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For Reporter, Revenge Is Family Affair in Middle East

Tom Foreman
Inside Base Camp
March 26, 2003
 
Laura Blumenfeld is not a killer; yet she has stalked a man with revenge in her heart and a trace of murder on her mind. Laura's story tracks like a spy thriller through the twisting alleys of the Middle East and the pages of her acclaimed book Revenge: A Story of Hope.

Walking into the National Geographic Channel TV studio where I host the Inside Base Camp show, the Washington Post reporter is small, pretty, with an easy smile and intelligent eyes. It is difficult to imagine that for months she lived a double life. To her family, Laura was a loving daughter just out of Harvard embarking on a promising career. On the streets of Jerusalem, she was a young woman obsessed with the man who tried to kill her father.


The gunman was a Palestinian; part of a radical faction that chose in the mid 1980's to murder tourists to publicize the Palestinian cause. And although Laura's father survived, with no lasting injury, the bullet that struck him set Laura on a life-altering course.

Tom Foreman: Let's go to a critical moment—a hot day in July, a dozen years after your father was shot. You're standing at the door of a house and you know inside is the family of the man who shot your father.

Laura Blumenfeld: That's right. Omar Khatib was the gunman, his mother opened the door, and I asked for him. And she said, "He's not here. He tried to kill a man. He shot him in the head."

I said, "Well, who did he shoot?"

And her grandson, a 12-year-old boy shrugged and just said, "Some Jew." And this feeling began to wash over me as I realized that they were talking about my father.

I told them I was Laura—a reporter from America writing a book about revenge—and I'm interested in hearing your story.

Tom Foreman: You had no idea at that moment that this was going to grow into quite a long relationship with this family—tell me about how that started growing.

Laura Blumenfeld: Well, I actually found out soon enough that the gunman had been rounded up along with the other gunmen and had been put in prison. The only way that I could communicate with him was through the family. They would visit him every other week and smuggle letters back and forth.

Tom Foreman: During this whole time that you were deceiving this family, what did you want to accomplish?

Laura Blumenfeld: There were two competing impulses. One was this kind of, "Could I make my father human in the gunman's eyes?" The other was just the kind of feeling that we all have if somebody messes with our child or parent or sibling, which is you want to grab 'em and shake 'em and smack 'em around. It was that visceral rage.

Tom Foreman: And then a hearing comes up to see whether or not he (the gunman) should get out of prison. So you went to the court with his family…

Laura Blumenfeld: I managed to argue my way up to the podium and I said, "My name is Laura. I come from the United States. And I don't know all the facts of this case, but I have come to know the gunman, Omar Khatib, and I believe that he has made a promise to me that he would never hurt anybody again. I've also communicated with David Blumenfeld, the victim, and he says it's enough—it's time to set him free."

Well, the judges started screaming. "You don't have a right to speak!"

And I said, "I do have a right to speak, because I'm the victim's daughter." And Omar gasped. His sister burst into tears. A kind of wind, is the only way I can describe it, went through the courtroom. The judges fell back in their seats and said, "Why would you do such a crazy and dangerous thing—deceiving this family for a year?"

And I said, "Because I wanted them to understand that this is not a conflict between disembodied Arabs and Jews—we're people, we have families, and you can't just kill us."

I managed to use revenge as a tool for enlightenment, a way to reach out to my enemy and end a feud rather than perpetuate it. He wrote to my father, following this hearing. He said, "Laura was the mirror that made me see your face as a human being, deserved to be admired and respected."

Tom Foreman: Do you worry for everything you've done here that in the end you're some kind of Pollyanna? That you think it can all be made better but some part of you says, "But what if it's really as dark and terrible as I fear?"

Laura Blumenfeld: Yes, I do worry about that, and that's why I hold onto this story. It's a fairytale, but it's a true one—this really happened.
 

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