Published On: Sun, Mar 6th, 2016

Blood brothers: One family’s double tragedy

16 years ago, Rami Cohen was brutally attacked by a terrorist. To this day, he struggles with the emotional trauma. Now, he prays for the recovery of his brother, Tzvika, who was attacked by an ax-wielding terrorist in a Ma'ale Adumim shopping mall.

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Rami Cohen has been here before. The scars are still visible, and over the course of interviews,   the scars that were branded onto his soul are made visible, scars that haven’t faded. We were standing outside of the Neurosurgical Intensive Care Unit at Hadassah Medical Center, and it is as though the 16 years never happened — the 16 years since he lay there, just like his brother Tzvika, fighting for his life while hooked up to a tangle of tubes and digital machines that monitor the activity of his vital organs.

Rami Cohen is a 52-year-old Jerusalemite and the father of two children. On December 20, 2000, two months after the beginning of the second intifada, he picked up an Arab man in his taxi.

“He stood outside of the gas station in Baka and raised his hand, ” Tzvika recalled. “He looked fine, normal, and he aroused no suspicions. He wanted a round trip to Shoresh with a five minute wait. He said he was going to drop a check off at a friend’s house, a matter of a few minutes and back. It was three in the afternoon, rainy, just another day at work.

“When we arrived in Shoresh, he requested to stop next to a house that was under construction. He got out of the cab, went to the building site, and returned, all in the space of a few minutes. He returned to the cab and sat in the seat next to me and said that his friend wasn’t there and that we would need to wait a few minutes. I turned off the engine. At the same time, I was talking to my brother Moshe on the phone. He asked where I was and I said ‘Shoresh.’ We then planned to meet at our parents’ house in Katamon later in the day for coffee.

“The terrorist was sitting next to me and I wasn’t looking at him, and then he pulled out a giant knife from his jacket and plunged it into my stomach. The stab was hard, fast, and very surprising. The knife entered from the right side of my stomach, and I saw the tip of the blade sticking out of my left side. I yelled to Moshe on the phone, ‘I’m being killed’, and I threw my phone at the terrorist. Afterwards, it turns out that Moshe didn’t hear my screams because the call disconnected. I stopped breathing. I felt my soul leaving my body, but I pulled myself together, and moved my hand to the seatbelt to release it. I wanted to get out of the car. Meanwhile, the terrorist took the knife out of my stomach and I was cut in the palm of my hand. The tendon in my thumb was cut and it was almost cut off.

“I fought him off with my left hand, while trying to release the seatbelt with my right, and the terrorist continued to stab me  furiously and yell ‘Allahu Akbar.’ I was stabbed 11 times, again and again, and each time the knife was plunged into me, I felt searing pain. He stabbed me in the chest, in the neck, in my face, again in my stomach – my intestines spilled out. Blood was everywhere; the car looked like a slaughterhouse.

“When I finally managed to release the seatbelt, I opened the door and rolled out onto the ground. The terrorist got out of the car, got into the driver’s side, and drove off with the taxi. He looked at me and thought I was dead. I don’t know how, but I managed to get up, holding my stomach, and saw a light coming through the fog. It was a very wintery day, and in Shoresh it was really foggy. Despite this, I saw a light. I started walking towards it and opened a gate which led onto a lawn.

“I managed to walk a little bit further and knock on the door. An elderly couple opened the door. I remember the stunned look on their faces. I stood in front of them, my shirt, my face, my whole body completely covered in blood. With the last of my strength, I managed to say ‘save me, I’m a Jew, a terrorist attacked me’ and collapsed on the ground at the entrance to their living room.”

 

A routine night patrol

Two 75-year-old parents, both of them heart patients, three brothers and a sister, all of them married with children, sit inside in a lobby outside the ICU and read Jewish psalms for salvation. Inside, the fourth son, Tzvika, 47, is undergoing surgery, sedated, fighting for his life.

Tzvika is a security guard at a mall in the town of Ma’ale Adumim. He is the father of four children, two of whom, a boy and a girl, 13, are twins. His son will be celebrating his Bar Mitzvah this month. Festivities are in store. Tzvika and his wife, Sima, planned the event with care. How he would up to read from the Torah in the synagogue as they all celebrated. But now, everything is ruined – the festivities were canceled and the boy will go up to read the Torah with his uncle, although his heart will be with his father, who is fighting for his life.

Last Thursday, Tzvika’s shift at the mall began at 11 PM. The night guard is located in a control room on the third floor, monitoring the feeds from security cameras throughout the mall. Every once in a while, he is supposed to go on a patrol of the long hallways. It’s a typical mall, with all the major brands and a branch of a major coffee chain. The mall feels so normal inside, so familiar, that you forget you’re actually in the West Bank.

Dozens of Palestinians from the West Bank are employed here, all with work permits. There is almost no store in which Arabs aren’t employed, and, as one of the store owners said, “the relations between us are great – everyone knows each other, we are used to each other, and there is no tension.”

So Tzvika was’t feeling tense, and even if he was, he wasn’t armed. By order of the police, night watchmen in malls are unarmed.

At 1:05 AM on Friday morning, Tzvika left the control room. He was almost certainty conducting a patrol in the empty mall, which contained only a few cleaners, and workmen from Ori and Son’s Delicatessen who always came on Thursday nights to get ready for the Friday pre-Shabbat crowds in the mall.

Tzvika stood next to the elevator doors, waiting for the elevator to come. Suddenly, from behind, a young man emerged and began hitting him in the head with an ax.The surprise was total. Tzvika didn’t have a chance. One blow followed another, as the blade pierced him again and again, even as Tzvika lay on the ground, wildly trying to defend himself with his legs.

The attack took seconds, maybe a minute, but no more. The terrorist ran while Tzvika wallowed in his own blood. Only after 15 minutes, at 1:20 AM did one of the cleaners (who happens to be Arab) come up to the third floor and discover Tzvika, then called for help.

 

Tzvika Cohen (Photo courtesy of family)

For two days after the attack, Arab workers from the West Bank were not permitted to come to Ma’ale Adumim for work. They were allowed to return on Tuesday.

Sa’adi Ali Abu Hammad, Tzvika’s attacker, worked at the Ori and Sons delicatessen on the ground level. Abu Hammad, 21 years old from the village of Azriya, worked in the mall with a work permit from Israel’s security services.

Meir Cohen, 69, a pensioner from Ma’ale Adumim, has become afraid of the people who work in the mall. “They work everywhere, ” he said. “They work in the supermarkets, they clean houses, they work at the toy stores, the coffee shops, and the bakeries. There is no business here that doesn’t have Arab workers. Since the stabbing of the security guard, I’m always looking over my shoulder. I don’t feel safe.”

Moshe Arfi, 59, the kosher supervisor at the mall, said he knew Abu Hammad. “He looked like a lamb, ” he said. “Could a lamb hurt anyone? He had such manners. He would always say hello, ask how you’re doing, he would always say please and thank you, very gentle. And such cruelty came out of him, like don’t even behave in a slaughterhouse. It’s most surprising because we have great relations with the Arab workers here. We drink coffee together, smoke cigarettes together – there is no hatred or animosity.”

Ynet visited the mall on Tuesday morning and saw a fully functioning shopping center. Although there was a marked decrease in the number of shoppers on the day after the attack, traffic in the mall increased as the days have gone by.

Yaron Meir, 44, is the owner of the delicatessen where Abu Hammad worked, and he looked exhausted.  “I’m still in shock, in utter turmoil, ” he said. “I’m shocked at what happened, and people come and act like it was we who sinned, as if it is our fault. He worked here legally, and equally we could have been – the Jews who work at the delicatessen – could have been his victims. He could have slaughtered each and every one of us in the storage room.”

In the middle of the conversation, an old religious Jewish man in an electric wheelchair came over and stopped near the deli. “Aren’t you ashamed that you employ Arabs?” the old man yelled at Meir.

“You’re the one who should be ashamed, ” Meir replied. “I have nothing to be ashamed of. You buy challah bread here every Friday. Do Arabs not bake your bread? Who built your house? Who would work as the gardeners if not the Arabs? I have nothing to be ashamed about. ”

As the old man rolled on, Meir said: “There’s a live example.”

He said it’s important to support the employers “because we committed no crime. We learned from the attacks in the Mahane Yehuda market. This is a family business that began in the market in Jerusalem, and we overcame even the most difficult times. I’ve lost army friends in Lebanon to mines, so I’m very upset when people come to me with complaints like his. Who would have believed that a monster would emerge from this employee?”

Several hours after the interview, Tzvika’s wife Sima, 46, told us that her husband used to have nightmares about the attack his brother Rami survived.

“We’ve been married for 21 years, ” Sima told us. “When the incident with Rami happened, it really affected him. We all had trauma. He had nightmares, it was hard for him to fall asleep, and he retreated inside himself. It took him years until he somehow recovered. Not to get over it completely, but to be himself again.

“He worked for years in the warehouse of the Tnuva dairy factory in Jerusalem and he loved his job, the responsibility he had. But two years ago they had layoffs and they let him go. This was a heavy hit for him. Not only was he the primary breadwinner, but to lose a job at his age isn’t a simple matter. He sat at home depressed for six months, it was a tough time. His salary was great at Tnuva, and everywhere he went, they were offering him half of what he earned there. He was broke financially and mentally. I work, but only two hours a day in the afternoons in the community center. He always was the breadwinner.

“After six months, I told his brothers to talk to him, to encourage him up to get work. That’s how he found a job as a security guard at the mall a year and a half ago. At first, it was hard for him to get used to the shifts. The salary was also a lot lower. But slowly but surely, he adapted.

“Tzvika is a very friendly person, he loves to laugh, say hello to everyone who comes to the mall. There wasn’t a single person he didn’t say hello to or give a friendly smile. Since he got attacked, people have been sending me messages – Tzvika always smiled at us and asked us how we are doing, it was always fun going through the gate he was in charge of guarding.

“He always trusted the Arab workers a lot; he loved to drink coffee and smoke cigarettes with them. He almost always went to the mall half an hour to an hour early to ‘relax with them’, that’s how he put it, ‘sip coffee, and smoke cigarettes’. Several times I came to the mall and I saw how would hug and kiss the Arab workers, say ‘hey, how are you’, even the person who attacked him, and I told him, ‘be careful, you can’t trust them’, but he said, ‘don’t worry, they are buddies.’ He trusted them, trusted them too much.”

The eldest son, Gavriel, 19, sat next to us and told us how he came to work with his father guarding the shopping mall half a year ago, after he finished high school, because he deferred his enlistment in order to finish matriculation exams. He only heard about what had happened to his uncle Rami when he was 15. “They wanted to protect me, ” he said, “and when they told me I was shocked, because I did not believe that something like that could happen to someone so close to me. Until then I had heard about such things from afar, from talking at school. Who would have thought that it could happen to someone I knew?”

 

Tzvika's son Gavriel (Photo: Ohad Zwigenberg)

 

On Thursday he finished working at midnight. “I guard the entrances and I patrol. Dad was not even supposed to work that evening. They called him in the morning and said that one of the guards broke his hand and they asked him to replace him at night. He agreed, of course. He started his shift at 11 PM and arrived 45 minutes early in order to sit with the workers, as he likes to do. Before he started his shift, he walked next to me and asked what was going on, how my shift was going. He looked fine, with a smile like always, nothing special.”

 

Did you know the terrorist who attacked your father?

“Yes, I did not know him really well but I recognized him. ’Hello, what’s up, how are you doing?’ Looked like a normal guy. Dad would drink coffee with him occasionally.”

Sima: “Tzvika would say, ‘ hey are good people, not like the terrorists’. I don’t know what to think now, maybe if he was armed, the terrorist would have been discouraged from attacking him and maybe it would not have helped, because he came at Tzvika from behind and surprised him. I am really confused, but the thought disturbs me.”

Gavriel: “I am also unarmed at work and it doesn’t make sense for a security guard to be without a weapon.”

Sima: “We are in the territories beyond the Green Line. How can you put an unarmed guard there, alone with all the Arab workers?”

 

A sense of foreboding

Rami is older than Tzika. Like his younger brother, he came to Hadassah Medical Center in critical condition 16 years ago. Surgeons operated on him for eight hours. He lay in bed for a week, under anesthetics and artificial respiration in the emergency room. He slowly recovered and was released after a month. His recovery was a medical miracle. Over the years, he underwent six operations and he was certified as 70 percent handicapped for life. Thirty percent of that is due to post-traumatic stress syndrome. “Even today I have not recovered, ” he said. “I suffer from nightmares, I get moments of crying and rage, it’s hard for me to sleep. Every time I hear about any stabbing, even in a nightclub, I can’t sleep entire days, I become anxious. Usually stabbings among youth get five minutes in the news, but I know this is a lifelong trauma that you can’t recover from. This attack totally brings me back to my case. I really see the evil in front of my eyes, the rage. I feel the evil in front of me, the rage, I feel the pain. Everything comes back and becomes very real, like it just happened.”

He had two children when he was wounded, and he and his wife Miri planned to expand the family. “We wanted at least five children, but after this we could not achieve pregnancy despite that they said that my injury was not supposed to interfere with that, ” he said.

He never went back to driving taxis. “A man with PTSD can’t drive public transportation vehicles, ” he said. “I had a new Volkswagen taxi that had I just bought, it cost me NIS 100, 000. After the attack, my brother sold it for me for NIS 10, 000 because it was filled with blood, and although it was cleaned up and scrubbed nobody wanted to touch it.”

The first in the family to discover that Tzvika had been was Moshe, his brother, 50 years old and a former police officer. “A friend from the police called me a little before two in the morning and said my brother was stabbed but that he was okay, ” Moshe recalled. “When they said that they took him to the hospital, I knew his situation was not very good, because otherwise he would have been taken to another hospital that is closer to Ma’ale Adumim. Immediately, Rami’s nightmare came back to me. I felt my entire body begin to shake. Once again telling my parents. Both of them have heart issues and we were worried about them. They have aready been in this horrible scenario. I called them at night and luckily his wife Miri answered. I told her to wake Rami up and tell him that Tzvika fell in the shopping mall. For her to get him to the hospital without too many questions.”

Rami remembers a sense of foreboding, but the penny dropped only when he arrived at the hospital at night and saw journalists, photographers and the mayor of Ma’ale Adumim, Benny Kashriel. “Immediately I knew that it was an attack and I began to shake. Moshe and Yuval, our youngest brother, told me what happened and I became hysterical.”

Moshe: “I took him aside with Yuval and told him, ‘Tzvika did not fall, a terrorist stabbed him’. He began to go wild, punching and kicking at everything near him, he lay down on the floor and began crying and shouting, ‘why , why, why?’ We barely managed to control him. But the biggest blow was when he saw the film of the attack.”

Security cameras captured the entire attack. It was not clear who distributed the clip, but the next day it was all over the social networks. It’s a scary video, hard to watch. The terrorist attacks Tzvika with an ax and hits him again and again on his head after he is laying on the ground, trying to defend himself with his remaining strength. Moshe said that in the first two days the family tried to conceal from Rami the seriousness of the matter.

“Even when the doctors called us over, we asked him to stay outside so he wouldn’t get excited too much, ” he said. “But on Sunday morning the video clip reached our dad’s cell phone. He does not really know how to operate it and Rami helped him open the file. Dad almost fainted when he saw the pictures. Rami began to cry and scream in horror, he kicked at everything, and my mother collapsed, our brother Yuval also almost collapsed. Don’t ask what happened.” Rami, who is sitting near us, begins to sweat and only manages to say a single sentence: “Since then, I am a broken vessel, I feel like I am the walking dead.”

 

Waiting for a phone call

They all sit waiting for any sliver of information. The injury is also an economic blow for Tzvika’s family. Even as he lies in the hospital, the mortgage and bills don’t stop. His wages, based on his hours, won’t enter the family’s account. But who has time for economic woes when the danger of death is imminent and every moment is critical? “Nobody from the ruling party or coalition called us, ” Rami says sadly. “This is a family that was struck by terror a second time. They could have said something comforting, given support, given encouragement. The point is that politicians know how to say that terror won’t defeat us, but it’s a lie. The family here is broken, we are devastated.”

Motti, the middle brother, is a police officer in the Jerusalem area. Moshe and Rami’s daughters are police officers in the district as well. Friends from the police make sure they get plenty of food and drink every day, but who has an appetite nowadays? Sima says that besides Gavriel, who is an adult, the other three children don’t know what is going on. “The smallest child is nine years old and does not want to sleep at home because his father is not there.

“He sleeps at my sisters’ or at a friend’s. He does not want to go to school unless a psychologist arrives and takes him on a trip and afterwards to school. The son, who has a bar mitzvah coming up, asks, ‘Mom, will he come up with me when I go reading from the Torah? Will he arrive at the bar mitzvah? I don’t know what to tell him. The daughter always asks, ‘will dad come back home tomorrow?’ He is not aware of his situation, and that it’s a long process. As far as they are concerned, a person who does not feel well goes to the hospital and comes back after two or three days. That is what they have experienced.”

Brother Yuval, 42, an Egged bus driver in Jerusalem, says that the children’s handling of the situation bothers him. “Not just Tzvika’s children, but also ours. I as an adult have still not come out of the trauma of Rami’s case, and now there is the disaster with Tzvika and it’s too much to bear. I have four children, they ask questions and I am helpless.

“My 8-year-old daughter asked me, ‘Dad, what happened to Tzvika?’ I told her, ‘he got pushed at the mall and he got hit in the head’. What does she respond? ‘No. Dad, you can tell me the truth, we saw on TV that a terrorist attacked him with an ax and we talked about that in class.’ I wanted to spare her this horror. Everyone should see how we deal with our kids now… but what can I tell you, I don’t know how to deal with myself.”

 

Via Ynet News, by Oded Shalom, Yael Freidson

To contribute funds to the family, their bank account is 25033379 at The Postal Bank
Or contact the following number: +972 53 826 7262

 

 

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