Remembering Christian Arab-Israeli officer Amir Khoury who bravely gave his life to save Jews
By Jonathan Feldstein
Normally, when one goes to express condolences to a family mourning a deceased relative, you know one of the family members, if not the deceased. At a certain age, one goes to console a friend whose parent died, but with whom you didn’t have a personal relationship, if at all. It’s rare to show up at the home of someone you don’t know, grieving over the loss of a loved one who you also didn’t know either. But that’s what I just did. Here’s why.
During my last week of nearly a month’s trip throughout the US, there were four terror attacks in Israel. Eleven people were killed, and dozens injured. There have been many more attacks in which, thank God, there were no injuries, and as many as fifteen others reportedly prevented due to good intelligence followed by swift military operations.
With too many Israeli families in mourning and many more suffering injuries and trauma, I took a full day to visit one of them.
As of this writing, the deadliest recent terror attack took place in Bnei Brak, a city in central Israel with a large ultra-Orthodox population. Five people were killed including two Jewish Israelis, two Ukrainians, and a Christian Arab Israeli police officer, Amir Khoury. Some may be confused by the idea of a Christian Arab Israeli being a victim, much less a hero as one of the security forces that stopped the terrorist. Amir is credited with racing to the scene of the terror attack, opening fire and neutralizing the terrorist. But he was also mortally wounded in the process. His partner, who finally killed the gunman, would later eulogize his fallen comrade with these shining words:
“My children will grow up and remember your name because you were my flak jacket, dear brother.”
This week, I visited Amir’s family. Hailed as a national hero, this Christian Arab family were receiving visitors from all over the country in tents outside their home adorned with Israeli flags. Had Amir not acted as decisively as he did, the carnage would have been much worse.
In Jewish tradition, mourners remain seated on low chairs and visitors approach them. As soon as I walked into the larger of the two tents, Amir’s father rose and embraced me, speaking to me with warmth, wanting to know who I was, were I came from, and why. As we spoke, we stood together, hands clasped. He pegged my American accented Hebrew and asked where I was born, when I immigrated to Israel, and about my family. If one didn’t know that he was mourning the murder of his son, one would never imagine that he was not just being a gracious host. As I sat down, I was served strong black coffee.
I spent considerable time speaking with Amir’s father, mother, brother, sister, and brother-in-law. As we sat together, I couldn’t help but recall the verse from Psalm 133:
“Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in unity.”
The original Hebrew says “shevet achim gam yachad” which can be interpreted as dwelling, but also sitting. There we sat together, mourning a victim of a hate-inspired terrorist who wanted anything but for us – Jew and Arab – to dwell together in unity.
The terrorist failed.
Visitors came from across the country to pay tribute to this hero – Amir Khouri. There was one person who drove six hours from Eilat, visited for thirty minutes, and then drove back. There were Jews of every background, Arabs, government cabinet members, present and former ambassadors and rabbis. People emerged from the family’s distant past like a former neighbor in Tel Aviv from decades earlier when he was first married.
While I didn’t come from the furthest distance, the family was impressed that I came from Gush Etzion in the Judean mountains south of Jerusalem, because there is a stereotype about “settlers” and Arabs. That’s part of the political baggage with which we live and, like many stereotypes, is built on myths. We didn’t talk politics at all. It was a wide-ranging visit about Amir, about them, and about our shared society.
They were moved that Bnei Brak, a mostly ultra-Orthodox Jewish city, will be naming a street after their Amir, a Christian Arab. I sensed that all the family wanted was for Amir to be remembered.
He undoubtedly will be and by you reading this, you’re contributing to Amir’s remembrance and ensuring his legacy.
I didn’t just go visit myself, but brought with me dozens of condolences and prayers from others. The night before, I posted through my social media and chat groups that I was going to visit the Khoury family. I invited others to send notes. In just a few hours, dozens of people sent their condolences and prayers, along with donations, so we can do something meaningful in Amir’s memory. That so many people sent their condolences in writing was a comfort. More continue to do so.
A person I spoke to wept while recounting how the family found out about Amir’s death. They were watching the news with live reports of the terror attack. They had a bad feeling because calls and text messages to Amir went unanswered. Each shared how they dealt with this, but that they had each lost it when seeing the police outside their front door a little after 10:00pm, two hours after initial reports of the attack. At that moment, all their fears were realized. As they were recounting, I held back the tears seeing the dark circles under their eyes testifying to their endless tears and lack or sleep.
While hailed a national hero, the sad tragedy is that by the enemies of peace he is not considered a hero to all! There are those extremists who look at him as a traitor. It’s hardly a public secret that Christian Arabs live under threat from Muslim extremism and another visitor confided in me that Amir’s death was being celebrated amongst some within the Palestinian Authority and among extremists in Israel. There was fear to talk too much about this because with Amir’s heroism being cast into the spotlight, there was a concern that others in the Khouri family might find themselves possible targets.
Sitting with this family of devout Christians, I couldn’t help but think that Amir, like Queen Esther, was put in a situation “for such a time as this.”(Esther 4.14)
I couldn’t bring myself to pose this thought to Amir’s family. Both saved lives and I wondered if like Esther (Esther 4:16), Amir raced to the scene of the terror attack thinking:
“If I perish, I perish”
One thing for sure is that Amir was an angel for a whole community. Had it not been for Amir, it’s unthinkable how many more people would have been killed.
In meeting and speaking with people, I avoided saying “nice to meet you” but rather “it’s an honour to meet you”. I’d have preferred that I never had the occasion to know them, or know of them for it was brought about by personal loss. However, the reality is that tragedy brough us together and in parting, an Amir family member poignantly expressed:
“We not just friends; somehow God ordained it.”
While the formal mourning period has ended, the grief and loss have not and anyone who wishes to send a note to Amir’s family can do so at https://genesis123.co/blessasoldier and send condolences, prayers, and words of comfort which will be delivered to them directly. A donation of any size will go toward a project in Amir’s memory. For further information, please be in touch at Gen123Fdn@gmail.com.
Please join us to be a blessing to Amir’s family, honor his memory, and pray that he will be the last victim of hate-inspired terror.
I would later learn that on the previous Sunday, Amir Khoury had sat at home with his fiancée Shani Yashar watching the news of a terror attack in Hadera, in which two police officers were killed.
He had said to her “If I see a terrorist in front of my eyes, I’m going to crush him. I’m not going to let anyone get hurt; that’s why I’m a cop.”
Shani recalled pleading with her beloved to “not be a hero”.
He could be nothing else – he lived and died a hero.
- At the time of publishing this, another attack took place in Tel Aviv and three Israelis were killed.
About the writer:
Jonathan Feldstein - President of the US based non-profit Genesis123 Foundation whose mission is to build bridges between Jews and Christians – is a freelance writer whose articles appear in The Jerusalem Post, Times of Israel, Townhall, NorthJersey.com, Algemeiner Jornal, The Jewish Press, major Christian websites and more.
While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves. LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).