Earlier this week, David Harris-Gershon wrote about how his memoir, What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife? (Oneworld Publications), convinced the New York Post to advocate for Israel’s destruction. He has been blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.
In radio and newspaper interviews I’ve done recently, a singular question has been asked more than any other: if your wife was the one injured in a terrorist attack, why are you the one telling your story?
It’s a similar question I asked myself when, in the wake of the 2002 Hebrew University bombing, I began suffering from PTSD-like symptoms. Hyperventilating in public and unable to sleep at night, I’d ask myself, Why are you not okay? You weren’t injured, your body wasn’t pierced by shrapnel, you’re not a victim. Why must you behave as one?
And it was this thought – you’re not a victim – that prevented me from seeking help, even after my wife had gained a remarkable measure of psychological healing after the attack. It wasn’t until years later, researching secondary victimhood as I prepared to reconcile with the family of the Palestinian bomber who tried to kill my wife, that I came to understand just how wrong I was.
For in trying to understand myself and my motivations for such a reconciliation quest, I came to understand that secondary trauma is not just real. It can be just as powerful and debilitating as the primary trauma itself. I came to learn that secondary victimhood exists not just in the victim’s imagination, but in clinical research as well.
This is something I explore in my memoir, What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife? For in the book, I examine psychological studies which show that journalists who cover traumatic events often exhibit the exact same psychological distresses as the primary victims they cover. And sometimes, remarkably, spouses of war veterans will not only exhibit identical PTSD symptoms as their partners, but will sometimes respond to the exact same stimuli – the blades of a helicopter overhead, fireworks erupting – despite never having set foot on a battlefield.
For many years after the Hebrew University attack, I refused to view myself as a victim – refused to give myself such license – even as I struggled to breathe and sleep.
Today, when asked by journalists why I’ve written a memoir, and not my wife, I breathe deeply and say: because we were both victims, and this is my story.
David Harris-Gershon is GrandSLAM storytelling winner for The Moth as well as a popular blogger on Palestinian-Israeli issues for Tikkun magazine, a regular contributor to Daily Kos, and a periodic essayist for The Jerusalem Post. Keep up with him here.