in full the memory of the tragedy. I walked around the monument lost in thought.
The Israeli soldiers and citizens killed in the terrorist attack were walking up a stairway that was meant to lead them to Paradise. However, by killing kuffār (“infidels” – a term used by Muslims to describe non-Muslims) and themselves, the two Palestinian terrorists, according to their faith and to the promises of the Imams, could also expect to gain a place in Heaven. Both were dead.
The year was 2003 and this monument reaching upward to empty space between the earth and the sky brought home to me the absurdity and futility of war, the senseless loss of young lives and the human bankruptcy of it all. There and then, I pledged to the twenty-two shadows my humble contribution to honor their sacrifice and their pain as well as my own.
FP: Share with us your interviews with a number of Israeli victims’ families.
Zrihen-Dvir: Somehow, at the side of the gigantic memorial monument, I felt courageous and absolutely determined to take this challenging subject and investigate it in all its aspects. But, when I was left alone and was confronted with the idea of approaching the families and reviving the terrible events that they had suffered through, my heart leaped wildly and my resolution temporarily wavered. I felt strangely ashamed and defeated by my own fears, but mostly by the pain I was going to inflict on the wounded families who were trying to return to a normal life after their disaster.
During the process of interviewing the families and writing this book, which lasted several years, my strong resolutions vacillated a few times when the pain compelled me to run away and relinquish the project for good. Deep within, the obligation to continue the writing governed me. I couldn’t stop. This was an event that should not be forgotten. Wrong conceptions should not remain as true; truth and justice should not be buried. No culture in the world should celebrate senseless death. Radical religious leaders who advocate death represent the antithesis of civilization and God’s commands.
FP: For our readers that might not know, illuminate for us a bit more what this terrorist attack was about. What happened?
Zrihen-Dvir: Immediately after the Oslo peace agreement was signed by Arafat (PLO leader) and the Israeli P.M. Yitzhak Rabin and the F.M. Simon Perez, Israel underwent a series of terror attacks. These included suicide bombers and the invasion by an army of terrorists who aimed at the complete destruction of the state of Israel.
Beit Lid junction is nearly a countryside location on the road between Netanya and Hadera. It has a small kiosk where soldiers commonly swarm inside and out at the early hours of the day, waiting for transportation to their military bases. This location is unfortunately very close to Palestinian cities, known as anthills of terrorist activity.
On January 22, 1995, on a leisurely Sunday morning, when soldiers gathered around the bus station and the kiosk, a Palestinian terrorist, disguised as an Israeli soldier, loaded with at least a ten kilogram belt bomb, coldly positioned himself as close as possible to a large group of soldiers and activated the bomb button. Then the second terrorist also disguised as an Israeli soldier, calmly waited until rescuers rushed to help the first casualties before activating his bomb. "The carnage was indescribable," wrote Mr. Lipkin Shahak, former chief of Staff in Israel, who gave his account of this event on the cover of the book.
FP: Can you tell us a bit about what the families shared with you?
Zrihen-Dvir: Besides the pain and tears, I was confronted by a strange phenomenon: A significant fraction of the parents of the victims harbored a very unusual sense of guilt. To me, it seemed that unbeknownst to them, they were flagellating their own moral fiber - I even heard a few sentences such as: we snatched their land… we occupy their territories… what can anyone expect in these circumstances? That presumption and the countervailing standpoints of others is a clarification of the amplifying fissure existing amongst Israelis: There are those who believe in their rights to their ancestral land, and others, from the extreme political left stream, who openly believe in the so-called “occupation” and are ready to compromise to the extent of being completely swallowed up by Palestinians.
I didn't want to trigger an argument nor elaborate on any stance, as my book isn't meant to cover the territorial/political aspect of the conflict. It was written merely to recognize the humanitarian side of things.
Some parents described their intimate feelings for their departed children and their relationships with them. They also touched on the impact that this tragedy has had on their lives – a few didn't even survive it. However, there were parents who, for one reason or another, reluctantly refused to be interviewed and I clearly understood their taking this stance.
Generally, a remarkable strength and determination emanated from them, regardless of the circumstances they suffered.
FP: You state that there are some “wrong conceptions” that “remain as true.” Explain what you mean and why, in your view, justice been buried.
Zrihen-Dvir: There was an underlying territorial conflict, intentionally triggered by the Arab world and their supporters, the British. But that had long since been surpassed by a useless hatred engendered by wrong conceptions and religious boundaries. Young, gullible minds were brainwashed by those who never truly cared for the welfare of their own people (Palestinians). These young Palestinian people had been blatantly used by cynical leaders whose main aims were power, money and greed. Justice has long been buried by misleading information and false evidences, tremendously supported by conniving media channels.
FP: What is the overall message you want to come through this book?
Zrihen-Dvir: This book isn't meant to sift through the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but to display the tremendous gap existing between two mindsets: We have for instance, a Palestinian/Muslim mother who would urge her child to kill as many kufars (infidels) as possible and be killed, with the incredible promise of Heaven and 72 virgins awaiting him as a reward. On the opposite side of the coin, there is a Jewish mother who would be ready to give her life and anything else she owns in order to protect her children's lives. Muslim religious conceptions teach and praise the love of death, while Jews spread the love of life. Freedom and Progress are differently assessed by Muslims, while Jews are openly standing for them.
From the text, involving confrontations and exchanges between Jews and Palestinians, we reach a conclusion that takes cognizance of today's defying threats against the free world.
To me it is anyway, my modest contribution to this very odd and cherished country called Israel and to its restless fighters.
FP: Therese Zrihen-Dvir, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview.