The murder of a Christian Arab Israeli hero and his message to the world
By Jonathan Feldstein
It has been a year. I was in Houston, about to go into a TV interview on CTN and got a text message from my wife.
“Did you hear what happened?”
It was an unnerving way to go into a TV interview, turning off my phone and not knowing what she meant. Was it something with one of my kids? Grandchildren? Friends or neighbors? It was hard to focus and, as soon as the interview was done, I turned on my phone to find out.
What happened? Another terror attack, this time in the predominantly ultra-Orthodox central Israeli city Bnei Brak. Four had been murdered. One of them was a policeman, Amir Khoury, who along with his partner raced to the scene of the attack and engaged the terrorist in a gunfight. Amir was a Christian Israeli Arab, and a hero. He engaged and killed the Palestinian Arab terrorist, but he was mortally wounded by the terrorist as well. Had it not been for Amir – a Christian Arab Israeli police officer on patrol in a mostly ultra-Orthodox Jewish community – the potential carnage would have been unimaginable.
I flew home the next day, realizing that we had 11 people murdered in four terror attacks by Palestinian Arabs while I was away, 11 more families grieving, and many, many others suffering PTSD. While terror is too common in Israel, and the past year has been particularly difficult with dozens murdered by Palestinian Arab terrorists, it’s not every day that one of the victims is a Christian Israeli Arab policeman who lived, and died, as a hero.
On Sunday, I drove to Nazareth where Amir lived, and his family still does. 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 person relationship. It’s rare to show up at the home of a complete stranger, grieving over the loss of a loved one who you also didn’t know either. But that’s what I did. I wasn’t alone.
Because Amir was being hailed as a national hero, thousands of visitors came from all over the country and around the world to a large tent outside their home adorned with Israeli flags. Thousands of Israelis, from all walks of life. As diverse as the visitors were, I stood out a bit. I am a “settler”, a Jew living over the “Green Line”, what people pejoratively call the West Bank. Biblical Judea. The assumption is that because I live there, I have a hatred for or at least a disrespect of Arabs. Nothing can be further from the truth.
Unlike most other visitors, I stayed around for hours. I spoke with Amir’s father, brother, and cousin in the tent, and others from their community. Then, I went into the house where I thought I might meet more relatives. Immediately, I saw a group of women sitting on a couch, dark circles under their eyes. Not knowing who was who, I approached the couch. One woman stood to greet me: Amir’s mother. We embraced, and talked as if we were old friends. But she didn’t know me, not even my name, and didn’t care. My presence was a comfort.
I met Amir’s sister, brother-in-law, and niece and nephew. I don’t know how to describe it, but we simply became fast friends. On one level it felt terribly inappropriate to be in a house of mourning and to be able to enjoy the company of total strangers. On the other hand, I went there to comfort them, and I know my visit did that. We talked for a long time, just us, in a corner room of the house.
When I went back outside to the mourning tent sometime later, people were surprised to see that I was still there.
Because of the wider conflict, heightened this year during the Islamic holy month Ramadan often marked by increased violence in Israel, thinking of Arabs as loyal Israelis is not the norm, nor is it understood by most because it contradicts the simple narrative of Arabs hating Jews and Israel. Thankfully in recent years, it’s become less of a contradiction. In fact, Israel has seen a growing number of Christian Arabs volunteering for the IDF, making a commitment to serve their country with honor, despite the risk of threats from the wider Moslem Arab population which sees many as traitors.
When I shared about Amir on social media and that I was going to be visiting the family, the outpouring of love, sympathies, and support from a wide range of people around the world was a comfort to me. I made it clear to the Khourys that I was there in person, but scores were with them in spirit, praying for them all over the world.
As my visit was not just idle conversation but a genuine outreach of friendship, Amir’s family were keen to know more about me. I shared my background, what I do building bridges between Jews and Christians, and that we wanted to do something in his memory. They appreciated this and told me to be in touch. I stayed in touch and went back to visit two months later. In the interim, I saw my new adopted family featured in national media multiple times, honored with front row seats at Israel’s national Presidential Independence Day celebration and more.
I went back to the Khourys with my wife, knowing that she would be blessed by getting to know such lovely people too. Condolences and comforting people who lost a loved one can never come too late. Ideally, we would have never met. Amir should still be alive, and we would never have anything to do with one another. After the Khourys asked what they could serve us since we keep kosher, and we ate and talked together for at least two hours, Amir’s father asked what we had come to talk about.
I had a few ideas which I shared as a way to memorialize Amir and share his life and legacy with others. The family liked one the best which I agreed would be the most impactful for it would bring the story and message of Amir to the world. It will take time to achieve – involving a hefty budget – but when it’s done, it will be impressive, well worth the challenge.
How I wish I never met the Khourys, certainly not under these circumstances. Whether one believes in destiny, that everything is somehow ordained from God, or not, the reality is that as a result of Amir’s death, this is one positive outcome.
“Dear Khourys, I wish I never knew you. But now we have met, and we need to make something purposeful from that.”
Just as thousands came to comfort the Khourys and honor Amir from across Israel and around the world, today, we need a coalition of Jews and Christians, of people of good conscience, to join together in a sweeping project that will not only memorialize Amir, but do so much more, just as he would have done if he were alive, if only by his existence and doing what he did.
Undertaking this on behalf of the Genesis 123 Foundation whose mission is to build bridges between Jews and Christians and Christians with Israel, there is no better way to be able to bring Jews and Christians together for such a purpose. Prospective partners who share this broad vision can be in touch at Gen123Fdn@gmail.com.
May Amir Khoury’s memory continue to be a blessing, and his family continue to derive comfort from the support of friends, new and old, and even total strangers.
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).
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