02 May 2014

Review of Living Beyond Terrorism by Zieva Dauber Konvisser

The first thing that I noticed and something that kept coming up is that the book is a testament to “the strength of the human spirit” (xxiii).  Another recurring thought is that of resilience.  I will attempt to write this review without giving away too much of the book.  There is just so much that touched me and I want to do the work justice.  It is an important book and I hope it gains a wide readership.  It’s a book about hope and healing, and that is for anyone. 

Konvisser has an wonderful writing voice; while her book is well-researched and scholarly, the style and the voice keeps it accessible for the lay reader.  In my humble opinion, she does an excellent job of writing a book for both audiences without skimping on either side.  She also includes representatives from several groups of people: Jewish-Israelis, Arab-Israelis, and others from other countries who have made Israel their home.  While presenting the stories of these people, she attempts to keep it about them and how they have coped with, and how their lives have changed since, the traumatic events of terrorist attacks; she attempts to keep the book from being political.  And, she does a pretty good job of that, too. (xxxiii)

Konvisser wants to make it clear, by letting these people tell their own stories, that these survivors are human beings, not merely numbers we hear on the evening news.  Real people with hopes, dreams, loves, worries, fears, and lives and people who love them and whom they love.  She writes: “By telling and retelling their stories, we celebrate their lives as people—as human beings—not simply as players in a larger story or as numbers.  By telling their stories we bear witness” (xxvii).  The book is an anthology of the stories of not victims but, survivors (this is an important distinction for them) of terrorist attacks: which include shootings, car bombings, and suicide bombings.  Konvisser considers this text, this work, as a tribute and a responsibility. 

It seems that those in this area of the globe, are experiencing something similar to the state of the United States before the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.  Violence obviously is not working, and maybe they should try non-violence.  This book could be helpful in establishing the dialogue that can bring these two groups of people closer to peace. There is a bulleted list of “Lessons Learned” in the preface, which according to the author was developed from all the stories of the survivors and of the bereaved.  I won’t include it here, but recommend the reader to not skip the preface and so miss this important part of the work.

It’s not just Jewish-Israelis who are the victims/survivors; the Arab people living in this area also suffer: some are killed, some maimed and many are treated like criminals just for being Arab and being in the area of a terrorist event.  So, their trauma is double maybe even tripled or quadrupled.  While most of the people’s stories talk about the post-traumatic stress that they suffered, they also depict post-traumatic growth.  This latter, the way I understand it, would be like a kind of awakening brought on by the trauma and the recovery from it.

Even in the midst of the terrible events and the subsequent recovery, most of the stories presented here show amazing amount of hope.  The survivors talk about people asking why they keep living there, to which they answer, “This is my house and my family…” In a sense, “How can I leave my home?”  These survivors realize what’s important: family, friends, sense of place and belonging, and not letting the terrorists win. (264)  The survivors also talk about increased gratitude, along with a fear of returning to the place of the attack. (266)  This realization of what’s important and gratitude are also recurring concepts in these stories.

For the Arabs, there was a distancing by Jewish colleagues and a feeling of being under suspicion. (21) This is unfortunate, because the survivors were just as much targets of the terrorist attacks as their Jewish counterparts.  After years, they still struggle to deal with the after-effects, trying to be strong. (23)

The take-home seems to be that even if we never have the misfortune of experiencing a terrorist attack, we can learn ways of thriving when we face other traumatic events, or loss. (262)  Somehow, the perpetrators and retaliators have to realize that the violence is not solving their issues.  It seems the terror works for a short time, but only a short time.  The survivors will not let the fear win, so the terrorism loses its venom.  As one survivor says, “I had a new chance, a new life, to be more or less whole” (41), and “In the beginning it has to destroy you in order for you to survive” (42). 

This is a book about surviving, and in many cases flourishing, even after being involved in some of the worst events a person can imagine: terrorist attack.  The atrocities take their toll, but the survivors, at least those who share their stories here, come out stronger and with a great appreciation of life. 

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in terrorism and dealing with it; trauma and healing after trauma; war and survival.  It has given me a new perspective on my own problems, making them seem almost non-existent in comparison.  However, neither Konvisser nor the story-telling survivors ever trivialize the trauma of others.  They demonstrate that it is significant and people can get through it.  I hope many readers find hope in this book, or at the very least, that they gain a new perspective on the world around them.

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