Paula R. Stern

Paula R. Stern – Jordan’s Everlasting Shame

Paula R. Stern – Jordan’s Everlasting Shame

In 1997, just four years after we moved to Israel, there was a horrible terror attack. There are no good attacks, but there are some that just break you from the moment you hear about them and though deep down you know you’ve always managed to pull yourself together, you just aren’t sure you’ll manage this time.

Exactly 20 years ago today, on March 13, 1997, I woke my children up to go to school. I fed them, packed their lunches, took two to catch the bus, one to nursery school and the baby went to a neighbor who watched him for a few hours so that I could work.

I did whatever I did on a normal day…and hours later, I welcomed my children home, took care of them and at some point my husband came home. I don’t remember much of that day. I don’t remember the exact time I heard that something horrible had happened.

I don’t remember putting my children to bed, but I do remember falling apart. I remember crying and telling my husband that I couldn’t stand, I couldn’t stop crying. I remember asking him how…how could a parent send their child off to school in the morning and bury them at night? How was is possible?

Around the time that I was taking my children to school, parents in Beit Shemesh were doing the same thing. Only, in front of their daughter’s school there was a bus and at some point in the morning, the class boarded the bus and it drove north. A school outing…like dozens that my children have gone on. And like so many other schools, that bus took an “unscheduled” stop at a place called “Naharayim” – or the “Island of Peace”.

Only, on that day, Ahmad Daqamseh, a Jordanian soldier decided to commit murder. He opened fire on the school girls, killing seven of them and wounding another six. Jordanian soldiers captured Daqamseh and whisked him away. Israeli emergency forces swept in but the damage was done. That night, all of Israel was in shock as seven little girls were buried.

I remember the King Hussein of Jordan coming to Israel coming to the homes of the girls. I remember him apologizing and saying he was embarrassed, as a Jordanian, for what the soldier had done, and I remember him promising justice. Like all of Israel, I watched as he came to the homes of the mourners during the week of mourning, the shiva. I remember hearing him say to one parent, ‘Your daughter is like my daughter. Your loss is my loss.”

He then condemned the brutal attack as “a crime that is a shame for all of us… I feel as if I have lost a child of my own. If there is any purpose in life it will be to make sure that all the children no longer suffer the way our generation did.” He visited the wounded in the hospital and through my tears, I thought maybe, maybe there would be justice this time.

But there was no justice to be had. Daqamseh was tried and sentenced to life in prison. He could have faced the death penalty, but the court chose to give him life in prison instead. Apparently, in Jordan, life in prison means 25 years. But the Jordanian army said he was mentally ill. Daqamseh was found to be suffering from an “antisocial personality disorder” – whatever the heck that is and so he was sentenced to 20 years…and yesterday, those 20 years ended (less actually because the sentence was only handed down in Juuly 1997 but presumably the court felt that “time served” should be included, even for a child killer).

And so this thing that is not human has been released. This thing that murdered 7 little girls and then spoke with pride at his accomplishment.

This thing had a mother who likewise spoke with pride:

“I am proud of my son, and I hold my head high. My son did a heroic deed and has pleased God and his own conscience. My son lifts my head and the head of the entire Arab and Islamic nation. I am proud of any Muslim who does what Ahmad did. I hope that I am not saying something wrong. When my son went to prison, they asked him: ‘Ahmad, do you regret it?’  and he answered: ‘I have no regrets.’ He treated everyone to coffee, honored all the other prisoners, and said: ‘The only thing that I am angry about is the gun, which did not work properly. Otherwise I would have killed all of the passengers on the bus’.”

In his defense, Daqamseh said the girls deserved it because they supposedly mocked him while he prayed; which of course is nonsense since he later told his mother that he regrets not killing the entire bus load of children.

There are times when the lack of justice can cripple you; can bring you to your knees because you can’t believe, yet again, someone will get away with such a heinous crime. It is at moments like this that I remember that beyond whatever meager justice we humans try to find in this world, there is a place and a time where justice is absolute. Daqamseh is 46 years old but already in the heavens, judgment has been made. Daqamseh can live a day, a month, a year, a decade, even 5 decades and he will live it knowing that in the heavens above, divine justice, perfect and absolute, awaits him

There in the heavens there are seven girls, forever young but never forgotten. My husband couldn’t give me an answer, how it is possible to send a child to school in the morning and bury her at night. It is a question I would readily give my life to never have to ask again.

But there is justice in this world…perhaps not in the lives we lead, but in this world, under the heavens, there will be justice.

For Adi, for Shiri, for Natalie, for Sivan, for Keren, for Nirit, and for Ella.

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