What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?

David Harris-Gershon and his wife, Jamie, moved to Jerusalem full of hope. Then, in the midst of a historic cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinians, a bomb shrieked through Hebrew University’s cafeteria. Jamie was hurled across the room, her body burned and sliced with shrapnel; the friends sitting next to her were instantly killed.

Suffering from secondary post-trauma and struggling to move on, David was desperate for answers. So he dug into Israeli government records and journalistic accounts to uncover what triggered the attack, discovering in the process a series of shocking truths―truths which set in motion a journey that ended in East Jerusalem, where David sought to meet with the terrorist and his family. Part memoir, part political thriller, part exposé of the conduct of the peace process, this fearless debut confronts the personal costs of the Middle East conflict―and reveals the human capacity for recovery and reconciliation, no matter the circumstance.

Publisher: Oneworld (London) ― ISBN-10: 1851689966

Available in paperback or e-book


From Booklist (*Starred Review*):

Readers can be forgiven for expecting Harris-Gershon to tread on familiar ground in his Memoir of Jerusalem. But this enormously compelling title smashes preconceived notions while delivering an unforgettable and provocative story about the roots of terrorism and the nature of victimhood ...

Bracing, intense, and relentless, this is a book about how we as humans get to the darkest of places and the questions we must ask to find our way out. A transformative reading experience. — Colleen Mondor

From Slate :

Fierce ... A tale of redemption and new beginnings and of truly embracing the other. Harris-Gershon’s story is not really about Middle East politics so much as it is a story of healing—a debate about whether South African–style reconciliation and restorative dialogue can really bring about closure after an event of unspeakable pain and violence." — Dahlia Litwick

From The Daily Beast :

It is a story about how a great personal trauma can lead to a journey that upends long-held beliefs and ideas. The terrific thing about this book is that the author manages to tell his story without sentimentality, grandiose pronouncements, or false humility. He pulls the reader in with an unpretentious, laconic style, and with his refusal to shy away from acknowledging his own flaws." — Lisa Goldman

From The Guardian :

A brave and impressive book. — David Shariatmadari

From Haaretz :

[Harris-Gershon] boldly stretches the confines of memoir and lets it deserve the adjective of its literary category, creative nonfiction. — Ilene Prusher

Book Excerpts:

From The Telegraph (U.K.):

The force of the blast tore through the ceiling, blew out doors, tossed tables across the cafeteria. Salt shakers, plastic trays, and barbed nails were sent flying. And after the flying, there was wailing. And after the wailing, anarchy, as students in torn khakis and hijabs scrambled over the splintered tables. After that, they say people began stuffing pages from their Hebrew exercise books into the wounds. ( Read more .)

When the phone rang in our Jerusalem apartment, I was eating spaghetti with sun-dried tomato pesto, red-tinged olive oil dripping down the strands of pasta, my lips greasy. Smacking.

I put down the fork and answered. "Hello?"

"David? This is Esther. Your wife, Jamie, is here with me. There was an explosion at the university, but I just want you to know she's fine. OK? She's fine." (Click.)

I was still chewing, twirling the fork, knew I didn't know an Esther, and didn't know what she was talking about. After a few seconds, puzzled, I thought, That was nice of her; thought, There must have been some kind of electrical explosion; thought, Keep eating. Although I'd lived in Israel for two years, had been anticipating this, fearing it, I was oblivious. An electrical explosion. As if people routinely called strangers to alert them of transformers on the fritz or wires sparking overhead. But as I continued to eat lunch, the beginning of unease, the sense that something was off, crouched silently.

I turned on the television.

Nothing. Channel 2 was showing its daily Spanish soap-opera with Hebrew subtitles. I ate.

Then, 10 minutes later, the news broke in. A man saying the word: piguah -- terrorist attack. Then a map. A star in the center. The words, Frank Sinatra Cafeteria, the words, Hebrew University. Ceasing to chew, I thought, Not an electrical explosion; thought, She's fine. She's fine. Thought, Why didn't Jamie call herself?

Then the phone rang again.


"David. This is Esther. Jamie's OK. But she's lightly hurt. They're taking her to the university hospital. She wants you to meet her there." (Click.)

Lightly hurt. She was still fine, I thought, probably just some cuts and bruises. A scrape here or there. Skinned knee. I didn't rush, called our program's dean to let him know what had happened while gathering some clothes, saying into the phone, Lightly.

His voice was quiet, knowing, after living in Israel for decades, that the word lightly when conjoined with injured did not mean she's fine. Finally, he asked, "David, what does that mean, lightly? What did they say?"

"I don't know," I said, the tears suddenly rising, sticking in the throat, the panic, the fight, the flight. I was lost. In over my head. Clueless, I began packing, frantic, then sprinted down a flight of stairs, ran to the street, flagged down a cab.

The driver rolled down a window and smiled through a cigarette.

"Where to?"

"The university."

"Sorry. Impossible. Place is blocked off. No way."

I opened the door, got in anyway. Slammed it shut. "Look. My wife was injured in the attack. She's at the hospital. I don't care how you do it. But you get me there. Now. Understand?"

"No problem." (